It isn't often I can recommend 41/2-star restaurants as bargains, but today I have two -- one in its entirety, the other, for certain specialties on specific days.
Bistro Dansk is closed while its owners are on vacation, but will reopen Tuesday, Feb. 4. It's a genuine family restaurant, owned since 1977 by Joe and the late Jaroslava Vocadlo, and since 1989 by son and daughter-in-law Paul and Pamela. I've written about this durable little place several times over the years, but today's review is a special anniversary.
Ten years ago it was one of three I had chosen as the best bargains of the previous decade. Since then, one of the three has closed and the other has changed ownership, but I can repeat today what I wrote then about Bistro Dansk, which soldiers on, still delivering solid renditions of tried-and-true Danish and Czech classics at moderate prices.
The cheerful, knotty-pine-panelled setting hasn't changed, but prices, inevitably, have. Entrees that were $12.95 10 years ago are now $19.95, but the unvarying menu is much as it was. Servings are still remarkably generous -- the only "small plates" are the appetizers, which, in fact, aren't small at all. And this is no place for trendoids expecting decorative little squiggles of syrup around dainty portions of food -- there just isn't room on the plates. When I suggest sharing an appetizer, a dessert and, even, sometimes, a main course, it isn't to save money, it's to save diners from waddling out uncomfortably stuffed. I know I could never get through three full courses on my own. The appetizers -- the huge slab of liver paté, smothered with heaps of mushrooms, for $10.95, or the fillets of herring in tomato, sour cream and curry sauces for $9.95 -- definitely should be shared. At lunch both are served as open-face Danish sandwiches on the terrific house-made breads: a dense baguette with the paté and dark Danish rye with the herring, at $11.95 and $10.95 respectively.
My favourite entrées are the Danish frikadeller -- two massive meatballs of beef and pork -- and the Czech veprova, meltingly tender slices of sautéed pork tenderloin in a sauce loaded with garlic, but miraculously mellow. I've also loved the incredibly crunchy breaded chicken schnitzel (pork schnitzel is an alternative) and the roasted half chicken with apricot and walnut stuffing.
Whether they are called O'Brien or pan-fried, the potatoes that always turn up on my plate have been small roasted chunks and they are lovely. Ditto the pickled beets, and the little cucumber salad that garnishes the roast chicken. And if you think you don't like cabbage, the wonderful and only slightly sweet and sour cabbage with little dots of bacon should change your mind. Simply prepared mixed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and such) are an alternative I've always found resistible.
Lunch is even more affordable, with entrées from $12.95 to $13.95, including the chicken and pork schnitzels and the frikadeller, garnished by one of the city's best potato salads. Also among them, another personal favourite that is served at lunch only, the hakkebof -- a minced beef steak topped by a fried egg.
The sumptuous desserts come with lashings of whipped cream, including my enduring love, the hazelnut tart, and my newest, a banana layer cake with strawberries and drizzles of chocolate. My favourite tipple here? An icy akvavit.
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Peasant Cookery was my nominee for best restaurant of 2011, and I love it, not only because its ambience reminds me of France, but because much of its food does too. The regular prices are reasonable for the quality, but don't quite fall into the bargain category, with most entrées from $21 to $27 (some specials run higher), but two of its special deals, each available on different nights after 5 p.m., are stupendous buys.
Wednesday is oyster night, when plump, briny oysters on the half shell -- usually $3 each -- are reduced to $1 each, for as many as you can manage. They come with a few sauces, but for me anything but a squirt of lemon is sacrilege.
The shareable charcuterie board of house-cured meats is a great buy, even at its full price of $16; at $8 on Mondays it's practically a giveaway, and every item on it superb. The choices vary from day to day, among them (on my visit) prosciutto, bresola, coppa, pork tongue and chicken and hunter sausages. Also the locally rare lardo (cured back fat) and a paté de campagne as good as any I've had in France. The Dijon mustard is also house-made, as are the vinegar-pickled yellow beans and cornichons (the windowsills are lined with jars of house-made pickles). My only complaint is that bread would be a better match than the tiny croutons.
After sharing 18 oysters at $1 each and the charcuterie at full price -- enough food for many, possibly -- we wanted something hot to follow, so we also shared mussels steamed in cream, fennel and garlic with frites ($15) and a luscious bread pudding with honey nut squash ice cream ($8) and our fabulous meal came to just under $65 (plus tip) for two. A few other items that might be added are pan-fried chicken livers ($10.50), poutine with bacon gravy and Bothwell cheese ($10), tourtière with salad or fries ($17) or gnocchi with aged cheddar and sun-dried tomatoes ($17.50).
Service is friendly, attentive and thoroughly knowledgeable.
To see the location of these restaurants as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.
Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.