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Five-star bargains, relatively speaking

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Five-star restaurants are few and far between, and two of them have recently closed: Dacquisto has been replaced by Los Chicos, where the cooking is Tex Mex; Provence has closed but plans to reopen in the spring at Promenade Bistro's current location. In any case, five star restaurants rarely figure in bargain columns, but today I have two to offer. Both have everything one might expect of a five star rating: attractive decor, service that is attentive but not intrusive, familiar with every aspect of the menu, with the ability to advise without crossing the line into pushy. And, naturally, food that ranks high among the city's best.

529 Wellington's turn-of-the-century mansion evokes an era of gracious living, with its burnished dark wood panelling, art nouveau upholstery and lovely knobbly crystal lamps. The ambiance is classy but without pomp or pretension -- a description, as it happens, that could be applied to the food as well. Bargain hunters shouldn't come for the steaks (Canadian prime grade and priced accordingly) or for dinner either, when entrees range from $29 to $49, usually with veggies extra. Lunch, though, is another matter, and you may be pleasantly surprised by some dishes that are at least as affordable as lesser dishes in lesser places, and with no skimping on the portions either.

There are sandwiches, burgers and salads and such, but I had come for the real meal deals. Steaks may be out of the question, but beef isn't. I didn't try the tenderloin brochettes with portobello mushrooms ($18) but I did the slices of beef tenderloin -- tender and flavourful, sautéed with mushrooms, onions and red peppers in a winey jus, paired with a huge mound of creamy mashed potatoes ($15). I also had one of my rarely found favourites -- a savoury meat loaf, in a portion so big it could easily (and I'm not exaggerating) satisfy two hefty appetites. With it, a lovely creamy mushroom sauce, and more of those excellent mashed potatoes ($15).

Mini Yorkshire Puddings are tender little puffs stuffed with slices of roast beef and bathed in a richly winey jus ($14). They come ungarnished -- no potatoes or veggies -- but a side of big, fat asparagus, with ethereal hollandaise, is worth the extra $6. For non-meat eaters there's fish, some served in two sizes: grilled fresh salmon at $16 for the smaller portion, or, (stretching the budget) grilled sushi grade ahi tuna at $21 for the smaller portion. I opted for the fried fresh pickerel in an exquisitely thin batter with a mountain of memorably crisp fries ($16).

Desserts include crème brªlée, chocolate raspberry cheesecake, hot chocolate lava cake and house-made ice cream ($8 to $10). We opted for the glorious warm blueberry bread pudding with caramel cream and gobs of whipped cream, but don't be intimidated by the $14 tab -- half portions are sold for $7, and our's was still more than two of us could finish. The wine list is superb, but a bottle doesn't belong in a bargain column, and the cheapest by the glass is $9. Nevertheless, a meal of two entrees, asparagus, dessert and two glasses of Malbec could easily come in at under $60. And even after adding tax and tip that's what I call a bargain these days.

 

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Segovia is a world away from 529 -- a snug little room with tightly spaced tables, a casual but stylish modern decor, and a young staff as perfect at their job as the more mature staff at 529. The menu of small dishes is great for people who can't decide what to eat, and it's all shareable. You'll probably order too much, but never mind -- they have doggy bags and, with most prices from $5 to $16, you probably won't spend more than $60 for two. Only dinner is served and reservations aren't accepted.

For me the addictive patatas bravas are always a must -- wafer-thin chips, with little squiggles of garlicky aioli and slightly nippy tomato sauce. I also liked the creamy Serrano croquettas, but they did need more of the ham to justify the name. In order to really appreciate the flavour of this great Spanish ham, order it on its own, with terrific grilled water bread.

Some portions are closer to mini-entrees. Two huge, succulent scallops, for instance, bedded on creamed leeks that are streaked with earthy oyster mushrooms. Or that local rarity, sweetbreads -- lightly smoked chunks of it, glazed with a lime aioli and served over slices of Serrano ham, with a scattering of peas. One night's special was lobster risotto, a steal at $18 for a substantial serving of moist, saffrony rice, studded generously with lobster and sprinkled with aged manchego cheese. What did I miss and would love to try? Just about everything else on the menu, but especially the pork belly with white beans and a poached egg, the grilled octopus with chorizo and fingerling potatoes, and the rabbit with polenta and piperade.

I love the cinnamon-sprinkled fried churros with the hot melted chocolate dip ($6, but they are gracious about half orders at $3) and it would be a shame to miss the fabulous dates stuffed with mascarpone, in a puddle of maple syrup with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios ($2 per date). The predominantly Spanish wine list is interesting albeit fairly pricey, but you can have a glass of sparkling cava for a mere $7.

NOTE: Segovia will be closed from Jan. 30 to Feb. 14, and will accept reservations for Valentine's Day.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

To see the location of this restaurant and others reviewed in the Free Press, please see the map below or click here.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 27, 2012 D5

History

Updated on Friday, January 27, 2012 at 9:38 AM CST: Adds photos, fact box

9:56 AM: Adds map

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