Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Great food with a view? Don't mind if we do!

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Restaurants with good food and beautiful views are hard come by in this city. Even some with riverside locations have turned their backs to the river, and penthouse operations have rarely been noted for their food. In fact, even when a restaurant is blessed with walls of windows, the view, as often as not, is over a parking lot.

Equally rare are attractive places for a leisurely lunch on Saturday, when most upscale restaurants are closed. A pity, since lunch can offer an opportunity to try out some of our top restaurants, at prices that are significantly lower than at dinner.

Terrace Fifty-Five has the solution for all the above problems. It is open for lunch on Saturday, the food is delicious, the prices are relatively painless, and the setting in Assiniboine Park is gorgeous. The elegant, minimalist decor consists mostly of a glass ceiling and a surround of windows that look out on a dreamy vista of pillared loggias (open any day now for service) and, beyond them, the vast expanse of the park. The only major spot of colour is a mural of water lilies on the interior wall.

Don't, of course, expect the high-end dishes of the dinner menu, but even the sandwiches are more interesting than you'll find in your everyday delis. They range from $13 to $16, which includes a choice of salad or fries. And, yes, there is even a tuna melt, but this one is layered with roasted peppers, fontina, spicy eggplant and chipotle aioli. Other choices might be a tempura-battered pickerel Po-Boy with Asian coleslaw, or a lobster and shrimp salad with butter lettuce, both on grilled baguettes.

But for me, these lunches offer best value when they substitute for dinner as the main meal of the day, with a shared appetizer, for example, one of the entrees and a shared dessert, after which dinner may be academic. Or maybe just toast and tea.

First, a basketful of grilled bread slices comes to the table, so addictive it takes willpower not to fill up before even getting to lunch, which, in our case, started with plump, juicy mussels, steamed in white wine and finished with a slightly tomato-flavoured herb butter ($16). Chicken livers were also delicious, with a slight crunch under a glaze of reduced red wine and balsamic vinegar -- a smallish portion that left us wanting more ($12).

Most outstanding among the entrees (which range from $18 to $24) was the perfectly al dente penne in a luscious tarragon cream sauce that was liberally dotted with chunks of lobster. We could have had our sweet-fleshed pickerel pan-fried with beurre blanc and parsley-flecked new potatoes, but opted instead for a breaded fillet with potato salad -- not the mayo-drenched kind, but in a delicate vinaigrette. Only the green pea risotto disappointed, topped by a generous chunk of lightly smoked char but over rice that was slightly gummy, and bland to boot -- a condition that might have been corrected by the addition of more (or even some) white wine in its initial stages.

Desserts were nothing short of stunning ($7.50 each). A brownie soared to new heights with a 70 per cent cacao content, spiked by a dash of Thai red chili, and paired with lime-flavoured crème anglaise and vanilla bean ice cream. French toast was made, not with bread, but with slices of ethereal brioche, adorned with squares of roasted mango and toasted coconut. Both were so wonderful, they alone would make the Terrace worth a visit.

Service is attentive, knowledgeable and friendly to just the right degree -- in short, impeccable. And there's a bonus in the availability by the glass of several sparkling wines, which are perfect for a sunny-day lunch, among them a light Chilean Brut Concha Y Toro, which I liked at least as much as some cavas or proseccos I've had in the past. And at $8 the glass, a lovely buy.

-- -- --

Beauty of a different sort surrounds FortWhyte Alive's Buffalo Stone Cafe. The cafe is attractive and airy, with a huge panoramic painting of a prairie scene (complete with buffalo) along one wall, and little potted plants on each of its blond wood tables, but the main source of beauty here is on the other side of its many windows. The nature preserve, for instance -- with any luck you may spot a deer -- but most spectacularly, the terrace's killer views of the man-made lake where, these days, chances are good you will see Canada geese, if not on the lake, then almost certainly strutting along the road that leads to the cafe.

The menu consists mainly of sandwiches, burgers and wraps, priced from $10.50 to $11.99, including a choice of soup (a not-bad tomato-based bison and tortellini on our visit), salad or fries. You place your order at a counter and serve yourself, although at an early lunch in a near-empty room ours was brought to our table.

Not all the listings were available, even before noon -- the pulled pork and brisket sandwiches, for instance. In any case, the logical choice in this environment is the exceptionally juicy and flavourful bison burger -- plain, or topped by cheese and nicely sautéed mushrooms. A thick-packed Reuben sandwich was also excellent. Other choices include bison meat loaf sandwich, grilled ham and cheese, and beef burgers, as well as pre-wrapped sandwiches and pastries from Gunn's and Chocolate Zen that might be useful on a hike into the preserve. Breakfasts are also served until 11:30 a.m., lunch until 4:30 p.m.

Terrace Fifty-Five, 55 Pavilion Cres., 938-7275

Buffalo Stone Cafe, 1961 McCreary Rd., 989-8370

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2012 D3

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