One bite of the roast duck and I realized what I'd been missing all these years. Yes, those ubiquitous confits are almost always good, but they aren't a patch on a juicy, full-flavoured, freshly roasted bird, its skin, in this case, glazed with an apple-white wine sauce. I was in love all over again, and ready to forgive any number of sins In Ferno's might commit.
Actually, the sins were few. In fact, most of what I had there was at the very least good, and some -- like that beautiful bird -- very, very good.
There have been several changes since In Ferno's opened 10 years ago. An upstairs dining room has been added, along with an outside patio. The setting seems sleeker, the tables less cramped, and hanging from the ceiling are a multitude of wooden baffles which are supposed to deaden the noise. Sadly, they don't. That's one thing that hasn't changed -- In Ferno's decibel level is still infernal, and if you're annoyed by noise, the trick is to come early -- very early -- at opening time preferably, before the place fills up.
Appetizers are relatively pricey (most $10.95 to $13.95), and although the list is lengthy, some of the old-school classics have been dropped -- the béchamel-sauced coquille of scallops, for instance, and the whitefish quenelles (a pity, in my opinion, especially since they are being rediscovered in other cities). But you can still start with escargots, crab cakes, steak tartare or oysters on the half shell, or, as we did, with big, beautiful shrimp in a garlicky Pernod sauce topped by crisply fried shreds of leeks or a lovely lemon-marinated ceviche of salmon (although my personal preference is for lime juice).
We also tried the Trio des Pâtés, which was tasty but misnamed, since only one of the three -- two slices of a robust, baked country style pâté -- was a real pâté. The foie gras did taste delectably of foie gras, but it was too loose even for a mousse; it was more a creamy purée that had spread over the plate (it's the only foie gras on the menu). The third item was chopped liver, which tasted pretty good but, well, was still just chopped liver.
The billi-bi cream of mussel soup (the only one in town that I know of) was pleasant, although tasting mainly of cream -- more white wine and/or mussel juices would have tempered the richness ($8.50). Ironically, the few mussels that topped it were better than those in another night's full order of mussels ($14.95 ). The herbed garlic and tomato Provençal sauce was just fine, and the marvellous skinny fries they came with were demolished almost as soon as they got to the table, but the mussels were a major flop -- some big, some tiny and shrivelled, and all lacking juices and flavour.
Entree prices are relatively moderate, most from $17.95 to $25.95. One of my favourites is the veau grand-mère, which is as comforting and as classically French as you can get -- pale, tender medallions of veal in a winey mushroom cream sauce. The flavourful braised lamb shanks in a maple balsamic reduction were also delicious, and ditto the soy-marinated albacore tuna, which was grilled to moist perfection and garnished with strawberry, mango and avocado salsa.
The arctic char was less satisfying. It sounded exciting, with a stuffing of lobster, Gruyère and potato mousseline, and a lemon verbena sauce, but was surprisingly bland and overcooked to dry.
Other listed entrees include an orange-glazed duck confit, chili glazed pork chop, medallions of beef sirloin in a brandied peppercorn sauce, chicken stuffed with lingonberries and cambenzola and a vegetarian torte of eggplant, beans and spinach. There are also four pastas, among them fettuccine with smoked salmon and pappardelle with spicy lamb, porcini mushrooms and peppers in tzatziki sauce.
But there are always daily specials as well, recited by the server (without mention of prices) and so numerous that, by the time you've heard the last one you've forgotten the first (an annoying practice in many other restaurants as well, and so easily remedied by a printed daily sheet). That lovely roast duck was one those specials. Another was a trio of ginger and mustard-coated rack of lamb, bacon-wrapped elk sirloin in a huckleberry sauce, and a beef strip loin with port sauce -- at $32.95 it was over the menu's top price, but there was a massive amount of meat, all of it excellent.
Dinners start with a basketful of good house-made breads. Entrée garnishes, on the other hand, were pretty perfunctory -- only sliced crisped potato slices, with zucchini on one visit and oblongs of rutabaga on another.
A cooler full of tempting desserts is the first thing you see when you enter ($6 to $7), and our strawberry-topped Bavarian cream pie and a lemon hazelnut torte -- both on shortbread crusts -- were as good as they looked. But the personal favourite I had most looked forward to was a major disappointment. Tarte Tatin is, very specifically, an upside-down, caramelized apple tart, and it's described accurately on the menu, but what we got was an ordinary apple tart with not a trace of caramel -- passable, but nothing more.
The service was attentive and professional, the wine list lengthy and well selected. When you make your reservation (and you shouldn't try it without one, especially on a weekend) be sure to specify your seating preference -- main floor or upstairs.
To see the location of this restaurant 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.