Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kitchen produces spectacular results at hidden-away downtown gem

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The Lamb Duo at The Lobby on York.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The Lamb Duo at The Lobby on York. Photo Store

It has only been four years since I last reviewed the Lobby, but much has changed since then. The first thing you need to know is how to find the place, since, unless you've been here since it reopened after the surrounding construction, the entrance is easy to miss. There's no visible sign at street level, and the entry to the restaurant is on the side wall of a dark area that could easily be mistaken for the entry to an underground parking garage.

Other changes since its inception include a new manager, Shan Shuwera; a new chef, Jesse Friesen; and a shorter menu with somewhat (but not drastically) reduced prices.

What hasn't changed is the striking decor of the main dining room, which is carved into two concentric circles centered by a mammoth dark column and separated by curtains of brown fabric leaves. What also hasn't changed, alas, is the noise level, which is so intense it can be heard in a nearby separate dining room, which -- if less dramatic in decor -- is pleasant and tranquil enough to make conversation possible.

I remember the former menu as somewhat confusingly divided lengthwise into "fine cuts" and "mains," among other things. Today's menu seems simpler and easier to read. It also seems somewhat less ambitious than the former one, but what they still do, they still do very well.

All the appetizers I tried were top-notch: two sesame-crusted crabcakes that tasted really crabby, with wee dabs of mango chutney and caper tartar sauce ($12); the sensational pulled duck quesadilla, wrapped like a sushi roll with brie and cheddar, and topped by a spicy mayo ($14); and the albacore tuna tartare with avocado, chili aioli, dots of tobiko roe and a garnish of crisp house-made chips ($14). Plump, briny oysters on the half shell are $16 for six, but on Thursdays -- after five, in the lounge only -- they go for $1 each.

Main courses are divided into a jumble of sections: Signature Steaks (filet, New York, bone-in rib); House Specialties (the same steaks in more complex versions) plus a lamb duo; the Land (other meats and ricotta gnocchi -- the only vegetarian entrée); and the Sea, which lists, obviously, fish and seafood.

If I had to choose a single favourite entrée it would be the knockout Lamb Duo, which pairs a generous half-rack of succulent, herb-crusted lamb, in a tamarind mint sauce, with a soft Indian roti rolled around a fabulous filling of braised lamb and lightly curried chick peas ($39). The juicy 16-ounce Portobello rib steak on the bone is a runner-up, topped by an enormous portobello mushroom and a dab of truffle butter -- truffle oil, that is, and quite undetectable, which may be a good thing since, whenever I have detected truffle oil, it has never tasted nor smelled like a truffle ($37).

Red meats may be the star attractions, but they aren't the only good choices. Certainly the double cut pork chop with Guinness mustard and chimichurri sauce was perfectly cooked to just this side of pink, paired with mashed potatoes and apple salsa ($26). Also excellent was the crisp, classic veal schnitzel, served with lingonberry sauce and spaetzle, which, although dusted minimally with Parmesan, could have used some butter for moisture ($24).

If I were to stray from meat I'd opt for the top-notch grilled Alaskan ling cod, with a tasty garnish of shaved asparagus salad but also with a wild mushroom risotto that was moist but with little mushroom flavour ($25). Also tops was pan-roasted pickerel with herb pesto, served with saffron couscous, and dotted by lovely little crisps of serrano ham ($25).

Garnishes vary with each dish. Good, garlicky mashed potatoes were the usual garnish, but only the steaks included a vegetable as well, and at prices that range mostly from $34 to $39, one might reasonably expect something less perfunctory than plain broccoli -- a few spears of asparagus wouldn't be too much to ask. And mashed potatoes and/or a veg would have brought the Lamb Duo (which came with nothing else) closer to perfection.

If you do feel the need for something more with your entrée, there are such additional sides as asparagus ($7) mushrooms ($8) yam fries with chipotle aioli ($8), or mac 'n' cheese ($8).

There are only a few desserts, but those I tried were gorgeous ($8 to $10). The sumptuous chocolate torte consists of layers of shortbread, sponge cake, chocolate mouse and ganache, paired with vanilla bean ice cream. Less spectacular in appearance but also delectable was a crackly-crusted crème brªlée -- actually more like a superb, delicate mousse than a creme -- and a caramel pecan pie with plenty of pecans.

Service is polished, attentive and knowledgeable about everything on the menu. The wine list seems less extensive than I remember, but the policy of offering the house wines in two sizes is admirable.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

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.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 2, 2013 C5

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Updated on Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 9:28 AM CDT: adds map, adds fact box, replaces photo

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