There just aren't enough Portuguese restaurants for me, but Viena do Castello does a little to help fill the void. It's primarily a bright and modern bakery-cum-grocery store, with no fresh produce, but a large selection of Portuguese canned goods, packages, cheeses and frozen fish, as well as olive oil and cured meats. Although its prepared specialties are primarily for takeout, it does have four tables for two along the windows that overlook Sargent, where it is possible to have a sandwich, and/or a pastry with coffee.
Whatever else you do you have be sure to include some of the delectable little egg-rich pastries. One of the luscious custard tarts in flaky pastry, for instance; or the intensely flavoured honey tarts, or the dense coconut tarts. There are light and slightly lemony slices of sponge cake, and wee madeleine-like cakes, also with a lemony undertone and wonderful with tea. Even the cinnamon buns are great, with the substantial texture I love, the kind you can sink your teeth into. Some pastries are sold individually (most $1.49); others come in packages of six (most $3.99)
When it comes to rice pudding it's hard to beat the Portuguese, and this ultra-smooth, flavourful version, streaked with cinnamon, is marvellous. So, not surprisingly, is the flan in a clear, light caramel sauce. Also -- although they do carry breads and rolls from Lisbon Bakery -- their own single stab at breadmaking is a good white loaf.
You can have a bifana sandwich, a bun filled with wine-marinated pork cutlet with sautéed onions -- a little under-seasoned, but much tastier when splashed with a bit of hot sauce ($3). Buns are also stuffed with house-made chorizos, which do have a bite, and are also sold by the piece for takeout. Soup goes for $2.50, and changes daily -- a nice tomato-beef one day, on another day the more interesting caldo verde, a greenish puree of potatoes and kale.
On Saturdays there are a few cooked dishes as well. They vary from week to week, but I hope the terrific Portuguese-style ribs are a constant -- tasting of a wine marinade with plenty of garlic (price will depend on the number of bones bought -- my meal-sized portion was $5). I also tried a miniature fried mackerel, mainly out of duty -- all too often I've found mackerel too oily and strong tasting, but that Saturday's sweet-fleshed version converted me. Even eaten cold. Future Saturday specialties might include chorizos cooked with potatoes and, with any luck, salt codfish balls.
Service is charming and helpful.
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Try to send someone to a restaurant on Dufferin Avenue and they may look at you funny. But explain to them that it's a pretty quiet area, especially during the day, and maybe you can convince them to give Island Flava's savoury Jamaican specialties a try. There are just a few, but at prices that will make the neighbourhood look a lot better, with generous entrees from $9 to $15. And for those who are still leery, plans are to start delivery to much of the city any day now.
It's just one tiny room, with seating for 10 only, but it's cheerful and spotless, and clearly most of its business will be for takeout. Each specialty is featured on a certain day, and oxtails -- the Jamaican dish I love best -- is Wednesday's feature. I couldn't get there until Thursday, but the gods were smiling, and it was still available. I've never been disappointed by Jamaican oxtails, but this was one of the best -- meaty chunks in a dark brown gravy that was gelatinous and rich with marrow from the bones, not spicy but so full of flavour. Come to think of it, all those bones make for pretty sloppy eating, and you may be happier doing your chewing and slurping in privacy, at home.
The occasional lima bean turns up in the gravy, but there are more beans -- red ones (or peas, as they're called in Jamaica), which dot the savoury rice that comes with all the main courses. Also very good, but I can't say the same for the fried flour dumpling -- like a doughnut hole but far too heavy. The dish also came with a fair cole slaw, and a batch of bland stir-fried veggies.
An upcoming new menu will clarify which dishes appear on which days. I never did manage to connect with the chicken curry (Monday and Tuesday), but apparently the sauce is the same as Friday's meaty, and semi-incendiary goat curry. The jerk chicken drumsticks are always available, and they are moist and delicious under a slightly sweet, barely biting glaze, and (unlike some other jerks I've known) not stewy. There's not much else to try -- the DayGlo orange beef pattie tasted better than it looked, with a slightly nippy filling (two for $3.49), and on the new menu there will be rotis.
It seems to be a one-woman operation, which means the service might get bogged down at times. But she's a very nice woman, and if you're planning on takeout it's probably a good idea to phone ahead.
To see the location of Viena do Casteloas well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below. Island Flava does not currently appear below due to an error in Google maps -- this will be updated when the error has been fixed.