There aren't many of my favourite foods that I can't find in Winnipeg, but watching chef Anthony Bourdain work his way through two seafood towers -- in Brittany on one program, and in Paris on another -- evoked pangs of nostalgia and longing for the ones I still can't have. I remember two of those magnificent spreads -- also, as it happens, in Brittany and in Paris, at the fish-famous Le Duc. The latter in particular was a magnificent array of crustaceans and bivalves the sea had yielded that very morning.
But that, alas, was in another country; in our inland city, apart from sushi houses, seafood specialty restaurants are non-existent. I knew I wouldn't find that kind of tower here, but I yearned for something to satisfy my craving, and the very first item on Wasabi Sabi's menu looked promising: a seafood platter at $125 (obviously intended for two). It looked lavish, too, listing assorted sashimi, tuna tataki, seafood ceviche, shrimp, king crab and oysters.
However, anyone planning to come for that platter should probably call ahead to be sure it will be complete. We were almost immediately met with disappointment. There were no oysters at all, it turned out, early on a Saturday night (a sushi house without oysters seemed like an oxymoron); later we learned there would be no ceviche.
We hadn't arrived blind; I had phoned a day or two earlier to ask about the platter and it was described in detail, oysters and all. Lacking certain ingredients isn't a hanging offence, but when we asked what replacements we could have, we didn't get much help. Our server offered a few perfunctory suggestions without explaining (and we did keep asking) if they were of equal value. He also kept suggesting that we order la carte, even though we kept repeating it was the platter we had come for. When components of a top-listed feature are missing it seems reasonable that substitutions of equivalent value should be offered. And if our server didn't know what they might be, he should have consulted with the chef or manager instead of letting us fumble our way through the menu without effective guidance.
It was an unpleasant experience, and it wasn't the only one. That came later. We had finally settled on mango shrimp which (given our lengthy discussion) we understood to be one replacement for the oysters and the ceviche, especially since the shrimp that were supposed to be on the platter also turned up missing. It was a gorgeous dish -- six huge, deep-fried shrimp, glazed in a light, chili-flecked sauce, complemented by juicy cubes of mango -- but it showed up on the bill at an extra $14.
That said, what we did have on the platter was mostly excellent, especially the sashimi -- pink and red tuna, sockeye salmon, slightly chewy squid and surf clams, and chewier octopus. But the stars of the show, and possibly the best sashimi of my experience, were the rich-tasting butterfish; the smooth, deep-flavoured hamachi (yellowtail); and the exquisitely tender slices of scallops.
The chunks of crab were good too, but a skimpy two bites each. There was also tuna tataki and (possibly as a substitute) a special kind of sashimi -- salmon, tuna and butterfish, seared with hot olive oil and dotted with garlic and wee bits of scallion which, for my taste, obscured, rather than enhanced the flavours of the fish.
The dramatic, softly lit setting is stunning, divided into several different areas. The food was served within a reasonable time, but after two-and-a-half hours (the first half hour spent in trying to define our order), and a total bill of $200, it came as a surprise to be asked to give up our table because it was needed.
In my full review six years ago, I commented on the friendly, knowledgeable service. I wish I could have repeated that comment today.
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After my experience at Wasabi Sabi, I made a point of phoning to make sure Terrace in the Park's seafood tower was still on the menu. (That visit wasn't without incident, either, for other reasons.) I had chosen lunch because, according to the menu, that was the only time it was served. Ditto the honey mussels from B.C., which we'd planned to order as well.
We soon learned there were plans to change the menu altogether, dropping the tower. The new menu goes into effect next week, so you have just a few days to try the tower -- and it might be worth the effort.
At $29 each (for a minimum of two) it is probably intended more as an appetizer than a meal and, following our server's suggestion, we ordered two portions for three of us, plus some extra oysters ($3 each, six for $16).
A pyramid of ice comes topped by lobster, snow crab, shrimp and oysters -- all delicious and served with a series of sauces on the side (but no lemon). The oysters (two different kinds) were plump, luscious and particularly fine.
Our problem was with the mussels, listed on the menu as B.C. honey mussels, which are brown-shelled, meaty, sweet, locally rare and quite fabulous. What we got instead were P.E.I. mussels -- tiny, but acceptable ($18, with tasty, but not crisp, fries), but not what we had ordered. When we mentioned it to the server, we were told the honey mussels weren't available -- again, not a hanging offence -- but the substitution should not have been automatic.
Still, we enjoyed the tower, the oysters and also our finale, a sumptuous Thai brownie with a mild tingle of chili, paired with vanilla bean ice cream, a little puddle of crème anglaise and a crisp sesame snap.
The service was friendly and attentive, and there are few venues to match the elegant, airy space with heavenly views of the park.