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In Winnipeg, the worst two weeks of the year can also be the best

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Tammy Schuster

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Tammy Schuster

It's easy to fall in love with Winnipeg in the summertime. The sunny city is filled with festivals, and the green outer edges are filled with long sunny weekends at cabins and lakes. Everyone is happy. What's not to love?

Try finding something to fall in love with -- or even like -- in the winter. Say, in February when your patience and tolerance have been depleted.

As a Winnipeg transplant, I have had many difficult transitions to gracefully undergo while adjusting to life here.

I have found many things to enjoy in my few years as a 'Pegger. One of my favourites is watching the slow, steady smouldering of the Winnipeg food scene.

It just so happens that one of my favourite places in Winnipeg is a spot that only operates during a time of year when you are ready to give up on life.

After months of icy, angry cold, after the sky closes in around us and excretes another snowstorm and after the zipper on my moccasin breaks, my building fever of hate finally breaks with it.

Then, a tiny strand of joy threads its way inside my frozen heart when this quirky town redeems itself when she is at her worst. That's when Raw:almond, the restaurant on top of the frozen river where the Assiniboine and Red meet at The Forks, pops up.

For the past two years in February, a white sculpture-like structure is erected directly on top of the ice that holds in the rushing river beneath it. An arty little tent formed to blend in with the winterscape, it is lit to convey a mood of techno-industrial-wilderness (it's a thing). It is heated, and a full working kitchen waits to stuff your stomach full of love.

It operates for only two weeks -- probably the worst two weeks of the year. A rotation of local chefs and a few out-of-towners pop in to get in on this food exhibit.

It's so cool, I want to turn to the stranger seated next to me on a Winnipeg Transit bus and yell, "It's so cool" into the side of his or her tuque/scarf/mask combo.

Inside the restaurant, I feel like I'm sitting inside of a piece of art. This makes me slightly self-conscious because my fur hat is not big enough, and because I wasn't delivered by something equally as grand and homey, like maybe Big Foot pulling Santa's sleigh.

Seated at a long, communal, wooden table, a thick tree stump covered with a woolly sheepskin is my chair. The table is adorned with antlers, candles and wine. It's very Game of Thrones, except there are fewer breasts and less betrayal -- at least when I've been there. Things could change after a bottle of wine, though.

The more chilled red wine I drink, the more confident I am scuttling down the neon lit ice hallway leading back to the river, so I can hit the heated washroom.

I'm not a food reviewer and I don't take pictures of food. This is all about the experience. The food is a huge part of that experience.

Each of the courses in this five-course meal is like a sexy art science food mystery novel. Not always perfect, but imaginative, pretty and impressive. And come on, they're cooking in a makeshift kitchen on the river.

So, for a few short hours during the kind of snowstorm Winnipeg is famous for, I don't mind the numbness in my toes, because I feel lucky to be a part of this.

And The Forks is magical on a wintery night. Lovers and daredevils skating, groups curling together on the shrub-lined river walk. It gets better each year.

There aren't a metric tonne of cities that have done this or could pull it off. But we have it right here. So, next year you really must go have a look-see -- day or night.

I will be there shivering, eating, marveling and feeling pride for something I had nothing to do with, other than saying this is happening in Our Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2014 0

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