Marion Warhaft

  • You don't have to go far for Italian, Ukrainian and German delicacies

    None of today's subjects are restaurants, in the traditional sense of the word, but all have something special to offer. Cafferia is a sweet, light-filled little place, with a peaked ceiling and cottage style windows overlooking a parking lot that would make an ideal patio in summer. There are a few shelves of Italian products for sale (pastas, oils, canned tomatoes and such), but basicalanly it's a genuine Italian coffee house, serving up rich Italian brews ($2.50 to $4.50). I'm not a coffee fanatic but I do like my cuppa -- hot and strong, albeit often non p.c. (with sugar and cream) -- and when the espresso is rich, dense and not too bitter, when I don't add sugar to my cappuccino, and when my coffee maven friend declares the latte as the best ever, I know I have found my coffee heaven.
  • Charming eatery dishes up homey classics taken to a new level

    There are quotes from James Beard and M.F.K. Fisher on the menu, and another from Julia Child on the wall behind the bar, all of which hint at the aspirations of this charming place. Quotes don't necessarily mean much (I remember a menu with a highfalutin quote from a French chef but some pretty lowfalutin food on the plates) but the Marion Street Eatery is the real deal. It's a lovely room, with a laid-back vibe and an understated decor of simple white walls, dark brown woods and interesting paintings by local artist, Kristina Dimitrova (a.k.a.Dimi) -- I loved the three charging bisons that seem almost ready to leap off the wall. I also loved the handsome, mismatched old chairs and the clear glass filament bulbs that hang from the ceiling. Most of all I loved the sense of warmth and enthusiasm that permeates the atmosphere.
  • Tiny St. Anne's Road spot serves up delicious Indian fare

    It's tiny and plain, with nothing one could call decor, but there's a feast for the eyes in the big, beautiful painting by a local artist that faces the door (make a point of checking out the other painting just around the corner). And there are intimations of another kind of feast in the aroma of Indian spices that perfumes the air. However, those who like their spices hot should emphasize that fact. We ordered our food medium, which usually delivers enough zing to tingle our tongues, but, although most of what we got was full of flavour, medium turned out to be very mild (the best bets for incendiary spicing are the vindaloos and zhal frazis). But even though most of our dishes had no discernible kick, no two sauces tasted alike -- each had its own individual flavour.
  • Take a trip: Airport-hotel restaurant worth travelling for

    Getting to the airport is easy; getting to the Grand Hotel's Blue Marble Restaurant, not so much. The parking is validated, but first you have to find it and, in my case, instructions on the phone varied from person to person on different days. Other sites were mentioned, but the official version seems to be the airport parkade, which, I was told, involves only a short walk to the hotel. It doesn't. In fact, getting from car to hotel is a bit of a hike, after which, reaching the entrance to the oddly placed restaurant, with its back to the lobby, involves another stroll along a bleak, curving hall. Once there, though, you may find it was worth the trek. The decor is minimalist but beautiful, with a single wall of azure blue, other walls of taupe and pale grey, and seating either in handsome booths or on comfortable chairs. An illuminated fridge in one corner, which displays the herbs and micro-greens used by the kitchen, adds a fresh touch of green. It's the kind of elegance rarely found in airport-hotel restaurants, an elegance that extends to much of the food and to its presentation.
  • Grosvenor Tre Visi an uneven experience

    There's a Tre Visi on Grosvenor, and a Tre Visi on McDermot, but, confusingly, there's no connection between the two. The downtown restaurant (according to our server at the new one) has been sold, and will eventually change its name. The one on Grosvenor is the only one connected to the original. When I reviewed it a little over a year ago, it was a cadet branch of the downtown operation, with a more limited menu, but there have been significant changes since that review. For one thing, reservations now are accepted; for another, the downtown staff has moved to this newer venue. The menu has incorporated some of the downtown dishes, but it has also dropped a few from last year's Grosvenor menu.
  • New chef, same satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs German fare at St. James mainstay

    It's been several years since I last dined here, and nothing seems to have changed. Gasthaus Gutenberger still has that Germanic-chalet look, with walls part pale stucco and part wood panelling, adorned by paintings and a few antique-looking (but locally made) wood-cuts of medieval monks carousing among the beer barrels (the dark ages clearly weren't totally dark). The ambience is casual, apart from the formal-looking, high-backed chairs that have been there forever and also seem unchanged, except for the uncomfortably sagging seats. When original chef-owner Kurt Wagner retired a few years ago, some habitués wondered if the new owner-chef's cooking would live up to that of the master's. They needn't have worried. Jereme Labelle was trained by and worked with Kurt Wagner for eight years before taking over, and the German specialties I tried recently seemed as good as ever.
  • Couple off to a tasty start with newly opened Korean restaurant

    I never rush to review restaurants as soon as they open, allowing them enough time to settle in and iron out any kinks. Big, well-funded commercial operations should have all the kinks ironed out, but often they don't and, sadly, time isn't always an answer. In some restaurants, the performance is as disappointing after six months as it was at opening. Family-run ethnic restaurants rarely need that much time, at least not when it comes to the cooking, which is something they've understood all their lives. Still, I usually give them some settling-in time too, but not always and not too much -- the occasional little gem might fold before anybody gets to hear of it. So I'm glad I didn't know that Kiwa was less than a month old at the time of my first visit -- little gems deserve recognition as early as possible.
  • The beer list is impressive, but menu doesn't match up at Polo Park pub

    Oysters, sausages, German potato salad, sauerkraut! Had I died and gone to heaven, or to that heaven-on-earth known as Alsace? And had I landed in one of those brasseries which, although they'd originated as breweries, evolved into restaurants where you could have anything from a snack to a full meal at any time of day? Well, no, I was reading the Barley Brothers website menu, and when I got there, I found pretty much what I'd expected.
  • Fusion Grill's ingredients may be regional, but its culinary vision remains global

    These days everyone's a locavore, but Fusion Grill was one of the first to emphasize ingredients that were, as often as possible, locally sourced and organic. It's been well over a decade since I was last here, and although the tables are still close together, the small space seems cosier than I remembered -- still simple but nice, with white tablecloths, chairs more suitable to a kitchen but padded for comfort and lovely paintings of clouds on the walls.
  • Celebrate the Year of the Horse with a lavish traditional Chinese banquet

    Gung hei fat choy -- Happy New Year, according to one translation, or wishing you prosperity, according to another. In any case, the Year of the Horse -- a rocky year, according to some predictions -- brought me luck in my hunt for a Chinese New Year dinner. Different forms of the dinner are offered in a few other restaurants, but I was looking for one that would go on long enough (about a month), so readers could take advantage of this report, and one that wasn't intended for a minimum of 10 people only. Summer Palace fulfilled all my wishes, coming up with proposals for a sumptuous banquet, and needing only a few days notice (arranged anonymously, incidentally). One of the reasons I chose it was for the relative tranquility of the bi-level space, another was because of the 4 1/2 stars I'd awarded it a few years ago, and a third was because of the management's flexibility and co-operation. Yes, they do offer a set, multi-course meal for 10 at $338 -- the easiest way to order, if there are 10 of you -- but although we were to be only four, we were allowed to choose the dishes we wanted on an a la carte basis. Not only that, although the New Year's specials will be featured for about a month, any of the special dishes can be pre-ordered at any time.
  • Bistros offer tasty European specialties

    It isn't often I can recommend 41/2-star restaurants as bargains, but today I have two -- one in its entirety, the other, for certain specialties on specific days. Bistro Dansk is closed while its owners are on vacation, but will reopen Tuesday, Feb. 4. It's a genuine family restaurant, owned since 1977 by Joe and the late Jaroslava Vocadlo, and since 1989 by son and daughter-in-law Paul and Pamela. I've written about this durable little place several times over the years, but today's review is a special anniversary.
  • St. B restaurant boasts some of the best Caribbean fare in town

    Purple Hibiscus looks much as it did on my last visit, almost two years ago. There's still nothing one might call decor, and the only noticeable difference is the addition of a few more tables, which are lined up against the outer wall and offer a view into the open kitchen opposite. It's still a plain little place, but you can't eat decor, and what you can eat is some of the best Caribbean food in the city. If you're lucky, the fabulous cassava balls will be available -- crusty on the outside, fluffy on the inside, sweetened by a streak of purple yam. On my last visit they were only one of the many sides that accompanied the entrées, and if you're really lucky, owner-cook Ave Dinzey will have done what she ought to do, i.e. put them on the permanent menu.
  • Modest restaurants offer top-quality meals at reasonable prices

    Just about now (if you haven't already paid them) the bills are rolling in, but that doesn't mean you have to eat at home. My annual bargain columns are reminders of some moderately priced restaurants that have been reviewed in the not-too-distant past -- not rock-bottom-cheap fast foods, but expertly prepared, value-priced real meals. Today's two are both family-run ethnic restaurants where the welcome is typically warm, and both in the past have made it onto my best-of-the-year lists.
  • Winnipeg's culinary scene is so hot, we needed two weeks to dish out 2013's highlights

    All of last week's nominees for the best restaurants reviewed in 2013 were rated four stars or more, but it's a measure of how much more the city has to offer that another column was necessary. Some that didn't make last week's list actually had four stars; others -- because they are very modest or limited operations -- had no stars at all, but, as is often the case, the stars don't always tell the whole story. Today's first four listings did have four stars. GAMI SUSHI is a particularly charming place with several outstanding offerings, among them generous fresh-tasting tuna sashimi; a deluxe California roll with real crabmeat; exceptional sunomono salad; sesame-flavoured tuna and avocado goma ae, crunchy don katsu pork and addictive beef yaki noodles. 912 Portage Ave., 204-775-0444.
  • Spoiled for choice

    Choosing the best restaurant of the year can be difficult, but when there's only one with a five star rating the choice is obvious. Step'n Out has always been excellent (four-and-a-half stars aren't to be sneezed at), but the meals I had this past year were flawless. My favourite was the superb crepes with shrimp, crab and lobster in a delicate creamy sauce with mushrooms, but I also loved the pickerel in a light remoulade sauce with capers and a swirl of fried julienned sweet potatoes; the linguini with shrimp, lobster tails and asparagus; the garlic and rosemary-seasoned rack of lamb in port wine demi-glace; and the glorious crustless pie of slightly caramelized apple slices. 157 Provencher Blvd., 204-956-7837.  
  • Gami generous with the decor

    Strip mall restaurants just aren't what they used to be. Not only are they home to more interesting cuisines, but those once austere interiors have been giving way to some that can actually boast of decor. A case in point is Gami Sushi, a surprisingly enchanting little place softly lit by Japanese lanterns and featuring leatherette booths topped by pale bamboo additions which create more privacy and are partially sheltered, as well, by dark brown wicker screens. There are accents of fresh, healthy greenery (including what I think is a rubber tree), a little vase of fresh daisies on every table and, on one wall, a delicate depiction of a branch of orange blossoms. It doesn't take a fortune to make a place pretty -- just an artistic sensibility, something which is extended here to the presentation of the food, which is charming. More to the point though, none of the above would matter if the food wasn't good, but, as it happens, it is.
  • It's the most important meal of the day and at River Heights deli, you can enjoy it all day long

    Call it breakfast, call it brunch -- and now you can even call it dinner if you have it at Bernstein's, where the breakfast menu is available all day, and later than it used to be. The hours have been extended to range from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, until 2:30 p.m on Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the once-closed Sunday. That's only one of the changes at this durable (almost 30 years) deli-cum-butcher shop-cum-restaurant. It's still your typically bare-bones deli, but now son Aaron is a managing partner with his mother, Marla Bernstein, and they have been joined by new chef Beth Jacob, of the late and much lamented Fresh Cafe.
  • Extensive menu and complex dishes on offer at new Ethiopian restaurant

    This mini-strip mall has been a melting pot of cuisines since its beginning, most often Indian, Vietnamese and Ethiopian, at times changing tenants with such head-spinning regularity some were never reviewed. This particular space has been Ethiopian at least twice that I can remember, and today, as the Blue Nile, it is Ethiopian again. It's a pleasant, softly lit place, done in muted shades of red, from pale coral to deep burgundy, its two walls of large windows shaded by particularly attractive vertical blinds in soft mauve with silvery streaks. It also has a small hookah lounge set slightly apart from the dining area, but since it wasn't in use when I was there I can't report on what effects a hookah might have on the rest of the room (I was told it's never a problem, and that a variety of herbs and fruit flavours are used in the process). In any case, the first aroma that greeted us upon entering was incense, followed by the aroma of savoury, spice-rich cooking.
  • Plenty to get fired up about at popular bistro

    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.
  • Heat seekers lock on

    Most Chinese restaurants have both takeout and in-house menus, and there's often little relationship between the two. Some, especially those that specialize in authentic Chinese food, have three menus, and some even a fourth, printed entirely in Chinese. Yami Garden does have two menus, plus one in Chinese only, as well as table cards in Chinese, but it differs from many others in one basic respect -- there are no dishes on any of the Chinese menus that can't be found on the English-only in-house menu. Even more atypically, most of them are on the takeout menu as well. The location is also atypical, offering an authentic Chinese experience in Island Lakes instead of on Pembina. Yes, this one is a bit of a drive if you don't live in the area, but it's easier to find than those near-invisible addresses on Pembina -- just a straight drive out Bishop Grandin, and just past Lakewood Boulevard, a right turn onto Island Shore Boulevard, then immediately into a small strip mall. Et voil, you're there.
  • Head of the class

    It's been a year, almost to the day, since I had a meal that was prepared and served by the graduating class of Red River College's culinary school. It was in their Prairie Lights dining room, on the Notre Dame Avenue campus -- a blandly beige kind of place with almost nothing about the decor to engage the eye. Dining at Jane's, RRC's new restaurant in the 110-year-old Union Tower, is like dining in a different century. The spectacular setting is a total opposite of Prairie Lights, reflecting the grandeur of early 20th-century Winnipeg architecture, with a soaring, gilt-accented, white coffered ceiling; massive terra cotta-coloured Corinthian columns, huge windows and marble floors. The old wrought-iron elevator doors are used as dividers, creating intimate areas in the huge room. One of the few 21st-century touches is the ultra-modern open kitchen, which offers a view of the cooks at work.
  • Satisfying hunger pangs in Exchange

    If you're looking for lunch in the Exchange, the following three options, which are clustered within a few blocks of each other, should ease your hunger pangs. There may be the occasional breakfast dish, but their mainstays are sandwiches, soups and salads. Since parking can be difficult, much of their clientele is within walking distance -- living, working, studying or shopping in the area, but almost everything they make is available for takeout, and most of it will be delicious.
    • Kay's Deli has a few tables and chairs, five counter stools and a few easy chairs near the windows. Street parking is fairly easy (albeit metered), making it fairly accessible for eating in -- you order and pay at the till, but the food is brought to your table. Given its pint-sized space, I suspect more food is taken out than eaten in, but whatever you have and wherever you eat it, it will be top-notch.
  • Longevity isn't always proof of quality, but at Cafe Carlo it is

    A reader emailed me recently about finding "a terrific new restaurant." That was almost certainly a young reader, since an entire generation has known about Cafe Carlo, and patronized it often enough to keep it flourishing for 25 years. Longevity isn't necessarily proof of quality, but in this case it is.
  • Chinese restaurant moved and improved

    Readers had questions, and today's column is all about answers. QUESTION: Is the new Dim Sum Garden under the same ownership as the former one on Rupert Street?
  • Thai restaurant's appetizers could make a meal in themselves

    The setting is simple but stylish, with lime-green walls and eggplant-coloured leatherette booths, with the only suggestions of Asia in the delicate bamboo patterns etched into the windows and decorating the long, slender forks and spoons. Sabai Thai looks like a tranquil kind of place, and it is, until it fills up, when the decibel level rises dramatically. Appetizers are $6.50 to $10, while curries and noodle dishes are $9.50 to $18, most of them mix-matched with a choice of tofu, chicken or beef. Shrimp are an extra $3, and rice -- coconut-jasmine -- $2 more. Most of the food will be familiar to anyone who has eaten in other Thai restaurants, and most of it will taste freshly cooked and good. The seasoning is expert, but milder than most -- this is one of the few Thai menus that doesn't use those little red peppers to denote degrees of heat, and doesn't need them since there isn't much heat in most of the dishes, not even in the few that are described as spicy. Nor were we asked how hot we wanted our food, and nothing I tried would have raised a bead of sweat, so if you like yours incendiary, be sure to let them know.

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