Marion Warhaft

  • Rave-worthy Japanese food the flavour of a chef at the top of his game

    So there's another new Japanese restaurant. What else is new, and why choose this one to review over the dozens of others? Well, for starters, I knew that Fusian's owners had owned Asahi, which I had liked when it was on Broadway, and liked even more when it moved to Charleswood. And now I'm over-the-moon in love with the best Japanese food I've had since the glory days of Edohei. It's a spiffy little place, minimally but charmingly done in scarlet, white and black. The name is obviously a play on "fusion," which describes much of what's on the menu. But these dishes aren't just misguided gropings for the unusual; they are the work of a genuinely creative chef with complete mastery of his art.
  • Disappointment, à la carte

    The decor, done in shades of light grey to black, is cool and stylish, its most dramatic aspect the huge, intersecting circles of brushed steel that hang from the ceiling, Two long communal tables of pale wood that dominate the centre of the room offer a view of the open kitchen, and individual tables line the outer wall. But it's noisy wherever you sit -- all the surfaces are hard, and the most grating sound of all is of chairs scraping on the concrete floor. The menus, which are divided into Small Plates and Mains, make for an interesting read, and the prices are high enough to further raise expectations.
  • Top-notch Chinese dishes deliver wonderfully spicy flavours

    Even among the excellent Chinese restaurants that line Pembina, Golden Loong is a standout, featuring a cuisine from Xian in northwest China that is dramatically different. Prices are slightly higher than on many other Chinese menus (most main courses are $11.95 to $17.95) but the food is wonderful and the portions, at the upper price end, enormous. The fresh, flavourful noodles are star turns. All are handmade, some hand-ripped; some are served cold, some hot; and it was a toss-up as to which were more fabulous -- the cold noodles with cucumbers in chili oil (No. 2), or the hot spicy pork with the wider, hand-ripped noodles (No. 3).
  • Tasty compromises

    High prices don't guarantee quality. I've often dropped a bundle and been disappointed, and I've often had wonderful food for surprisingly little. Which is why -- at a time when the holiday bills are rolling in -- I always devote three columns to bargains, retesting restaurants that were reviewed favourably in the not-too-distant past. Viena do Castelo's bargains come in two ways -- for eating in or taking out. It is a grocery store, its shelves stacked with Portuguese imports, but there are also seven little tables where one can have lunch or a snack. Not only is everything still delicious, but -- in a city that just doesn't have enough Portuguese food -- Viena's menu is constantly evolving.
  • Looks can be deceiving

    The sleek modern decor is striking. Huge, black-hooded lights hang like space pods from the ceiling. One wall is covered in what looks like ivory leather, another by dark wood shingles, which appear again on big square columns. The wooden chairs are handsome but hard, unpadded and not very comfortable. All the surfaces are hard, and the noise bounces around, creating a very high decibel level -- even in a half-empty room we felt bombarded by other people's conversations. One night's appetizers raised expectations for a fine dinner. A generous portion of steak tartare, mixed with a quail egg, was outstanding ($21), and chicken livers with a touch of spice from wee bits of chorizo, served over grits were also delicious ($14). However, another night's grilled sweetbreads with mushrooms, in a lacklustre cream sauce, badly needed salt, but there were no salt shakers on the tables ($16). In any case, those first two appetizers were as good as it got.
  • Local restaurants impressed in 2014 with specialties that stood out

    Choosing the year's best restaurants can be agonizing. So many must be omitted -- some for reasons of space; some because they may be ultra basic; some because only a few of their dishes are exceptional; and some because their menus, if they exist at all, are limited. But last year, all the following restaurants came up with some specialties that are worth seeking out this year. Their complete reviews can be found on the Free Press website.  
  • A mouthful of magnificent

    If there was any doubt about today's major trend, two of the best restaurants reviewed during the past year specialize in tapas, a.k.a. small plates. Oddly enough, what they also share is out-of-the-ordinary locations, and a smaller clientele than they deserve.  
  • Persian, Somali food in short supply in Winnipeg, so this duo is a great discovery

    Several years ago we had a few Persian restaurants and, in the more recent past, the occasional Somali restaurant. With the temporary closing (several months now) of Kabob Palace, and the permanent closing of Sa'aadal Kheyr, we lost our only sources of Persian and Somali food. Recently, though, I found a new source for each of those cuisines -- limited in both cases and definitely not run-of-the-mill. It seems almost axiomatic that the more difficult the communication, the better the chances of good food; at least that's how it was in today's two subjects. Ordering may be difficult, but what George's and Palm Tree have in common is the smiling welcome and warmth of the owners who, despite the difficulties in communication -- or possibly because of it -- are exceptionally eager to please those who show an interest in their cuisines.
  • Frantic festivities wearing you out? Treat yourself to a takeout meal

    In this hectic season, even energetic social animals can get tired of eating out and partying, and even the most dedicated of hosts may want a cosy family meal at home. Of course, it doesn't necessarily follow that they'll want to cook that meal, and fortunately they don't have to -- there are other options. Hanukkah -- the eight-day Festival of Light -- is coming up, but for those who keep a kosher kitchen (the Jewish equivalent of halal), there's only one source of prepared meats that are certified kosher: Desserts Plus. They do stock cold cuts, but also several ready-to-heat items for real meals.
  • New Tallest Poppy location offers expanded menu, extended hours

    If you loved The Tallest Poppy on Main Street, you'll probably love this new and more ambitious incarnation. It's much roomier than the original, but has the same casual, quirky charm, right down to the mismatched tables and chairs. That extra space also offers more room for art -- two enormous blue abstract paintings by Sharon Johnson hanging on opposite walls, two smaller abstracts by Shawna Conner and -- tucked into a corner-- Jade Harper's lovely small prints of poppies. Even the ceiling is a striking composition of Mondrian-like squares. Owner Talia Syrie has a new partner in this location -- mixologist Steve Ackerman -- and between them they have created an engaging addition to the neighbourhood. But although the vibe may be Wolseley, the appeal is city-wide -- the lineups by 10 a.m. for the weekend brunches can't all be from the immediate area, any more than they were on Main Street. But unlike those huge family-style breakfasts, these are all la carte (about which more later).
  • Roll the (delicious) dice

    The problem in some Chinese restaurants is deciding what to order from those rambling menus which -- when the specials and the Chinese only pages are included -- often exceed a daunting 200 items. That's not the problem at Fu Lin. Au contraire. A very short menu lists the usual westernized standards ($4.99 to $8.99), with mentions of lunch and dinner buffets ($6.99) -- all for dining in or taking out, none of which I can report on. There is no other menu, not in English, not even (despite the all-Chinese clientele on my visits) in Chinese. The modest exterior offers no hints at what to expect -- just a little corner building which might once have been a grocery store. But it turns out to be surprisingly nice within and spotless (the washrooms as well), with a huge Chinese fan on one of the pale lemon walls, and a lovely printed fabric hanging on another. There are only four tables, seating a mere 16 on handsome, comfortable chairs, and one might wonder what kind of business sustains such a tiny place. Much of it, I'd assume, would be takeout orders from that standardized menu.
  • The Mitchell Block: Good, bad... indifferent

    Amazing what a difference a few details can make. I haven't been here in years, and the bones of the room are the same, but Tre Visi's mosaic-like paintings are gone, replaced by a minimalist decor brightened by a few vibrant modern paintings. No, it isn't Italian any more, said the person who greeted us, although, as it turned out, pastas are what The Mitchell Block does best. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First things first. The reception on one visit wasn't exactly cold, or even cool; just sort of indifferent. I didn't take it personally, at least not until we were led to the worst table in an almost empty dining room, jammed in right next to the kitchen doors. Surely, I suggested (mildly, in case you're wondering), he wasn't planning to seat us there. Well yes, that was exactly what he was planning; all the tables were reserved, he said. But so was ours, I said, and asked if all the other reservations had been for specific tables. Of course they weren't, which was when he caved, and gave us our choice of any table in the room (not all of which, by the way, were occupied by the time we left).
  • Expanded selection at Japanese bistro has items you won't find on other menus

    Like Ce Soir, Kyu is another restaurant I'm re-reviewing in less than two years, and the reason is also due to major changes. (Is this a trend? Start small and grow at leisure?) Alcohol is now available and the menu has expanded dramatically. The 16 snack items have swollen to 35, the four ramen to eight, and some main courses have been added as well. No sushi, though, which -- given the glut of sushi outlets -- is probably just as well. I usually visit a restaurant at least twice, and given the small size and prices of so many items, it was easy to work my way through an impressive number on my first visit. All had ranged from good to delicious, and it would have been easy to write a column on those alone. But I'm nothing if not compulsive. Possibly some of the other dishes might not be as good? Possibly some might be even better? Compulsivity and conscience won, and a good thing, too, since I found some terrific treats the second time around.
  • Small plates, big flavours

    Yes, Tapastry is located in the Niakwa Country Club, but no, you don't have to be a member to eat there. I have to assume that fact isn't generally known since I can think of no other reason why there should have been so few other diners when I was there. A pity, since those who don't know about it won't know what they are missing -- not just some truly terrific food, but some great values for money as well. The dining room is handsome and formal, but the atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable, a study in muted shades of taupe and brown, with occasional blazes of colour in the paintings by local artists. But an oversize wall of windows is also part of the decor, offering sweeping views of the patio and golf course -- lovely when green, and probably just as lovely under snow. With luck you may see a herd of deer (they're often sighted), at least during daylight hours -- the same menu is in use at both lunch (Monday to Friday) and dinner (Monday to Saturday).
  • From the Middle East to Mexico

    Although in most ways they are worlds apart, today's two restaurants do have something in common. Both offer a limited selection of dishes from sub-tropical climates, and although it is possible to eat in either, you may be more comfortable taking the food home. The menu at Sultan's Shawarma lists the inevitable pizzas, burgers and fries, and for all I know they may be good. But they weren't what I had come for. It wasn't for the decor, either; there is none -- it's just an austere little room, but spotless, and visible just behind the counter where orders are placed, is the major attraction.
  • Bistro's expanded menu gives francophiles more to love

    It's been less than two years since I first reviewed Café Ce Soir, but at that time it was just a café, with a limited selection of soups, salads and sandwiches, and noted primarily for French-trained Cam Tram's fabulous desserts. Since that time it has morphed into a real bistro, now offering a selection of traditional French dishes -- some of them seen less often, if at all, on today's trendy menus, but evocative enough to bring tears to the eyes of sentimental francophiles. Nothing else has changed, probably on the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" principle, although, actually, there isn't much room for change in this pint-sized, 20-odd-seat space. The walls are still brick red, with a dark depiction of the Eiffel Tower on one of them, and the tables are still the little round ones of blond wood that were barely adequate for sandwiches and desserts, and now are even less adequate for, say, two entrées, two glasses of wine and a bread basket.
  • Creative comfort with a twist

    If you've been wondering about the bar part of Maw's Eatery & Bar, just ask to see the wine list. There isn't one, you'll be told, but you can have a glass of red or white. On the other hand, that anonymous house red, at a modest (these days) $6 for six ounces, turned out to be far more drinkable than many identified pours I've had elsewhere at significantly higher prices. Which, possibly, may say as much about the standards of this quirky place as the food does. So yes, Maw's is basically what it says it is -- not a full-scale restaurant, but an eatery and bar with a very limited food menu, a predictably wide selection of draft and bottled beer, and a laid-back decor with seating arrangements that reflect that emphasis. A few conventional table and chairs line a wall of pale, natural brick; the rest of the seating is divided between high bar stools and tables near the windows and, in the middle of the room, low sofas and armchairs around old trunks which substitute for tables. Some glassed-in bookcases house a variety of knickknacks; in one corner there's an entertainment space for live music in the evening; and in another corner, a print of the Mona Lisa.
  • Restaurant's sibling a standout

    Offshoots of established restaurants are often smaller than the originals. Not Sam Po, which dwarfs its owner, the tiny and always bustling Noodle Express, just across the street. This one is a big and spotless bi-level place, with an understated decor of ivory walls with dark brown accents, lighting that is bright but not glaring, well-spaced tables and seating that is more comfortable than most. It also specializes in dim sum, with an almost identical menu available every day from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Regular prices range from $2.60 to $4, or $2.50 each during happy hour, which runs from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily, with (unlike some happy hours) all but one of its 51 items available. There are no rolling carts; all items are made to order, and although some could have had more flavour, and at least one -- the pan-fried pork dumpling -- was a stodgy, tasteless dud, most were good and some were excellent.
  • The best meals of our lives don't always rank a Michelin star

    In the Six Degrees of Separation department I have a slight -- very slight -- connection with Saulieu's famed hotel/restaurant the Cote d'Or, whose renowned chef, Bernard Loiseau, committed suicide 10 years ago, after the Gault Millau guide demoted his rating from 19 out of 20 to 17. His action may seem incomprehensible to most of us -- especially since he still had his three Michelin stars -- but probably not to anybody who has lived in France, and know how impossible it is to overestimate the importance of food in a country where great chefs are revered as national heros, often worthy of a Legion d'Honneur award.
  • Meaty entrées rule the menu at cosy local staple

    THERE'S been a Rib Room in the Charterhouse, in one form or another, for over 45 years -- obviously, not always under the same management or ownership. Or, for that matter, not always in the same location. On my last visit, 10 years ago it was on the west side of the hotel -- a gloomy study in brown, with a confusingly mixed performance from the kitchen, depending on the night of one's visit. Now, 10 years later, it's back in the east side location, directly to the left of the hotel entrance. It's still a monochromatic study, ranging from warm beige to dark chocolate brown, but it isn't at all gloomy. The lighting is soft, the ambience is warm and quite cosy and the black-and-white photographs of Winnipeg architecture are fascinating. More to the point, although satisfaction may still depend on the night of your visit, most of the food has improved.
  • Beer is focus at new Osborne Village restaurant/pub

    The traditional pubs of Great Britain -- those cosy oases of simple but savoury sustenance in the bad old days of British cooking -- are said to be disappearing at an alarming rate. Ironically, more and more pubs keep opening on this side of the pond, although not all of them offer old-style sustenance. But for some, beer is the pub's raison d'etre and, as it happens, beer is the best reason for a visit to Jekyll and Hyde's Freehouse (formerly known as Cheers). There are two totally separate rooms. The Hyde is for entertainment, usually after 10 p.m. -- music, comedy, karaoke, dancing and such. Jekyll's is the dining area, with tables, booths and a bar. It's quite dark and spare, but comfortable, with various sports events on a string of wall-mounted television sets, under a high, industrial-style ceiling. There's music, of course, and of course it's loud, but somehow far less intrusive than the music in many more intimate places. There's also a very attractive patio -- a pity lunch wasn't an option on our few balmy days, but the place doesn't open until 4 p.m. (and stays open late).
  • 71/4 changes don't add up

    What's in a name, Shakespeare's Juliet asks. Not a heckuva lot when it's Bistro 71/4, and Alexander Svenne isn't in the kitchen. And he isn't. The name may not have changed, but the cooking has. The restaurant has been under new ownership since last November and the difference is dramatic. Since my last review some years ago, the space has been doubled to include a bar and lounge, which is now the preferable area -- quieter, with more space between the tables. The sleek, understated original room is passably comfortable if you can get one of the few tables near the windows in front, but I'd avoid the dark, cramped and very noisy interior.
  • Japanese, Chinese and Filipino outlets offer delicious variety for at-home dining

    Sushi and sashimi are becoming increasingly popular for home consumption, and with good reason. Cold seafood travels very well, much better than those traditional Sunday night suppers of Chinese food or fried chicken. It can be bought for takeout from any sushi restaurant, but there is an increasing number of places that specialize in takeout and delivery only. Watta Sushi is one of the better outlets I've found. The choice of fish for sushi is limited, but the quality of those they do use is high and the prices below the general average. Because of their simplicity, nigiri sushi are an acid test, one passed swimmingly by our order of fresh-tasting, generously cut slices of tuna belly and salmon belly on moist, subtly seasoned and exceptionally good rice ($3.99 to $4.99 for two pieces). Tuna and salmon are the only choices for sashimi but they too were excellent (six pieces for $10.99, seven for $12.99, 12 for $15.99).
  • Pleasure in the park

    It's a heavenly site -- a long wall of windows and an equally long balcony overlooking a meandering pond (partially drained at present, for construction purposes), and beyond, a luxuriant growth of majestic trees. Some Warhol prints are displayed on the earth-toned inside wall; the chairs, with leather-like seats and lovely fabric upholstery, are not only exceptionally attractive but exceptionally comfortable as well, and, apart from a fireplace, set in a massive central pillar, that's about all there is for decor. And that's all it needs. The kitchen, under the direction of Wow! Hospitality's executive chef, Michael Dacquisto, and chef Beau Schell, lives up to the setting, offering relatively high-end food at less than high-end prices. At least they do at dinner, which, although not labelled as such, is the only menu shown on the restaurant's website. It was why a first visit for lunch seemed reasonable, especially for a restaurant in a major park.
  • Village tradition: Quality carries on into second generation

    Pembina Village must be doing something right -- after almost three decades of existence, this family-run business is now into its second generation of ownership. Nothing seems to have changed in the 13 years since my last full review -- the interior is still spacious and serene, with a minimalist decor of pale seafoam green, accented by lovely black-and-white photographs, and seating either in comfortable booths or at tables and chairs, as well as on a pleasant, umbrella-shaded patio. What also hasn't changed in 13 years is the quality of the food. Although the list of Greek specialties isn't particularly long, those that are listed are as good today as they were back then -- in some cases, even better.

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