Tasty compromises

Satisfy your yearnings for Portuguese and Middle Eastern delicacies without breaking the bank

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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.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/01/2015 (2874 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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.

The bifana sandwich of marinated pork and caramelized onions is a constant, and so is my new love, the fabulous soft, chewy housemade bun with a baked-in filling of the housemade chourico with (you may have to ask for it) a fried egg, for $4.50. Other sandwiches are $3.50, or $6 with soup — a savoury kale and potato caldo verde as often as not.

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press Codfish cakes (right) and turnovers filled with seafood.

The kitchen’s greatest glory is the piri piri-glazed roast chicken, which can be purchased whole for $17, including a heap of roasted potatoes saturated with the glorious chicken juices. It’s best ordered a day in advance for optimum marinating time although it is sometimes available on shorter notice. It also turns up from time to time as a lunch entrée.

The main courses vary from day to day, with the largest selection on the weekend, particularly Saturday, most $6.50 to $10, for either in-house or takeout portions. As well as the chicken, some other options might be the alcatra wine-sauced braised beef; marinated roast pork; or pork and clams alentejana. Or, if you’re lucky, wine-marinated ribs.

Fridays usually run to fish dishes. There will always be a bacalhao casserole, and those who think they don’t like salt cod might be converted by the version with potatoes and onions in a luscious cream sauce. Other possibilities are octopus in port wine, mussels with chourico, stuffed squid or fried horse mackerel.

For starters you could nibble on such tapa-size tidbits as the incredibly light, fluffy codfish cakes or pastry turnovers filled with tuna, codfish or shrimp ($1 each, $8 a dozen). Alternately, the tuna and potato salad with pieces of hard boiled egg dressed in olive oil would make an ideal light lunch or shared appetizer ($6.50)

Pastries are nothing short of exquisite — glorious mocha-iced chocolate cupcakes, the city’s best custard tarts and the equally wonderful tarts with orange-flavoured flan or marzipan-like fillings ($1.50 each, six for $6). The coffee — a weak point in the past — is now excellent.

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press Chourico bun with fried egg.

Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday and Saturday. until 6 p.m. Fridays.

 

— — —

 

MIDDLE Eastern dishes are turning up everywhere, but nowhere have I found a donair, shawarma or kafta kebab to equal those at Best Pizza & Donair. It is possible to eat here, but it will be at one of the two tables or a counter seat, which are squeezed into the tiny foyer, and takeout would be the wiser choice for a leisurely feast on some of the city’s very best Middle Eastern food.

BORIS MINKEVICH/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Donair platter.

They still serve pizzas and calzones, as well as several Middle Eastern flatbreads, thinly spread with various toppings — my favourites were the zaatar spice mix, with hints of thyme and sumac, and the yogurt-like lebneh ($4.25 to $5.50). But the main draws for me are the fabulously flavourful marinated meats — the donairs (a mixture of lamb and beef), the chicken shawarma, and the kafta kebabs of freshly ground lamb. They come in generous portions, either on platters ($11.50 to $12.50), or wrapped in unusually fine, pliant pitas ($7.99 to $8.99).

Luscious hummus and a great tabouli salad garnish the platters, along with tasty rice and a simple lettuce and tomato salad. If tucked into a pita the meats come with salad veggies and either a potent, thick garlic sauce or an oddly sweet sauce (I’d opt for the garlic); there are strips of pickled turnip with the chicken, and, with the kafta, tahini sauce. There are also platters or pita sandwiches of cauliflower (which I didn’t try) and falafel, which are tasty but too dense and dry for my taste.

Communication may be a problem, but the menu has colour photographs and descriptions of everything. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

BORIS MINKEVICH/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Chicken shawarma.
History

Updated on Thursday, January 22, 2015 10:17 AM CST: Adds map

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