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Opinion

Small plates, big flavours

It's not technically tapas, but who cares when it's this tasty?

Lamb Chops at Tapastry in the Niakwa Country Club. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Lamb Chops at Tapastry in the Niakwa Country Club. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/10/2014 (1426 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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).

The dishes vary in size, none of them actually small enough to be accurately called tapas. But never mind the misnomer -- the term is used so loosely it has lost its original meaning, and the dishes that are called tapas on most local menus are much, much bigger than those tiny Spanish snacks. In fact, these are what are usually called Small Plates, and one of their attractions is that it's easy to work your way through a good chunk of the menu. Two dishes per person are usually recommended, but it's probably wise to order as you go, or you may find you've bitten off more than you can chew.

Although there was the occasional miss, the best of those I tried were rock-solid hits. They cost from $11 to $17, some small enough to serve as appetizers one might want to hog to oneself, but others so astonishingly generous they must be shared.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/10/2014 (1426 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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).

The dishes vary in size, none of them actually small enough to be accurately called tapas. But never mind the misnomer — the term is used so loosely it has lost its original meaning, and the dishes that are called tapas on most local menus are much, much bigger than those tiny Spanish snacks. In fact, these are what are usually called Small Plates, and one of their attractions is that it's easy to work your way through a good chunk of the menu. Two dishes per person are usually recommended, but it's probably wise to order as you go, or you may find you've bitten off more than you can chew.

Although there was the occasional miss, the best of those I tried were rock-solid hits. They cost from $11 to $17, some small enough to serve as appetizers one might want to hog to oneself, but others so astonishingly generous they must be shared.

The most dramatic example of that generosity was the surprisingly hearty portion of strip loin. Not only were there several slices of tender and particularly flavourful steak, grilled to a perfect medium rare, but they were garnished with excellent asiago seasoned mashed potatoes and a substantial ragout of herbed wild mushrooms — easily the size of a small entrée.

Grilled lamb chops were another fine choice, four of them, with a nicely charred and delicately lamby flavour, partnered with a lovely little goat cheese souffle and sautéed tomatoes. They are one of a few dishes which can be turned into entrées; as tapas they go for $17, but rise to $42 when more chops are added, plus a bread basket, potatoes and veggies of the day.

Double smoked bacon-wrapped prawns

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Double smoked bacon-wrapped prawns

The bison meatballs were wonderful, too, five hefty ones with superb flavour, finished with a wild mushroom sauce so luscious it demanded bread to sop it up. None was provided automatically, but a basketful of excellent, chewy bread was brought for the asking, at no extra charge.

The prawns were nothing short of magnificent, four massive, gorgeous ones, wrapped in exceptional double-smoked Tyrolean bacon, lightly sauced with a tomato agro dolce (subtly sweet and sour) and lemon garlic aioli, and served with crisp triangles of grilled flat bread.

Seared scallops and braised pork belly might more aptly be called pork belly and scallops since there was a lot of pork (under-seasoned and in need of some crisping) and only two scallops. However those two were huge, juicy and splendid, with an equally good mushroom and roasted corn ragout. A bright green purée — described as scallion sauce, but with no taste of scallions, or anything else — was a pointless addition.

Two dishes might rank higher with some tweaking. A big bowlful of chicken risotto might have been a decent buy if there had been more flavour (some or more wine in the stock and more Parmesan might have done it), and if the rice had kept the slight crunch of a well timed and constantly stirred risotto. Seared chicken livers in a pleasant sage-scented red wine reduction, over nicely crunchy crostini, weren't bad, but personally (and some friends disagree) I find blue cheese in general, and this one in particular, too overpowering for the livers.

However, two other dishes were untweakable misses: tough ravioli dough filled with tasteless roasted prime rib, bedded on mashed roasted yams, said to be topped with smoked gouda, which was undetectable; and mussels with an unpleasant, long-past-usable flavour (and no frites).

Other, unsampled possibilities include salads of roasted beet or arugula with orange; Dijon-glazed, house-smoked salmon; curried lamb stew on basmati rice; cold grilled Mexican shrimp with guacamole and cornbread; duck leg confit with spaetzle; and blackened halibut on roasted cauliflower purée.

Desserts are all $8, and our mixed berry crumble with ice cream and the gluten-free chocolate oblivion — a dense paté-like wedge with chocolate sauce and whipped cream — were both lovely. The remaining choices are a flavoured creme brulée, double-chocolate cheesecake and lemon chiffon torte.

The wine list is standard and fairly pricey, and a caesar cocktail was perfunctory (not so much as a stalk of celery). However, almost everything else about the experience was faultless — the dishes beautifully presented, the pacing perfect and the service solicitous, knowledgeable and warm.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 9:20 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds map

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