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Hits and misses on dynamic menu at loud Exchange spot

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/10/2012 (1752 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The decor is minimalist modern, with one textured white stucco wall adorned by some attractive small paintings, and other walls of dark grey sporting a big signature painting of an antlered deer. Subdued lighting by charming filament bulbs, encased in clear glass globes, and a potted tree in the middle of the room transform what might otherwise be a boring, square space into an ambience that is mellow and welcoming.

But there is a caveat. I've written about noise levels before, but this one is downright clamorous, a din loud enough to force conversation across the table to a shout.

Deer + Almond owner/ chef Mandel Hitzer  with, from front: filthy dirty pie, Benny and the Jets , pork belly and steelhead trout.


Deer + Almond owner/ chef Mandel Hitzer with, from front: filthy dirty pie, Benny and the Jets , pork belly and steelhead trout.

The Benny and the Jets dish at Deer + Almond.


The Benny and the Jets dish at Deer + Almond.

Deer + Almond restaurant on Princess Street.


Deer + Almond restaurant on Princess Street.

It hasn't interfered with Deer + Almond's success, though. On a recent visit every table was occupied, with a waiting line at the door. However the pace was leisurely, and at no time did we ever feel any pressure to leave.

The relatively short menu is augmented by a few daily specials listed on a wallboard. It's one of those eclectic lists that defies generalization. Ditto about the portion sizes, which range from the very small to the bigger (but not very big) plates. And ditto, for that matter, about the prices, which go from $6 to $34. Sharing is encouraged, and you can order as little as you wish to start, and then add to it if you're up for more.

Most of my choices were from the permanent menu, but that posed a problem for this review, since the menu of my first visit was changed by the time of my second, and some of the dishes I tried are no longer available. The one described simply as potato and egg, for instance -- the egg, it turned out, was dehydrated (their word) and sprinkled over the potato, also sparked by the saline tang of trout roe ($6). Also gone is the chicken with cilantro and a dip of Chinese vinegar, which was cousin to the crispy chicken of Chinese restaurants, albeit not quite as crispy, and a fraction of the Chinese portion size ($14). It has been replaced on the current menu by chicken with pickled peaches and Iberian feta ($16).

I hope some of the dropped dishes will return on the menu's future go-rounds. I'd been looking forward to trying the scallops on black rice, and I'd love to once again have the marvellous sablefish plat du jour, with its delicious beet and potato latke.

On the other hand, the current menu offers a lovely steelhead trout, bedded on a hash of tiny diced potatoes with crunchy and (bless them) locally rare celeriac, with wee smears on the side of a zesty, tomato-based romesco sauce, and a rather bland orange sauce ($17).

Unlike the trout, which could be considered an entrée, the Mexican white prawns are more suitable as an appetizer: five gorgeous giants in a citrusy, tomato sauce that -- despite no trace of the promised curry -- still packed a spicy wallop ($15). One problem, though: there was enough sauce to need bread for sopping up, but the bread -- admittedly superior focaccia -- was another $2.

There is the inevitable pork belly, nicely crisped and served with a dab of plum sauce, some chunks of pickled pineapple and a flurry of celery leaves ($11). Or if you like your brunch at either lunch or dinner, you can have a Benny and the Jets, a toasted brioche topped by perfect (i.e. still runny) poached eggs, good, if uber-salty, bacon, tomato and a slightly sweet hollandaise, with a delightful parsley salad on the side ($18).

Not everything I tried succeeded though, notably the salad of kale, quinoa and marinated vegetables with quail eggs. The sizable leaves of raw kale were tough, badly in need of a tenderizing marinade, and the other ingredients seemed like an arbitrarily assembled group that might have connected better if there had been enough dressing to do the job ($10).

More seriously flawed, especially considering its mighty tab of $34, was the deer and rabbit ragout. It was a nicely designed plate, the ragout tucked into a little bowl, the slices of deer fanned out on the plate, and thick, crisp fries arranged in an artful criss-cross pattern. However, although the ragout was pretty good, the deer needed some kind of flavouring, and the tiny purple carrots that garnished it were much closer to raw than to crunchy.

There are only a few desserts, but the "filthy, dirty pie" does triple duty ($9). This huge, luscious concoction combines two creamy puddings -- one of dark, the other of white chocolate -- with a bit of brownie hidden within, finished with a sprinkle of cookie crumbs, and a bonus in the textural contrast of gummy worms.

The wine list is interesting, with several choices by the glass. The caesars are generously adorned with a skewer of delicious garnishes -- almost an amuse bouche. The service, by an easygoing, friendly staff, couldn't be nicer or more attentive.

To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.

Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.


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Updated on Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 10:25 AM CDT: changes headline, adds fact box, fixes cutline

10:54 AM: adds map

November 2, 2012 at 9:57 AM: adds photos

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