Chaise Cafe and the Cornerstone

I’ve been so busy with KeyCon and Timothy Gwyn Writes that I had to let my visits to  Winnipeg restaurants slide for a day or two. Now it’s time to catch up, and I’m looking forward to telling you about a pair of restaurants that were very different, but both fun in their own way.

On Saturday, after a hectic day of trying to be both a sci-fi geek and a social butterfly -I’m better at the former- I was ready to unwind with my wife and an old friend for dinner. I dropped by Donna’s downtown condo and then the three of us set off for Chaise Cafe and lounge on Provencher. There was a moment’s confusion when we arrived for our seven o’clock reservation, but the staff didn’t panic and got it sorted out quickly and quietly. They admitted that they had misplaced our table, (which sounds so much better than misplacing our reservation!) but in only a minute or two we were seated at a wonderful little table tucked away by the bar. Sheltered from the main room by a low wall, I loved having more conversation and less background noise.

I’m sure the easiest way to get to know this restaurant would be to go for the prix fixe option. Everyone at the table shares a couple of salads, two different pizzas and samples of the entrees. A pasta course is included if you have room, or you can ask for seconds of something. Dessert is part of the deal, too. As it happens, we did not go that route, and please don’t blame the restaurant if I explained any part of that incorrectly. There is one other interesting thing about the menu here. The entrees are not described in detail because the details vary from night to night. There is always pork tenderloin, for instance, but the chef doesn’t prepare the same pork dish today as yesterday. Tired sigh department: if I got a free salad every time a restaurant misspelled Caesar, I’d eat so much romaine, I’d look like one.

What we did was order a different salad each, and we mostly minded our own, then a different pizza each which we herded into the middle of the table and shared. For its versatility, we got a bottle of the Mirasou Pinot Noir. The specifics: Donna chose the Roasted Butternut Squash salad and the Pepperoni pizza with the mushroom option; Caroline went for the Roasted Beet salad and the Fig and Prosciutto pizza; and I picked the House Garden salad and the alfredo based Wild Mushroom pizza. We all enjoyed our salads, and I could see myself ordering the beet salad on a return visit. That means it wasn’t overwhelmingly dedicated to beets- they were more of a garnish or an accent to the greens and chevre. All the pizzas were thin-crust style, and came sliced into sixths, which meant (lengthy pause for Tim to do the math) we could each have two slices of each kind. In actual fact, the ladies ate one slice of each, and I had a second slice of two, so we could comfortably have ordered two pizzas for the three of us.  I doubled down on the Mushroom and on the Prosciutto and Fig. The pepperoni was nice, but perhaps the saltiest. I wanted another slice, but I was being good. Caroline thought the pepperoni pizza was best, praising the tomato sauce. Oddly, the Prosciutto she chose was her least favourite. No one had room for dessert, but we made sure to take the leftovers home.

I liked the food, the decor, the price and the service, and I’d happily go back.

On Sunday, my convention schedule was shorter. Before I move on to my next feature restaurant, let me just mention that the Winnipeg Radisson hotel’s 12 Resto Bar is not somewhere I would go out of my way to visit. At lunch one day I had a small salad and a large hamburger, but neither was exciting enough to justify the cost. The next day I wanted a light appetizer and ordered the crab-stuffed mushroom caps. The waitress was careful to make sure I understood that the vinaigrette would be imparting a vinegar taste to the dish. She was correct, and it was a little startling how it overpowered the other flavours. I’ve had other versions of this dish that I enjoyed more. Also, I thought $13 was a lot for three mushroom caps.

The month of May does not guarantee spring-like weather in Winnipeg. It does not guarantee howling winds and sleet, either, but they are apparently an option. I joined Caroline at Donna’s village condo again, and we made plans. If I had to live in a city, I have to concede that a downtown neighbourhood with restaurants, coffee shops, a supermarket and a wine store would be fun. Tonight, we took advantage of Donna’s central location to eat close by. It was no night for a stroll, so we decided on the Cornerstone, just steps away from Donna’s place. I didn’t like the bare decor, but it was warm and dry, and comfort food won the day. Well, Caroline had the flatbread and kale salad, which isn’t comfort food in my dictionary… I had the soup of the day, a tasty smoked potato clam chowder. Donna and I both ordered a steak sandwich. This last comes open-faced on a ciabatta bun, and is topped with mushrooms and a fried egg. It was delicious.

“Is there anything that isn’t improved by the addition of an egg?” Donna asked, contentedly.

“Beer.” I replied.

“I meant food.”

“Ice cream.”

It’s this kind of thing that forces me to eat with old friends, instead of refined company. A friend, they say, is someone who knows all about you, and likes you anyway. One day, I’m going to write a science fiction scene about a cantina where the aliens order chocolate ice cream and poached eggs. I’ll dedicate that story to Donna.

Good food, reasonable bill. I’d go there again, but I wish for decor that didn’t remind me of an office.

The weather didn’t worsen during dinner, but the forecast for morning was dreadful. We decided to make the drive in the evening after all. We loaded the car, grabbed a dark roast, and headed out into the rain and wind. It was both hands on the wheel and no cruise control until the highway grew some trees to break the gusty northeast wind. The rest of the drive was okay, if slow. Never turned the wipers off, but the temperatures stayed above freezing until we got home.

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In Winnipeg for KeyCon

We’re in Winnipeg for the Victoria Day long weekend, because KeyCon. That’s a science fiction convention with lots of stuff for SF writers like me. For more on that, visit my writing blog: Timothy Gwyn Writes.

And now back to the business of this blog- food and restaurants.

We had dinner at the Bonfire Bistro. You cannot make a reservation here, so we hoped that the long weekend would lure Winnipeggers away. To be on the safe side, we went early, arriving around six. At that time there were several tables open. By the time we left, there were people waiting.

The name of this restaurant refers to their wood-fired oven. Naturally, pizza is a strength. The specials posted on their blackboard included a weird and wonderful pizza with ham and blueberries and brie. I was tempted, but it had a base layer of roasted garlic and olive oil, and well, I was heading out to meet people later, and that much garlic seemed chancy. Another special that caught my eye was a scallop ceviche, and that I did order. It was just right. Tender and complemented with just a little finely chopped fruit and veg. We shared the mixed greens salad with currants from the menu, then diverged on our mains. Caroline had the Manitoba chicken breast with fig and goat cheese, I had the Spicy Bonfire Hawaiian pizza. Both were very good. She had white wine, I had a glass of Tempranillo. No room for dessert.

Winnipeg again: Bonfire Bistro

Another weekend in Winnipeg, another dinner out. This time we made sure to go to Bonfire Bistro early on Saturday, arriving before six because they do not take reservations. I love their menu, it’s original and eclectic, as were the night’s specials. The one that sticks in my mind was the ‘Surf and Turf’, which passed over the predictable lobster to offer a portion of smoked whitefish with the steak. I almost ordered it, but all three of us wanted to try the pizzas, because they have a lot of interesting varieties and a wood-fired oven. I felt like starting with a salad, and the Mixed Salad of baby field greens, red onion, currants, toasted pecans, balsamic vinaigrette and crostini (with the added fire-roasted vegetables and warm goat cheese) was ample to share three ways. We each have different tastes in pizza, so Caroline ordered the Wild Mushroom & Maple Bacon: porcini, portobello and oyster mushrooms with wilted spinach, fresh herbs, mozzarella and Stilton blue cheese on roasted garlic sauce, I ordered the Spicy La Bomba Chicken: fresh roasted red peppers, fresh jalapenos, mozzarella and cilantro on spicy La Bomba sauce, served with yogurt citronette, and Jonathan chose the Mediterranean Vegetarian: roasted red peppers, roasted roma tomatoes, roasted eggplant, marinated artichokes, Kalamata olives, fennel, zucchini, feta and mozzarella cheese with fresh basil and Carlo’s tomato sauce. Each of us enjoyed our own choice, and while we sampled each other’s, the general feeling was that we had chosen well for our own tastes. We were in the mood for a gutsy red wine, and the McManis Petite Sirah from California was just the thing. Service was good, but we could not linger because there were people waiting for a table. I give Bonfire Bistro four out of five.