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.

PVR 8.0

My post about the last day and trip home is overdue. Some highlights: Caroline had not booked a cabana for our last morning, but she was able to snag one of the two giant wicker couches at the poolside. Usually competition for these is at pretty much the level of Hunger Games, but it was cloudy and spitting the odd raindrop, so perhaps someone chickened out.

Comedy of elevator errors when I got back from my walk and Caroline was not at the terrace table where I left her. She had taken my hoodie and coffee mug to our room, but had not lingered there. As usual after one of my beach walks, I was wet and covered in sand. Really? I used to be on the beach patrol in Australia; I should be able to wade in the surf without getting drenched! After I showered and dressed in my fly-home-to-the-cold clothes, I tried the restaurant again, but could not find her. Returned to the room, assuming we had played hide and seek with the two elevators, only to find that I had neglected to put my keycard in my pants pocket. Locked out. Back to the pool, and found her on aforementioned sofa.

Things went really well after that. The Hilton PVR is only minutes from the airport, and we had a taxi to ourselves. No line-up for check in, and no line-up for security (I mean it: load the bins and walk on through) Our WestJet flight crew was motivated to get back to Winnipeg, and the plane was only two thirds full, so they had no trouble making a quick turnaround. Not only did we score a vacant seat in our row of three, we were the only people in the six front-row seats. This row is not everyone’s favourite, as the TVs are far away and you may get drafted for exit-row obligations, but the leg-room is extravagant.

As usual, the flight crew were unknown to me. Despite having more than a dozen former colleagues at WestJet, I never seem to fly with one of my old friends. Next best thing, though, we got a thumping tailwind and shaved half an hour off the return trip, landing in Winnipeg at 1600. It wasn’t even dark yet!

Breezed through immigration, despite having an uneaten Mexican pear in my carry-on. I declared it, in case it needed to be properly disposed of, but they let me keep it. Baggage took a few minutes, but Caroline’s “international orange” suitcase is easy to spot, and mine is also moderately distinctive. No line at customs, so we zipped through that, too. Claimed car, grabbed a Timmies dark, and hit the road home. This would have been great, except for two things: the temperature had dropped into the minus twenties, causing frost to form on the travel mug I left in the car, cooling my coffee instantly to barely warm, and we had to drive home without tunes because the valet had killed the car’s battery. A clue to how this happened was that the hatchback glass was not secure. I suspect that the valet had hit the wrong button on the key, causing the cargo light to stay on all week.They had boosted it, but the GPS was offline, the trip meter had reset to zero and the window wouldn’t auto-open. More first-world problems. How much can one man take?

Took a minute to gas up in Winnipeg and clean last week’s coating of frozen road-spray off the windows and headlights. I always think this is time well-spent for a night drive, but it sure was refreshing; Winnipeggers need to have a word with someone- the heat’s not working!

Easy drive home to Kenora. Stopped at Keewatin Place for bread, milk and orange juice, then went out for dinner with a friend.

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.

Three Dinners in Winnipeg

Still haven’t been on a real road trip, but I spent the weekend in Winnipeg at KeyCon, a convention for fans and creators of Speculative Fiction. If you want to read about how that went for me, head on over to Timothy Gwyn Writes. This blog is about travel, food and wine. Not necessarily in that order.

Friday night, we ate at Deseo Bistro. I just reviewed it here a few weeks ago, so you could just scroll down if you want to know more about this fine restaurant. We picked it for the first night because we know we can trust both the food and the service.

Saturday night, after an exhausting day of stair-climbing at the Radisson (Keycon sprawls over three floors, not counting the hospitality suites) we joined our friend Donna for a dinner at the Deer and Almond in the Exchange District. It’s another tapas style restaurant, with very wide-ranging cuisine influences. I cannot remember everything we tried, but my personal favourite was the scallop dish with an Asian salad. We all enjoyed the mushrooms with Gruyere, and the Salmon tartare was inspired. It would have been impossible to match wine with everything, so we just went with the Argentino Malbec and enjoyed it.

Sunday night is tricky in Winnipeg; a lot of places close. Our first choice was Bonfire Bistro – it was well located (on Corydon) for us to hit on the way out of the city, but it was not open. After texting Donna for a recommendation, we rolled down Corydon almost to Confusion Corner and parked at Mano á Mano. Caroline wanted funky pizza, and in our tired and somewhat cranky state, we almost walked out because the menu reads like pretty standard classic Italian, and that’s not what we were in the mood for. However, with nowhere else to go, we stayed and looked more closely at the menu, and were very glad we did.

I had the Ensalata Misto, a salad of mixed greens with apple and goat cheese, and it was wonderful. We chose two pizzas – they have a wood-fired oven there – and they were both more interesting than the menu might have suggested. The ‘White Pie’ was a primarily mushroom pizza with fennel pesto, and we loved it. The Ham and Pineapple was not to be confused with any kind of chain pizza. It featured Prosciutto for one thing, fresh pineapple that had been marinated in honey something-or-other for another, and hot peppers that were not for the faint of heart. The crust, by the way, was thin, but not insanely thin. We both liked it.

I should also mention that our server was knowledgeable, helpful and patient, as well as efficient. Lastly, someone there has a good eye for visuals. We ate in the lounge, because there was construction noise from a deck-building project affecting the dining room and the management had chosen to close off that area. Oh yeah, the chairs were comfortable. The colour scheme was predominately grey, but the use of texture on the walls was both attractive and easy on the eyes. The salad was beautifully presented, too. You can only do so much with what pizza looks like on a plate.

When I’m doing Trip Advisor reviews, I have a very difficult standard for giving five points: I have to wish we could do the whole meal over again without changing a thing. Think about that for a minute. If I order the wrong thing, even if the chef sweat blood over it, the restaurant loses a point. That’s not entirely fair, but it speaks to how well the menu and the staff out front communicate with me. I give Mano a Mano my full endorsement. We liked it so much, we took another identical salad (dressing on the side) to enjoy at home.

Mini-trip: Winnipeg

We have no big road trips planned, but needed to do a little shopping and have a dinner out. The weather forecast was for snow and rain mixed, so running to Winnipeg and back on the same day seemed like a poor idea. With that in mind, we booked a room at the Hilton and made a mini-vacation of it. We lucked out – the snow never amounted to much. A cold and windy night made me dread my customary hour’s walk in the morning, which I usually do outdoors. Chickened out and took advantage of the hotel’s gym, which is available to guests twenty four hours a day. The pool was closed for maintenance.

As a foodie and travel blogger, I am often asked     I am sometimes asked    somebody asked me once: where do you eat in Winnipeg?

My new answer is Deseo Bistro. I was first taken there by a foodie friend, and have been trying to get back ever since. Struck out when I was in the Peg for the Central Canada Literary Festival – this small restaurant gets pretty busy on a Saturday night. This time around, we were able to get a reservation by taking a table at 5:30, but if we had planned this trip a little further ahead, I’m sure we could have managed a more fashionable hour.

What makes this place cool is their menu format. You can graze your way through a handful of ‘Small Bites’, sharing with your friends, or you can order a salad and an entree from the ‘Big Bites’ side and go your own way. On our first visit, the ladies went tapas style, and I ordered courses.

This time around, we just did a selection of the small bites. My favourite was the mushroom brioche with black garlic and chevre. Caroline really liked the sablefish on golden beet kimchi, and we both enjoyed the duck confit on fettucine with poached egg. That last was a nightly special, by the way, so don’t count on it. I approve of the use of specials to keep the menu from getting stale with regulars. They also have a pretty good wine list, with a good variety of wines available by the glass, including a Gewurtztraminer, which is a fun wine to have with spicy dishes, especially Asian inspired ones.

Gave this place four points on Trip Advisor, and I’ll be back.