Tag Archives: first impressions

RAW: Almond

Last year, when I first heard that Mandel Hitzer from deer + almond was going to erect a tent on the river at the Forks and invite chefs from all over Winnipeg to come play with him, I thought it was a brilliant idea. Unfortunately, I dragged my feet and missed out on getting tickets, which sold out far faster than I thought they would. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who thought it was brilliant.

Raw Almond

This year I kept my ear to the ground, and managed to snap up a couple of tickets to RAW: Almond as soon as they went on sale. Edward Lam from Yujiro was the chef for the evening we chose. And so last night, with the windchill hovering around -25°C, we made our way down to the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers for dinner.

The food was lovely. Fresh seafood, bitingly pungent wasabi, earthy vegetables, and succulent duck graced our plates that evening. But I don’t think it’s fair to review RAW: Almond as a restaurant, really. The chef changes every few days, as does the menu, giving you a completely new experience. The venue itself rises from the ice in the dead of winter, and within a few months all that can be seen where the tent stood is a swirl of muddy water.

Raw Almond

Before dinner, Hitzel spoke about the spirituality of the Forks, and what it means to share a meal there. After we ate, I thought about the meal, and the pop-up restaurant itself, and I could see another layer of meaning: RAW: Almond is a nearly perfect metaphor for Winnipeg itself.

People from elsewhere who have never been to Winnipeg (or even some residents who don’t bother exploring the charms of their city) view Winnipeg as cold, probably miserable, and even dangerous. Meanwhile, eating in a tent in the winter in Winnipeg was poo-poo’d as cold, miserable and maybe even dangerous.

First impressions of Winnipeg can be variable, but I’ve heard it described as unrefined, and certainly not someplace you’d consider sophisticated. The tent for RAW: Almond has a rustic charm, and the temperature dictates that no one bothers with dressy clothes – casual (and warm!) attire rules there.

Raw Almond

After you’ve lived in Winnipeg for a while, though, you begin to realize that the casual attitude also translates into friendliness. Everyone here can commiserate about the cold. The long communal table at RAW: Almond makes it easy to strike up a conversation with strangers. Perhaps, by the end of the meal, you won’t be strangers anymore.

Finally, Winnipeg can be sophisticated, even though that isn’t apparent at first glance. World-class arts and music, excellent restaurants, amazing green spaces and unique festivals show that there is more to the city than its reputation suggests. And in the white tent sitting on the fork of the rivers, the food that is served there is not what you’d expect after settling yourself on a fur-covered stump next to the plywood kitchen. This is no camp food, and the plates that the serving staff bring from the kitchen would not be out of place in a swanky restaurant.

Raw Almond

Our plans for next winter already include another trip to RAW: Almond… A new night, a new tent, a new chef, a new menu, a new experience, and a new way to enjoy the city.

Raw: Almond on Urbanspoon

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First Impressions: Dhoom

My husband visited Dhoom recently with some friends and gave me his impression of the place.

If you ever went to the current location of Dhoom when it was still a Pizza Hut, you will not recognize the place. They have divided it down the middle, with a lounge on one side (complete with VLTs), and a restaurant on the other. The restaurant was tasteful and quiet, though I can’t vouch for the noise levels later in the evening when the lounge fills up.

All three of us ordered the lunch buffet, which includes complementary fresh, hot naan bread served at your table. Other restaurants have larger buffets, but this one covered all of the basic dishes; rice salad, assorted hot pickles, rice, navratram korma, aloo gobi, beef curry, lentil dhal, goat curry, butter chicken, tandoori chicken, and chilli-lime chicken wings all made an appearance.

Once we were seated after our first trip to the buffet, one of the chefs emerged from the kitchen with complimentary hot naan bread for our table. As we were getting ready to head up for seconds, another chef and one of the serving girls made the rounds from table to table offering complimentary pizza. Apparently they kept the oven in place when they remodeled. It was a vegetarian pizza, and I think that it was the highlight of the meal. The crust was darn near perfect, and it had a rich blend of vegetables, with just enough peppers to give it a pleasant little bite. I am normally not a fan of vegetarian pizzas, considering the anemic ones you get from most pizza chains, but this place showed that it can be very very good if done right.

Desserts included coconut burfi, kheer and gulab jamun. The kheer was a bit light on the cardamom, and the gulab jamun was (as expected) cloyingly sweet. The burfi was a pleasant surprise, being nowhere near as rich and sweet as I was expecting.


The plates available at the buffet are a slightly arty, square shape with edges that rise and fall in a shallow sine wave. It looks neat, but it’s a trap for sauces on the plate. I nearly wore a rivulet of butter chicken sauce before I realized it was spilling and managed to stop it with my thumb before it left too large a spill on the carpet. Also due to their shape, the plates hold deceptively little, which is good and bad. Since it’s a buffet you can go back as many times as you like, but there is the annoyance of getting caught behind some schmuck on his cell phone who is more interested in conversing with his mouth-breathing cousin than actually loading food onto his plate. On the other hand, forcing one to take smaller portions also helps one to avoid overeating, which can often be a problem for me at one of these places.

The food was all good (especially for the price), the atmosphere was pleasant, and the service was prompt and attentive. I plan to go back, though the next time in I am tempted to skip the buffet and just try their pizza.

First Impressions is just that – my first impressions of a restaurant. I adhere to the Food Blog Code of Ethics, and prefer to only do a full review of a restaurant after I’ve visited it at least twice, whenever possible. If I write a full review of this restaurant at a later date, I will add the link to this post.

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First Impressions: Fresh Café

I love Corydon, although I admit that we don’t spend as much time there as I’d like. During the summer, the street has a great energy flowing from all the people walking up and down the street and sitting on the patios. There are also a wealth of restaurants on Corydon, many of which are on The List for us to try out.

One of those restaurants is Fresh Café. We made the visit there a few weeks ago on a Saturday morning to try out the breakfast menu. We’d made a few abortive attempts to eat there before, but turned away after seeing a line out the door and mention of a 30-minute wait. This time, though, there was no line, and we were able to be seated immediately. (I’m usually ok with a longer wait for dinner. But for breakfast my blood sugar’s entering crisis mode, and anything longer than 10 minutes is just too long.)

The restaurant’s website managed to score a few points with us before we even arrived by promising to locally source their ingredients whenever possible. The menu has many traditional breakfast favourites, and we quickly picked out our dishes. To drink, we got Kicking Horse coffee (a premium brand out of British Columbia) and loose leaf orange pekoe tea. It would have been nice to see Black Pearl coffee on the menu instead, but I did enjoy my tea that was served in a teacup/strainer that dispensed when it was placed on a glass. We have one at home so I knew how it worked, but our waitress made sure that I’d used one before and wouldn’t try pouring the tea out the top.

This might change a bit once patio season gets going, but the dining room can get loud. The huge windows bring in lots of natural light, but they also do nothing to deaden sound. As a result, the noise was loud enough that conversation was slightly difficult. We may have been there on a particularly rowdy morning, but even if it were quieter the tables are set close enough together that this is not the place for an intimate tete-a-tete.

My eggs with bison sausage were delicious, as were my husband’s sweet potato latkes. The sausage stood out; I am often reluctant to order sausage because it can be greasy and heavy, but the bison links were just juicy and perfectly seasoned. The breakfast entrees, which are served all day, range from $6.50 to $17.50, and lunch items are similarly priced. In addition to a wide range of the usual drinks, Fresh Café also offers fresh juice, shakes, and dairy-free smoothies.

Fresh Café’s extended summer hours started Victoria Day weekend, and they are open at 7am every day. Like all places on Corydon, parking can be an issue (they advertise parking in the rear of the building but it was full when we arrived), but there is usually ample parking on side streets a short walk from the restaurant.

First Impressions is just that – my first impressions of a restaurant. I adhere to the Food Blog Code of Ethics, and prefer to only do a full review of a restaurant after I’ve visited it at least twice, whenever possible. If I write a full review of this restaurant at a later date, I will add the link to this post.

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First Impressions: Hy’s Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar

My husband is a carnivore, and for years he’s been promising to take me to Hy’s Steakhouse for a treat. We finally made it there last week, and I got my first look at the much-lauded Hy’s.

Hy’s is located at Portage and Main on the first floor of the Richardson Building. This makes it very convenient for downtown workers, since you can get to it without going outside from anywhere in the skywalk system.

From all that I’d heard, Hy’s is considered a higher-end steakhouse that caters to the business people who work in the area. Its warm, opulent-looking interior with high ceilings and rich wood paneling makes it a great place to bring a business client, although it might be a bit dark to do any serious work over dinner.

My husband loves to get a bloody caeser before dinner, and usually orders it extra spicy. The bar took him seriously, and made it extra spicy – much to his delight! The wine selection is extensive, which is good because Hy’s will not allow patrons to bring in outside wine for dinner.

Dinner entrees run from about $30 to $50 each, and come with your choice of potato or rice, and a token vegetable. (Additional vegetables can be purchased as a generous side, enough to share.) Although I didn’t order it this time, I decided I have to try the caesar salad appetizer next time; I watched in fascination as a waiter prepared the caesar dressing fresh in the dining room, and served it immediately. Desserts were quite large, much to my surprise (and to the dismay of my waistline!)

Hy’s is open for dinner at 5:00pm every day, and opens for lunch at 11:30am Monday through Friday.

First Impressions is just that – my first impressions of a restaurant. I adhere to the Food Blog Code of Ethics, and prefer to only do a full review of a restaurant after I’ve visited it at least twice, whenever possible. If I write a full review of this restaurant at a later date, I will add the link to this post.


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