Sunday, 18 February 2007

Fine Dining at the Forks

Posted by Andrew

It looks like I have the honours of writing up the first restaurant review between the two of us! In any case...

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For the most part, I've had reservations about trying some restaurants in tourist hotspots, as my biggest beef is that a few of these places are essentially culinary tourist traps. Even if the location is memorable, not-so-spectacular food and service can dampen your impression even more than you might first believe. So when I saw Sydney's at the Forks located on the second floor of the Forks Market, tucked amongst the various souvenir and oddity shops, I was at first hesitant to try. However, upon seeing the dinner menu I thought it might have been worth the risk to try this place after all. Apparently I was in for quite a treat.

The first thing you notice about this restaurant is that it shields itself away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the Forks Market; you can't really hear the hubbub from any of the tables, and only some of the tables (where I was sitting that evening) were along a mixed clear/fogged glass wall with a view of the main floor below. Further enhancing this separation from the rest of the Market is the restaurant's decor. Light-coloured wood panelling mingles with the Market building's original brick walls and pieces of artwork reflecting the international influence of the restaurant's cuisine; a Canada goose sits at a small window, a stylized giraffe stands overlooking the large window overlooking the Forks harbour on the Assiniboine, frozen this time and cleared for hockey and curling rinks, and mini pukel-men face the hidden doors leading to restrooms across the corridor. Topping off the eclectic decor, small 19th-century-style kerosene lamps act as candles on each table.

After making my order from a table d'hote menu that changes monthly (choice of two appetizers, a main course and dessert), I was brought some fresh crusty bread and two types of spread, none of them butter. Though I liked the Mediterranean-flavoured cream cheese with red peppers, I was leaning more to the honey & cumin hummus that was beside it instead. The first item was oxtail broth w/ organic orzo and pearl barley. The broth was reminiscent of consomme, and the thin slices of smoked Angus were very tender, if not posing a mild challenge to put on a spoon. The refreshing taste of the basil pesto helps accentuate the flavour of the broth itself.

Shortly after I was done that came my wild-rice spaetzle. Though I'm not a fan of walnuts, I must admit that its flavour and light crunch melded well with the spaetzle mixed with fresh shiitake mushrooms, while the wine-poached sun-dried blueberries added just a nice hint of sweetness. Interestingly, the chewiness of the spaetzle mixed with the wonderful flavours of the sauce and mushrooms got me thinking for a moment, "This place could've concocted vegetarian shrimp!"

Following a small scoop of peach sherbet to cleanse the palate, my main course of pan-seared salmon arrived, cooked just right so that the fish is still moist. The skin was left uncharred, making it easier to cut through the meat and therefore I would not have bits of salmon scattered all over the plate. It was served on a bed of wild rice with some baby bok choy and a nice mix of caramelized onions, pancetta and pine nuts. Though they all were delicious, I realized that the flavour of the pancetta almost overwhelmed that of the salmon in my mouth a couple of times. The Merlot balsamic reduction was fantastic.

Finally came my creme brulee for dessert. The custard below was smooth and had the right touch of vanilla, while the sugar crust on top was nicely torched. There were no burn specks (something that can easily happen when melting sugar), and the crust was not too much on the caramel side where the sugar would have annoyingly stuck to my teeth for minutes.

No matter what happens in the rest of the Forks Market or how bustling it is out there, Sydney's offers a pleasant, relaxing atmosphere in which one can enjoy some fine food. It's a wonderful surprise in the heart of a highly touristic part of Winnipeg, and it's almost as though this restaurant might seem out of place in the Forks Market. Then again, a lot of the other businesses seem equally out of place as well.

Name: Sydney's at the Forks
Address: 215-1 Forks Market Rd., Winnipeg, MB
Cuisine: International
Price Range: Lunch $28-$38; Dinner $48 & up
Accessible: Yes

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