Thursday, 8 March 2012

A Desirous Experience in Winnipeg

With the Louis Riel Day long weekend upon me, I once again made a daytrip to Winnipeg.  Earlier in the year my sister led me to an article featuring worthy new restaurants across Canada in 2011, with one Winnipeg bistro making this list.  Deseo Bistro actually has existed in Winnipeg for a few years, but circumstances resulted in them being reborn at its current location in the Riverview neighbourhood.  Deseo, Spanish for "desire", features an internationally inspired cuisine with South American influences having a more prominent presence, and appears to be quite popular with Winnipeggers.  When I arrived at the bistro I learned that, fortunately, there was one seat left in the two-storey eatery... at the bar.  Well, beggars can't be choosers, so upstairs to the bar I went.

It turned out to be a pleasant blessing in disguise.  The bartender, Will, was an engaging fellow bouncing between chatting it up with me, other bar customers and his fellow staff, serving us bar diners our food, and preparing drinks for diners throughout the restaurant.  It was thanks to Will that I discovered the true story to Deseo's resurgence.  Deseo originally started in the Exchange District and was preparing to open a second location where I was dining.  However, a burst water pipe caused sufficient damage to the Exchange District location that the owners decided to simply relocate to Riverview and continue operating just one location.

Not only was the place packed, it appeared to be a strong conversation-conducive setting.  The whole bistro was alive with laughter and loud chatter, and even rubbing elbows with fellow diners at the bar made conversations with them pleasantly unavoidable.  When I admitted to the bartender that I wasn't sure yet what to order, the couple to my left made a couple of suggestions, and judging by the passionate tone of especially the woman's voice as she mentioned some dishes, they definitely felt those were worth trying.  As we talked a bit about food in general and about this restaurant, they even shared one of their small plates with me.  So much for "small plate", there were definitely more than enough olives to share for 4 people, let alone just that couple.  Baked in the oven and laced with orange and herbs, I was thankful the couple let me sample that, as they definitely whetted my appetite.
Brussels Sprouts - Pan-seared, with pancetta, garlic, lemon, and ancho chili.
There were so many dishes on that menu I wanted to try, but, flying solo, I could only handle so much food.  The Pork Belly under the Big Bites section was really catching my eye, so I decided to go for that with the Brussels Sprouts under the Small Bites section as a side to get my share of vegetables.  The Brussels Sprouts were the first to arrive, with that wonderful aroma of garlic hitting me as soon as the plate was set before me.  The ancho chili definitely gave this dish a spicy kick, and the saltiness of the pancetta melded well with the zesty lemon and the pan-seared sprouts.  It was a challenge to just have a handful of bites before the main course arrived.
Pork Belly - Nagano pork belly, crispy chicken skin, serrano-wrapped prawn mousse, romesco sauce, parsnip purée and sherry syrup.
A close-up view of Pork Belly, with a better view of the pork belly itself, and the crispy chicken skin standing on the romesco sauce.
The Pork Belly was certainly an eye-catching sight.  The cubical piece of Nagano pork belly was bigger than I anticipated, about three inches on each side.  Nagano pork, in spite of the Japanese name, actually originated in 1997, and is still produced, in Quebec and was cleverly named to cater to Japanese customers seeking a superior-quality meat.  The pork belly was deliciously tender, with every bite of meat melting in my mouth.  I also enjoyed the crispy chicken skin; I noted to the bartender that this was the second restaurant I knew to date that featured crispy poultry skin as a key item in a dish, the other one being Joe Beef in Montréal.  The bright red romesco added a nicely nutty dimension to the dish, while the texture of the shrimp mousse was reminiscent of Chinese or Japanese fish cakes.  Though it was a sizable main course, it certainly helped that I skipped lunch on this day!
Flourless Chocolate Chili Cake, with volcanic black sea salt and olive oil.
I did somehow still have room for dessert, so, after perusing the selection, I opted for the Flourless Chocolate Chili Cake.  It was another instance where dessert, and especially chocolate, was given a savoury twist.  The chili was actually very subtle, giving only the faintest of heat on the tongue.  I was surprised by the sprinkling of olive oil and the volcanic black sea salt, but they nonetheless went well with the chocolate cake.  I felt they could've eased back slightly on the amount of salt sprinkled on the cake.  Otherwise, the cake was quite enjoyable.

I was impressed by my experience at Deseo; the food and the atmosphere definitely put a big smile on my face as I walked from the bistro to my car parked a block away.  This is definitely a place worth revisiting in the future to expand my experience there.  During a recent planning conference, I did learn of a few Winnipeggers keen on trying this place; I may have to call them up the next time I'm in town.

Name: Deseo Bistro
Address: 696 Osborne St., Winnipeg, MB
Cuisine: Fusion
Price Range: $20-$75
Accessible: No

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