Wowed in Winnipeg

When one thinks of a culinary hotspot, Winnipeg is not it. That doesn’t mean, though, that there are a few gems to be found. That’s just what I was looking for when I drove the short distance to our big Canadian sister to the north.

First, I’ll let a photo tell you everything you need to know:

Sushi at Ichiban - How Good Does That Look?

I was also in town with a friend for the UND hockey game at the MTS Centre. It was just like a home game, with the full band, colors and tons of UND fans. You could see them everywhere downtown, with their bright white and green jerseys.

I’m sure most fans stuck with the chain restaurants, or maybe just the hotel’s. But if you look for them, you can find some top-notch eateries. There’s an abundance of Asian food, which goes along with the large Asian community in Winnipeg.

Now, you never hear someone say “Dang, I’ve got a hankerin’ for some authentic Canadian food!” When I was in Nova Scotia earlier this year, I found a place called Good Luck Restaurant. No joke. Good Luck Restaurant, as if you’ll need plenty of it to eat there and not have a horrible day after. But under the ominous sign was “Canadian and Chinese Food.” I had to think to myself, ‘what is Canadian food?’ Bacon and moose jerky?

So as we came into town, there was one place I knew we had to go from previous experience. It’s called Elephant and Castle (which I believe is a chain, but not too big). It’s a nice quiet British pub with pretty good food. They serve beers in the branded glass, a Newcastle glass for a Newcastle and so on. I thought that was cool.

I started with the onion soup. Pretty good.

Onion Soup

I had the fish and chips, as I am on a never-ending quest to find the best. My friend had the British staple bangers and mash, which is mashed potatoes, gravy, two plump sausages and some onion rings on top. The rings were quite fried, taking on a deeper brown than normal.

Bangers and Mash

Fish and Chips

My fish was cod (surprisingly) and it came with thick-cut fries, a below-par cole slaw and an amazing tartar sauce. I was dipping my fries in the stuff.

I’ve had better fish and chips in eastern Canada. You can’t beat the freshness of the fish, normally Halibut, and the different types of batter makes all the difference. Splash it with vinegar and salt.

We headed to The Forks on the banks of the Red River. It’s a big shopping market, with fresh produce, a nice variety of stall-type restaurants and some local craft shops. It’s worth a visit just to see the place. It looks like a European-style market. You can ice skate in a courtyard, and in the summer, sit near the river and it’s actually nice, compared with the muddy banks in Grand Forks. On a previous visit, I had a potato roti, which is basically a burrito with chick-peas stuffed between the thin tortilla.

Ichiban Interior

We still had more to eat before the game, so we quickly headed back to downtown Winnipeg to Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse. It’s a Teppanyaki style of cooking in the main dining room. You’ve seen this before, with the chef juggling knifes, banging on the scorching iron grill and wowing tourists with his speedy knife skills. This is not exactly for me, although I have done it once. I try to avoid anything that draws a tourist, even when I’m one of them.

At the Sushi Bar

Luckily, it being 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday, they were booked full. But we were able to sidle up to the sushi bar. A quick perusal of the menu and we ordered. Friend had (I think) three sushi rolls, all expertly prepared, and nigiri scallops which he said were amazing.

We had our food in no less than 20 minutes and the service was impeccable. We were asked by two people how everything was and our waitress was extremely attentive.

They also didn’t offer us silverware, which we humbly took to mean they knew that we knew what we were doing. It could’ve just been a mistake, but we chose to believe the former.

Feeling not as adventurous, I got the terriyaki chicken and filet mignon. I know, I should have gotten sushi, but I’ll let you in on a secret, one I am not proud of. I hate sushi. I like fish, but hate sushi. One taste of the fishy, squirmy roll and I’m ready to hurl. I have in the past had to choke down a roll or two and it’s not fun. Needless to say, I didn’t try them at Ichiban.

Amazing Looking Sushi

My dining experience was saved, though, with a piping hot plate of chicken and filet, which is enough to get me to make the drive across the border for it alone. The filet mignon was unbelievably tender. You could cut it with a chop stick. The chicken was tasty, too, with a slightly sweet sauce. Throw in mixed vegetables like red pepper, bean sprout and other things and it’s a meal I’d have every day.

Tasty Terriyaki and Filet Mignon

Filet Mignon

We had to have some sake, too. I had one bad experience with sake before, but this made up for it. It’s a Japanese rice wine that can be served hot or cold. Before, I had it cold, but this time we had it hot and it made a world of difference. The taste is hard to describe and unlike any other beverage.

Sake and Cucumber Salad

I also ordered some pork and vegetable Gyoza (basically a potsticker), that came with a salty sauce. They were good, but nothing great.

Pork Gyoza

After dinner and just before the game, we hit up Moxie’s, an upscale Applebee’s. I had a Red Bull margarita, which sounds disgusting, but was really good and actually better than the energy drink itself that can be a bit too sweet for me.

Red Bull Martini

We cheered on the UND men as they won 3-1 and more than a few beers were consumed. They’re around $8 so we racked up quite a bill.

After the game, we headed to a sports bar across the street from the MTS. They have theater-style seating where you can catch your favorite game just like in a movie theater. You can even order drinks in the comfortable black leather chairs. Something I’d never seen before.

The bar crawl continued with a stop at the Regal Beagle, in the basement of our hotel, The Marlborough. They’re both pretty crappy. The hotel looked like it was once a really nice place but not anymore. It was cheap and relatively safe, so there’s that. The Beagle is nothing special, but the guys singing karaoke were actually good.

Breakfast was at the hotel’s restaurant. It was nothing different from what you can get at Perkin’s or Denny’s, but was free, so we ate.

And a trip up north is never complete without a stop at Tim Horton’s, Canada’s version of Starbucks, although they have them too. Tim Horton’s is an institution, with fresh donuts and pretty darn good coffee (I’m informed by a commenter that there are indeed locations in the eastern US). A great send-off down I-29 back to Grand Forks.

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