“When you own a restaurant, you don’t frequently have a lot of time to go out. I have one or two days where I maybe can escape for a few hours to go have a meal — I never have a Friday or Saturday off — so it’s really important that [when I do go for dinner] it is correct. You don’t want to risk not having the most comfortable, delicious experience or situation.”
That right there is the chef/owner of The Tallest Poppy, Talia Syrie, setting the tone for this month’s “where Winnipeg chefs eat on their days off.” Needless to say, “days off” is a stretch for most chefs, with Syrie’s claim that a couple hours away from prep and service is more or less the norm.
This month we feature both Syrie — whom we’ve previously dubbed the unofficial comfort food queen of Winnipeg — and chef Mandel Hitzer, the acclaimed chef/owner of Deer + Almond and co-creator, along with designer/architect Joe Kalturnyk, of the winter pop-up restaurant on ice RAW:almond.
In it they discuss atmosphere, customized spicy soup orders, dumplings, and the delicate art of avocado toast.
“Spicy Noodle House (102-99 Osborne Street), the order goes as follows: spicy peanut soup with no noodle, mixed with vegetable tofu soup, with a green onion cake. It’s a secret order — this combination of the two soups, with no noodle.
I work a ton, so sometimes during the long days I fill up on carbs and don’t eat enough veggies. When I’m feeling down and out I get this and it sends me to cloud nine!
The green onion cake… OMG! It’s the bomb, and you have to get chili oil and also dip it in the peanut broth. This might be on my top ten list to eat before I die. It’s my jam!”
“As often as humanly possible I go to Vera (670 Osborne Street) on Mondays; I actually get sad if I can’t. I love the pizza and how simple everything is. It’s just so cozy and the service is great, and when you go on a Monday it is like industry night — you know everyone there. Plus it is $1 corkage on Monday, so you can bring a bottle and Terik’s [Cabildo, the owner] dad is always there too, and he desperately wants you to try whatever he is drinking.
It all just makes it feel like you are going to a friend’s house for dinner. So I love that, plus it’s the only place I don’t mind waiting in line.” (Something I certainly agree with.)
“I also eat at Noodle Express (180 King Street) once a week. For me, it’s the best dim sum place in town. I’m honestly not that adventurous, but I love their deep-fried salad shrimp dumpling. It’s a salad because they put mayonnaise in it [laughs], and I love their BBQ pork bun.
I think they are the only place in the city where they serve the pork buns actually hot. And I like how it is not cart service — all the food is made to order so it is really hot when you get it. Plus, you can look in the back and there are a whole bunch of people sitting making dumplings, so you know it is fresh whereas other places may be freezing them… And their peppered beef and the white turnip cake, amazing! It’s like a weird, glutenous… it’s about half an inch thick… almost like a noodle square with little pieces of pork in it, and it is served with a brown sauce. It’s just so delicious; it’s gummy in the inside and crunchy on the outside. I love it.
The other place I go to all the time is Forth (171 McDermot Avenue), pretty much almost every other day. I love Josey’s [Krahn, the barman] cocktails, he makes a seriously good martini. And get this: the other day I was in there, and I didn’t know what I wanted [to drink], so he made me a Mai Tai — which is hilarious — but it was so delicious and very pretty. Where would you order a Mai Tai? He probably put a whole forest of mint in there — so I mushed it all in and it was so bright tasting!
But normally I go there for breakfast — I was just there this morning in fact — because their avocado toast is really delicious….”
Q: What makes a really good avocado toast?
“For one, their bread is stellar. They have a secret sourdough — I maybe shouldn’t even say more about it, this top-secret sourdough, that comes from a top-secret location — that is super delicious. Second, I think I really bug them because I am very particular about how I like my egg poached, but they accommodate my special requests and they are lovely about it. Plus, it is a really nice fresh-tasting breakfast — they put a little chili oil on it, the avocado is so creamy, the bread is quite sour so that cuts it, and you get a good squeeze of lime with it — so it is a lovely little breakfast that gives you a jump start on your day. Plus, the coffee is really good. It is just so nice!”
Note: the top image is of the Funghi pizza at Vera Pizzeria e Bevande (Terik Cabildo)