If you’re looking for rich, French food, look no further than our own French quarter
By Kathryne Grisim, The Media Chef, www.foodmusings.ca
St. Boniface is home to one of the largest francophone communities west of Quebec, which means one thing: succulent French food! Supposedly Parisians invented restaurants as we are familiar with them today. Having spent time in both France and Quebec, I know that French cuisine is rich and satisfying and I can’t get enough of the cheese and their cream-based sauces, with a glass of red wine for my heart health of course.
The perfect way to start dinner at a St. Boniface restaurant is with a walk through The Forks, past the magnificent Canadian Museum for Human Rights and over the Esplanade Riel Pedestrian Bridge. Not only do you work up your appetite, but you walk by some of the best views that Winnipeg has to offer.
This is how we started the evening of our visit to the Promenade Café and Wine. We were celebrating our eldest daughter’s birthday and she had never dined at the bistro before. My husband selected the French Canadian dish of Bison Tortiere, so named because of the pan that it is made in. Tortiere is typically served as a festive Christmas dish and many Winnipeggers enjoy their own families’ version. The healthy ground bison had a firm texture and the seasonings were deeply satisfying. In contrast, the pie crust was light and flaky and the ladle of gravy that blanketed it was a glistening enhancement.
I chose the classic French Beef Bourguignon which I have never attempted the making of at home. I do know though, that the authentic recipe includes pearl onions and button mushrooms and this recipe was true to form. The beef was tender and the gravy luscious. Both dishes were accompanied by simply steamed and buttered carrots and broccoli and the creamiest potatoes I have indulged in for a while. The birthday girl chose one of the few un-French dishes on the menu: Gnocchi, which was equally tantalizing.
The second location of Inferno’s Bistro is within walking distance of our home and as such, does not “feel” like a French restaurant to me, whereas, their original location on Des Meurons absolutely oozes Français (in my humble opinion) from their bilingual staff to their extensive menu including pate, foie gras, tartare, duck, bisque, bouillabaisse, escargot and no less than five varieties of moules et frites.
Our favourite escargot are typically prepared in café de Paris butter, but we did appreciate that Inferno’s snails are sautéed with brandied mushrooms and topped with a sprinkling of asiago cheese. A thick slice of European egg bread dubbed koilech is grilled with garlic to mop up the extra sauce. I absolutely could not decide if I wanted cognac, fine herbs or Roquefort with the mussels, so I sought out our helpful server’s advice. As a result, I settled upon the authentic Flamande, which poached the morsels in wilted leeks, white wine and cream with just a touch of pernod which added the unusual taste of anise. I was enjoying the delectable and unadorned fries when my husband mischievously suggested that I tip the plate of them into my mussel bowl to let them have a swim in the sauce. Smart guy, my man.
I had my heart set on the Alsatian pizza (with Bechamel instead of tomato sauce) at the original Chez Sophie for our final visit. I should have checked their hours online, because when we arrived on a Tuesday evening, they were closed. Undaunted, we headed to Chez Sophie Sur le Pont and managed to get one of their last tables without a reservation where we tucked into Quiche Lorraine, Croque Monsieur and Crepes. I didn’t give the pizza a second thought.
Both locations are decorated in the fashion of a Parisian Bistro with chandeliers and flowery wallpaper. As soon as we stepped inside, the strains of a French songstress swept us away to another place. All meals start with a homemade soup and the cream of cauliflower was a silky way to commence. We also appreciated the basket of freshly sliced baguette and the Salade Noir which accompanied our dinners. Our youngest daughter, who joined us on this evening, and I love this salad so much that I have recreated it at home, by tossing mixed greens with balsamic dressing and then shaving dark chocolate over all. Chocolate on a salad? Don’t knock it until you try it.
Of the three entrees, we enjoyed the Croque Monsieur the best (had it included an egg it would have been called a Croque Madame). Croque means crisp, as the typical Parisian snack is a grilled sandwich containing ham, cheese and that béchamel sauce that I mentioned above.
If you are a lover of rich French food, you need look no further than Winnipeg’s own beautiful community of St. Boniface.