Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Palm Lounge

Oooooh, ahhhh.
I've been relatively recently renovicted from my Osborne/Corydon area apartment and thus find myself downtown a lot more these days. It's a bit a of a re-adjust since a lot of my go-to's for after-work dinner dates were along Osborne or Corydon. But then, I remembered the place I usually stop after getting my hair did because it's just down the street, which is also downtown and also super convenient for one.

If you're out alone and want to blend in while having a schmancy meal, a hotel bar is actually a really good place to do it. The Palm Lounge is one of the classier places that I've sat at a bar; the live music thing happens most evenings and makes it feel like you're doing something more significant than just drinking alone, although here that's a really normal thing to be doing since you're essentially in a hotel lobby. If you dress nice, maybe people will think you're successful or something and on a business trip. That's what I tell myself and it makes me feel important. The bartender also recognized me even though I haven't been by in a few months, so that definitely worked with my sense of self-importance.

The appetizers here are too pricey to really do more that one, but the entrées are a little more reasonable. In any case, I appreciate a good cheese board, so that's what I did.It was a nice mild to medium selection with both hard and soft cheeses that came with fresh figs, strawberries, dried berries  and apricots, grapes, and nuts. Everything went together really well, unlike some accoutrements out there.

Yes, this is now irrelevant, but I
was just excited that I'm not the only
freak who likes to mix iced tea with
her gin.
Now, I took down notes for this in the summer (yes, I put off writing this one for way too long) so I had the summeriest cocktail (cucumber, elderflower, and prosecco) but really wine is the thing you're supposed to do with cheese, otherwise they kill you. I think. Anyway, my bartender did a mini wine-tasting for me which was SUPER awesome. Not just because, cool, free wine, but she was busy AF because a couple wedding parties had stumbled in. She still somehow found the time to chat with me about cheese (they were from Quebec <3 For some reason, I have really enjoyed Quebecois cheese whenever it comes up), recommend wines (New Zealand Sauvingnon Blanc  makes me happier than any other Sauvingnon Blanc, it seems), and have a quick discussion about how diversity in the workplace cuts down on employee harassment in the hospitality industry sometimes (at least, that's the conclusion we came to about both The Palm Lounge and the restaurant that I work at on the weekends).

If you aren't super into eating whole chunks of dairy fat like me, the shrimp dumplings are steamed and will make you look healthier and worldlier since they come with chopsticks, and you can show off your skills (or lack thereof) with alternate eating utensils.

Anyway, if you find yourself downtown and want to go out alone, this one is definitely a prime spot, being in a hotel. They are probably super used to serving single guests as well as people who are in a rush. So if you don't want to spend too much time sitting alone, you don't have to. But, for the same reason, you can kind of chill as long as you like and just pretend you have nothing better to do for the rest of the night than hang out listening to lounge music. Classic.

Price: $$$
Rating **

Monday, 23 October 2017


The view from my bar stool left
something to be desired.
People often ask me if it feels awkward going out alone. For the first time I can honestly say 'sometimes;' entering this restaurant is so weird and the opposite of subtle. You sort of fall through a foyer of curtains right into the centre of the room where you have to stand like an idiot, waiting to be seated. Enoteca is a super small place, so my seating options were limited since I didn't think to make a reso for one on a Wednesday night. I don't find this place to have the same friendly vibe as some of my other favourites and my server seemed to think that I didn't understand what tapas was... but not in a inclusive kind of 'let me help you with this method of dining' kind of customer service that I've sometimes got. Overall, my whole date was off to a deeply uncomfortable start and didn't immediately improve; there was no where for me to put my purse since the bar stools had no backs and I couldn't see any wall hooks. After struggling with the 20,000 league distance between my seat and the floor where my bag was stowed all evening, I did discover the coat-hooks... around the corner and, uh, conveniently located just outside the washrooms. The whole set up of this restaurant is pretty weird; I suspect that the space was used for something dramatically different before it became a tapas place.

Anyway, general discomfort aside, I rather liked the wine menu. Not so much for the specific contents, but I really dug that there were 3oz glass options; I asked the server to follow her heart and just make up some pairings for whatever dish was coming out, which isn't a thing I could probably do with a larger glass size. I mean, I could, but I'd be highly unlikely to remember what I thought of the food or drink when I was finished with the evening. It was a nice way to sample a variety and stay sober-ish, which might be a particularly good thing if you're the kind of person who might drive out to this one. I was only given the wine menu, but I did see beer and spirits up on the wall, so I assume those are options as well.

I followed my tradition of trying the beef tartare. I wasn't a huge fan of how bits of it were 'deconstructed' since it made it hard to kind of put flavours together in a way I might have if the yogurt wasn't a hundred miles from the rest of the dish BUT there was foie gras included with the dish, as opposed to an add-on, which made my day. I think foie gras is one of the most f***ing decadent things that you can eat with tartare, and I liked that the chefs here were inclined to agree with me.

The cauliflower dish I had was so rich and amazing that I understood for a second how it might be possible to consider vegetarianism as a viable lifestyle choice. I didn't love the sablefish, however, as much as the price-tag suggested that I might. In general, I did find that the cost here got in the way of giving this restaurant a really thorough review; there was a huge variety of things I'd love to have tried, but eating more than I did would have been financially impossible. I get that pretty much all the restaurants I review on here are pretty pricey, but this one I really noticed even before I received the final cheque.

Price: $$$
Rating: *½

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Roost

So, even when doing something for fun, like writing reviews for your totally hip blog, motivation can be a tricky thing. Because, you know, watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine and eating popcorn is way easier than trying to be witty, in print, for a small group of people who may or may not care if I post a new thingy about how I feel when I eat at places alone in Winnipeg. ANYWAY, I work at a restaurant/dining corporation that does weddings and such as a second job and the other night, which banquet serving and feeling generally menial, one of my bosses/owners said that he'd read my blog AND HE LIKED IT; thought it was well-written n shit. Well then, if an industry professional thinks this is fun to read, then IT MUST BE SO. Anyway, with renewed enthusiasm, I present to you my latest dining adventures.

Yup, it's not the poor lighting, that
there is popcorn. Don't get me
wrong, popcorn is my favourite
vegetable, but not in this context.
The Roost is a tiny, especially if you have to exclude patio seating due to weather. It's also a walk-up, so be careful you don't miss the door entirely; I may have been known to walk past the place once or twice while looking for it. I've had trouble getting in in the past, but today was my day. The food menu here is, in my opinion, a little too small but it is an allergists delight; with all their vegan, vegetarian, gluten, and dairy free options, every food sensitivity (both real and imagined) can be accommodated here. The seating seems to be set up to allow for socializing, but it is certainly not an awkward space for one (providing that have a spare seat to give you).

The most user-friendly drink menu in this city. It even has a
pictorial guide so there are zero surprises when your beverage
I ordered the mushrooms on toast which was super delicious for something that sounds like what university students eat for dinner instead of a real meal. It had a whipped goat cheese on it that reminded me of a Segovia dish I once loved but, alas, no longer exists. The main part of the dishes here are generally very good, save the ridiculously salty scallops I had, but the accouterments range from bland to baffling. I don't know what I expected the popcorn grits to be, but it was literally popped corn on grits. It was weird to me and not particularly tasty, so I could have gone without. Although I do enjoy eating weird things, it has to be pretty delicious if I'm going to do it. Speaking of delicious, the brussel sprouts made my day in a way that vegan food rarely does. At least I assume it was vegan since the menu called the sauce a 'cheese' sauce. I don't really want to know what it was made from, since I generally prefer my cheese to be coming from a quadruped and don't think we need to get inventive with the stuff. BUT if you're not into animal products, this'll work for you.

The only surprise you might
experience with your beverage is
how beautiful it looks
The cocktail menu is arranged from easiest drinking to the harder stuff, which is really handy if you don't know what to drink specifically. There's some pretty imaginative stuff: the rooibos tea cocktail with a cake pop reminded me of something Starbucks would have if it was a bar and the Dangeroost is dangerous indeed. I definitely enjoyed this place more for the cocktails than the menu. I think it's because I really like eating animal products; I'm kind of an economic vegetarian when I'm preparing my own meals, so I like to indulge when I take myself out. BUT, if you're not into eating animals, I think this would be a pretty cool hangout for you; a lot of schmancy date places tend not to have vegan-friendly options (especially plural 'options,' avec un 's') so this will definitely meet the coolness of both your style and dietary needs.

Price $$$
Rating: *½

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Mon Ami Louis

Quantity over quality, I feel.
I don't usually want to start off a review comparing a restaurant with 'how it used to be' because that'a not terribly useful since both you and I, dear solo diners, have yet to master the art and science of time travel. Unfortunately, that is all that I could think during my recent foray to Mon Ami Louis. I last visited a couple years ago and really missed the duck-fat fried fries, savoury crepes, and all the things that kind of made it chic and French. As it is now, I found the sharing plates on the menu sounded pretty uninteresting. While I appreciated that there was both a large and small options for charcuterie, the impressiveness was a resounding 'meh.' My super cool server asked which was my favourite bit and I honestly couldn't tell him, it was all so unremarkable. Probably just the strawberries, which were a garnish. I think. I found the inclusion of strawberries as a compliment to the charcuterie to be weird. Is that weird? I thought that it was.

Mmmm... Caribou...
The cocktail menu has some local culture infused into it (Festival-famous Caribou and maple ingredients as well as two drinks named after our provincial founder) as well as some inventive sangria options although none of the ones I tried really stood out as excellent. There were some local beers available, but I thought I'd get a glass of wine since I'm not super into beer. The menu didn't state what the South African blend was a blend of, so I asked. The server said he'd check and then some strange bloke in a suit (the owner? He was shuffling around kind of poking at everything when I came in, so I assume he was doing some kind of supervision) came to talk to me about what was in it. Except that he didn't know either and I didn't understand why no one thought to just check the bottle or box or whatever. It felt like entirely too much of a production to find out what this wine was made out of. Strange Suit Guy finally brought me the bottle so that I could read it and find out what the blend was myself which, again, really seemed unnecessary. I finally read it off the label in a fairly easy way that probably didn't require three people to do and yes, after all that, I have forgotten what grape varietals were in the bottle. The experience of getting it was so much more memorable than the wine itself, so I figure it wasn't great.

Wish I was sitting at the bar
Unlike the cocktail menu, the menu menu doesn't feature a lot of local flavour; there is one appetizer with pickerel and the rest of the entrees are chicken, tuna, and something with lobster that I passed on. I figured I had to base my review on more than an unremarkable charcuterie and a South African mystery wine, so I ordered a 'traditional' tarte flambée, which it turns out is just a pizza. Why can't we all just call a pizza a pizza? Is this some kind of contemporary restaurant taboo? Speaking of taboo, is there something wrong with putting salt and pepper shakers on the table? It seems that whenever I need some, it's never there, and Mon Ami Louis followed the rule accordingly.

The glare from the lighting
prevents me from showing you the
best part of the restaurant.
I can't say I really recommend this one for solo dining. While the view was amazing, this is the first establishment I've been to that gave me a garbage seat (awkward corner by the washrooms; it was so bad that the hostess apologized even before bringing me there) potentially because I was alone; the place wasn't hopping so I couldn't really see any justification for hiding me out of the way like that. I only hope that they don't make 'real' patrons sit there. Also, the wi-fi they've got is not for patron use, so you may need to bring a book or something while you wait for your food. Clearly, the ambiance for me wasn't stellar, but in general, they have retained the neon red lights from when it used to be a Sals, so there's this weird kind of diner feel layered on top of the chic French-ness that they are trying to go for.

Now, while I didn't have a great experience, one thing that was great was my server. What I've noticed since starting this venture is that even the most mediocre restaurant can have the most amazing staff; I have yet to go to a place with terrible service. Even places that I have found truly awful in terms of menu, et cetera, have the friendliest and most competent staff. I'm not sure if this is because we live in Friendly Manitoba, because the post-recession job market makes serving super competitive, or if it's just that my wait staff feels sorry for my because I'm sitting all by myself, but I appreciate having a rapport with the person serving me. It reinforces that dating yourself is not as lonely as people assume.

Price: $$
Rating: *

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Sous Sol

I have a habit of writing my reviews in notebooks and then misplacing said notebooks. So, while I wait for my review of The Roost to turn up, I'll fall back on one of my absolute favourite, never-fail solo-dates.

When I say 'never-fail,' I of course mean that if you,re solo-dating at a very specific time on the weekend since Sous Sol is only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings and even then is occasionally too packed during peak hours to even cram in one more. But, when you do snag a seat, I think you will get the 'never-fail' declaration I have previously made. I hear from some people that they're kind of shy to just go out alone in public and do their thing. If that's how you feel, the dark, intimate seating at this place means that it's entirely likely that no one other than your waiter will know that you're too cool to go out with other people.

The candelabras here are too hip
to burst into a chorus of 'Be Our
One of the reasons I like going out to Sous Sol is because it is totally too cool in here; the super-secret-basement-restaurant, as I like to call it (there's no store-front and only fluent Seinfeld viewers will get the pseudonym printed on the door to the building and name of the wi-fi), with it's small pile of candle lighting the place, makes me feel like I am doing something super special. Speaking of super special, the drink menu makes me so happy that I may have, on more than one occasion, made a marriage proposal to the bartender (no, I wasn't drunk - yet). Rencontrer dans le Jardin is what God drinks at garden parties and although nominally for two, I promise that you can and should order it for yourself (it totals 3 oz. of booze, so if you're there for food as well and don't just chug it and dash, you won't be a weird, trashy, lonely drunk). One of the reasons I really dig this cocktail is you sweeten it yourself and with the basil, cucumber and lavender it, I don't know... feels like your drinking a salad. Which sounds weird and maybe unappetizing, but I love it and you'll see what I mean when you try it.

Pictured: three components of the
best damn cocktail ever that you
may also find in your Nan's china
cabinet. Also, a glass of water.
I also had the Dill We Meet Again which is another great cocktail for those of you who may lean towards savoury things more than sweet, as I do. I thought it went super well with my tartare which, this week, was venison. For a few bucks extra, you can upgrade from beef to whatever cool alternative they have going; I have had the privilege of sampling ostrich, elk, and horse, which in addition to being awesome made me feel like a Khaleesi. Another indulgent add-on to the tartare that your server might recommend is foie gras; follow his advice, he knows what he's talking about and if you're the type to eat raw meat, I feel you're the type to not be squeamish over foie gras. Since we're talking about foods that make some people squeamish, the escargot I had did not blow me away, but the fried zucchini blossom totally made up for is as well as the cucumber salad which had hazelnuts, dill, chevre, pickled tomato, and love. Sous Sol makes eating vegetables way more fun than when I try to prepare them at home.

I was a little disappointed that all the wines available by the glass were French save one Australian Shiraz, but I suppose that I don't really need regional variety on my wine list when the cocktail menu is this good.

Anyway, next time you feel like sneaking off Prohibition-style on the weekend to a literal underground place with with a great variety of small plates, sneak over to Sous Sol where you're very likely to meet your new favourite cocktail. And maybe me; I'm the one in the corner, in a blazer, sipping my booze from a teacup.

Price: $$$
Rating: ***