Back in January, I paid a visit to Winnipeg, Manitoba, for Ukrainian Christmas. Manitoba is the Canadian province just above North Dakota and Minnesota. And January is, surely, the most wretched time to head north. Those are two facts that any Minnesotan really should know.
Anyway, while my co-workers and friends were boarding cruise ships, I was cruising to Fargo and beyond in my Honda Fit.
This is what Wikipedia has to say about the place: “Winnipeg is the capital of Manitoba. Its heart is the Forks, a historic site at the intersection of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, with warehouses converted to shops and restaurants, and ample green space dedicated to festivals, concerts and exhibits. Nearby, the Exchange District is known for its well-preserved turn-of-the-20th-century architecture and numerous art galleries.” The author did not visit in January.
As the weather has suddenly and thankfully turned warm it seems that now is the acceptable time, meteorologically speaking, to relive one of the better meals of the trip.
Some friends invited us (Rick is from Winnipeg and is almost the only reason we go there) out to dinner at a new speakeasy-themed restaurant called Blind Tiger. There were two problems with this invitation, neither of which was the company. First, dining in Winnipeg is a minefield of chain restaurants and dated food. Balsamic drizzle is alive and well here; molten chocolate cake is novel. I’m not being snotty. I am reporting objectively.
Secondly, the “speakeasy” moniker is a dangerous one, and any restaurant that touts this identity is, in a sense, incorrect, as speakeasies were bars and didn’t serve meals, per se, only finger foods and other munchies.
We arrived to find a dimly lit coffee shop and lost what little faith we had in Google Maps. There was a large, beautifully polished espresso machine in the window and one barista who had already closed up shop. An instant before turning around to make a phone call, the secretest of secret doors appeared. The handle was a coat hook and what lies behind was a dining room and bar. You got me, Winnipeg.
We were led to a high-top and our friends joined almost immediately. We were all in agreement that the requisite speakeasy element of secrecy was covered in this case.
After telling the server that we were all familiar with the speakeasy concept, he explained it anyway. After telling him that we all spoke french, he translated may menu items anyway.
The beer list was very good for Manitoba – it avoided most of the macro and macro-owned options, offering La Resolution from Unibroue plus Half Pints, the local favorite, and two other local choices. Living up to its speakeasy identity, the cocktails are where it’s at.
Where many cocktail bars are lacking in actual alcoholic content, I found Blind Tiger to have more gumption. Additionally, they managed to succeed in both classic cocktails and creative inventions, delivering equally in authenticity and intrigue. I opted for the St. Boniface, made with a potent mix of calvados and gin. The apple spirit compliments the lemon and celery bitters and the glass was garnished with an herbal frond of dill. The interplay of sweet, sour, and savory was ideal.
The Old Fashioned was the second best of the trip (out of about 7 attempts). It wasn’t too sweet or too weak. The subtle smoke and citrus was spot on.
In order to preserve the “speakeasy” idea, we opted for several snacks over larger plates. The deviled eggs were a huge hit. Try the variety version – one each of traditional, lobster, smoked salmon and chili. The escargots were a bit fishy, which was okay with some and not with others. I found myself in the “not” camp.
When it comes to eating and drinking in Winnipeg, a little digging must be done. Our best moments resulted from local recommendations, knowledge of a few pioneering chefs, and local specialties. The place is a virgin in a culinary sense, a pile of dry kindling, potential energy yet to be harnessed. Blind Tiger is one of few examples of what the culinary scene could be, and it is a great one.