To Winnipeg on a flying visit to eat at Gluttons, the specialty food store and bistro at 842 Corydon Avenue (204-475-5714). It’s an interesting place, on the cusp of suburban Winnipeg and its Little Italy area, housed in a 1919 building that was originally a bank, then a fur storage ,and is now Gluttons, owned by a most hospitable young man called Jameson Watermulder. The real reason for my visit, however, is that the chef there is none other than Makoto Ono who won Gold Medal Plates Grand Finale, the Canadian Culinary Championship in February, beating out such established stars as Mark McEwan and Robert Clark, and I’ve been meaning to pay him a visit for ages.
The food store occupies the main space and carries a most sophisticated inventory, including fabulous Alberta beef (aged 60 days) as well as kangaroo meat and horse, about 200 cheeses, gorgeous desserts from the restaurant’s pastry chef, Chantalle Noschese, and all the rare oils and vinegars, boxes and packets, bottles and jars one might expect. Watermulder (who did the renovations himself) added the 38-seat restaurant to the side of the building, using corrugated metal for the ceiling and door surrounds, painting the walls yellow and hanging grey organza curtains along a wall of windows. All in all, a cool and casual effect with a certain art deco echo. I was the only customer in a jacket, but that is often the case. The place has been packed since Ono won the competition and his food explains why. So does the wine list—the prices seeming astonishingly low by Ontario standards—for example, Pfaffenheim Gueberschwihr Goldert Grand Cru Gewürztraminer 2001 at $55, or Chateau Pichon Comtesse 1999 at $135. The service, too, was absolutely first class from waiter Shan Shuwera.
The normal order of business is to choose any two starters, a main course and a dessert and pay a fixed price of $58. We asked Ono to send out whatever dishes he wanted and he started with an amuse that suited a summer evening—a shot glass of cucumber bisque thickened with yoghurt and spiked with fennel and citrus oil. It was rich but also refreshing and kickstarted the appetite nicely.
The first course was a troika of delights—a Village Bay (NB) oyster with a single drop of sherry vinaigrette and an angstrom of beetroot purée, adjuncts of flavour but not enough to mask the oyster’s charming personality. A seared Digby scallop with a streak of tangy raisin caramel sauce paired with raw cauliflower and carrot chopped so finely it had the texture of couscous. A soft shell crab dusted with cornstarch and deep fried to greaseless translucency sliced over carrot slaw and curry oil. Two wows in the old notebook for that one.
On now to sautéed foie gras which Ono flattered with a little apple poached in white wine, some very pure, clear, not-too-sweet apple jelly and a slaw of daikon and red radish to add the contrasting crunch. It was a beautifully balanced dish and though I wished there had been three times as much of it, I had to admit it perfectly made its point.
Then pan-roasted sable fish, its moist petals touched by a citrus gremolata, the tenderness countered by two crunchy green beans. Then duck as a sweet rare magret with a slightly crusty edge and a confit that struck me as five percent too salty. Then veal cheek braised with a mirepoix and fresh pea pods, golden chanterelles and shaved summer truffle. The predessert was a watermelon soup with minced cantaloupe and a spoonful of creamy lemon sorbet with threads of lemon zest (flavours lingering like drunks at a Christmas party). Then a paté of chocolate, raspberries and cinnamon, and a chewy oatmeal cookie with honey-spiked whipped cream and strawberry coulis.
Inevitably, we were the last guests to leave, seeking a few precious hours of sleep before catching the red-eye home to Toronto. Gluttons is the sort of restaurant that would do very well anywhere in Canada, one of those rare places that are casual enough for comfort but with a sly, contemporary elegance, reasonably priced (especially those wines) but with stellar service and meticulous, original, delicious cooking. All those elements combine only once in a blue moon and the happy conjunction tends to be temporary as a talented young chef realizes his worth and is wooed by sponsors and would-be partners or as a young restaurateur decides a second or third restaurant might be a smart way to exploit his success. But for now the Gluttons team seems eager to stick together. If you’re ever in Manitoba, I urge you to visit.