Raw:Almond has become a big hit on the Winnipeg winter dining scene. I’ve gone to three of the brunches and one of the dinners and I’ve gathered them all together here.
Much has been made over the Raw:Almond pop-up restaurant. The Winnipeg Free Press has covered it a couple of times, the link is to the second of these articles. You can also find out about it on the local CBC website. I haven’t included article links, because they tend to come down quite quickly. I’ve booked my ticket for tonight’s dinner service, but when the opportunity came to try out the restaurant during brunch service on the first weekend, I thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up. This sense was enhanced because I knew that Talia Syrie of The Tallest Poppy, was the chef for the brunch, capably assisted by, among others, Shel Zolkewich.
Brunch on the River
I wasn’t sure if there was a protocol for making reservations or if I should simply take my chances. As it was a pleasant day, I decided I would take my chances and walked over after I had finished church over at Holy Trinity. I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived to find out that there was indeed room at the table and so I took my seat and awaited for the food to arrive.
My arrival happened to coincide with the arrival of the city health inspectors, so there was a slight delay in getting the food out to the tables. However, some small talk with the people around me helped to pass the time until sustenance was placed on the table.
One of the interesting parts of the experience that the brunch was served in a fashion similar to a family meal, or perhaps a meal served at a summer camp. The first thing to come out was a container(biodegradable) of fruit salad. These were passed along so that those closest to server kept passing until everyone had a serving.
After another short wait, the dishes containing the rest of the food started to arrive. The first of these dishes was a plate full of pan cooked potatoes, enhanced with yellow peppers. These were served, as were the remaining dishes by placing a plate in the middle of a group of four to six diners, depending on the dish. This was the most interesting part of the brunch, for diners were forced to show courtesy and consideration to the other diners around them as the food came. I don’t know about the other end of the table, but at the end I was at, graciousness was on display throughout the brunch.
The biggest surprise to me was that the food kept on coming. After the potatoes, there were scrambled eggs (light and fluffy), pancakes (equally light and fluffy, and with a wonderful raspberry syrup), bacon and biscuits with gravy. Even better was that several of the items in that list were replaced with a second plate to be shared among the diners.
There wasn’t a lot of conversation among us as we ate, but that had as much to do with how much food there was to be eaten. As one might expect, most of the conversation that did occur centered around how good the food was and how much we were all enjoying it. Although there was another sitting after us, we were never made to feel rushed at anytime and were able to enjoy our brunch in an relaxed and convivial manner.
Pop-Up Dinner – Raw Almond
As you can see from the first sentence, I hoped to put this up earlier than I did.
I wrote yesterday.about my brunch at the Raw:Almond pop-up restaurant, situated on the river ice, at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. This little venture, the brain child of Mandel Hitzer, owner of the Deer & Almond restaurant and Joe Kalturnyk of Raw Gallery, has Winnipeggers talking (with their mouths full of great food if they’ve had a chance to eat at this little restaurant),
Some of the conversation has been around things such as the architecture and stability of the place, (I’ve been there twice and it was perfectly stable). Others have of course, talked about the $85.00 dollar ticket price. Yes, you are paying in part for experience of dining in a novel setting. Yet, the dinner was a full meal, and while it may have left you wanting more, that was a result of the quality of the food, rather than a shortage of it.
When I signed up I was asked if I wanted any particular night, but I said that I would take any night. While I didn’t know who all the chefs were, I had tried food from several of the restaurants listed, so expected a good food experience no matter who was cooking. As the scheduling turned out, Ben Kramer from Diversity Food Services was cooking alongside Chef Hitzer. This was quite pleasing as I had thoroughly enjoyed the food Chef Kramer had prepared for a friend’s wedding reception.
The dinner was a five course meal. The 1st was a Chicken Noodle Soup. The twist on this classic dish was that the chicken itself had been reworked and turned into the noodles. This was not just a case of the chefs wanting to play with their food, it fit in with the gluten free quality of the whole meal. There was no need to worry about this meal adding to one’s Wheat Belly. Better yet, due to the great flavours, the gluten was in no way missed.
There was nothing in the way of a traditional salad course with the meal as the next three course were a mix of either meat and vegetable or fish and vegetable. If there was one word that I would use to describe these three course and how will they fitted together, it would be tender. First off, the bison short rib was falling off the bone and flaked apart without ever being stringy. It was served on a bed of parsnips with bits of carrot, and brussell leaves. I’m not one who likes parsnips, but I could eat them on a daily basis if they were this well prepared.
Next came trout that was prepared to ways. One was in paper thin, melt in your mouth fillets, and the other was in a tartare. There were pomegranate seeds on the side which gave a nice tart counterpoint to the mild trout fillets. The dish also included some homemade vegetable chips which added crispness to the course.
The main course for the meal was duck confit. Served with garlic mash, (the one somewhat less than stellar part of the meal, at least as far as my portion was concerned, as I didn’t really notice any garlic). Then there was shiitake and kimchi on the side as well.
Finally, for dessert there was an Icewich, Designed to look like an ice cream sandwich, but instead containing goat cheese and white chocolate parfait. This made a pleasant and sweet, but not overly sweet ending to the meal.
Finally, much like the brunch, the dinner was a come and take a seat at the table. I’m not sure that I’m going to have remembered their names five days later, but I ended up sitting with a group of three accountants named, Ken, Tara, and Janelle. Despite having only met at the start of the evening. The conversation and the shared experience of a great meal made the meal, if not their names, all that more memorable. One of the things that helped to add to the memorable character, was that the quality of this meal brought to mind other meals at other restaurants, making little connections between us that hadn’t been there at the start of the evening. All in all, my dinner at Raw:Almond was everything I had hoped it would be and more.
Last winter saw the arrival of winter dining on the river, with the advent of Raw: Almond. Raw: Almond is the brainchild of chef Mandel Hitzer of Deer & Almond restaurant and Joe Kalturnyk of RAW Gallery. Raw:Almond offers a unique opportunity to experience the creations of some of Winnipeg’s top young chefs in an enchanting environment. Along with dinner, there was also Saturday and Sunday Brunch served.
Last year I took the opportunity to enjoy both the dinner experience, as well as the brunch. This year, things worked out in such a way that I only did the brunch. I arrived early and took a place at the table. As the picture below shows, the table is several wooden units held together with an a small steel beam down the middle.
Given how cold it was out yesterday, I needed to keep my parka on while I was waiting for Brunch, but overall I was still reasonably comfortable. After all, it’s Winnipeg in February. I was helped along by the fact that one of the servers immediately brought me coffee, even though they were still setting up.
Sunday Brunch: Great Company, Great Food
While I came on my own, as with last year, it wasn’t long before I had company at the table. I was joined at my spot by Anne Marie, a special ed teacher, her partner Kevin who is a chef liaison and author of Kev’s Kitchen, and Primrose a local playwright. As pleasurable as the food was, the morning was made much better being able to share the meal with good company.
If, on the other hand, socializing takes back seat to the actual food experience, fear not. The brunch itself was superb. Prepared by Talia Syrie of Come N Eat at Neechi Commons, and Shel Zolkewich, one of my favourite Winnipeg food writers.
We were started off with a sampler of Red River cereal, with a dollop of jam on top. I did not grow up on Red River cereal. I grew up on lumpy oatmeal. This cereal achieved an ideal balance of texture and flavour. Good enough that I didn’t need to add any dairy to enhance the taste. It also made a nice warm start on the day.
The cereal was followed by a pancake and several strips of crispy bacon. The bacon was meaty and easy to eat with fingers. The pancake was nice and light and the berry syrup added a touch of sweetness. Next came the latkes, which were a mixture of potato and sweet potato. These were topped with spicy apple sauce and sour cream.
Then came the Sunday Brunch star. This was a sausage filled corn dog. It was a combination of mini donut shell and savory filling. Deep fried. Covered in sugar, with a little of the berry syrup. It might kill you, but there aren’t many better ways to go.
Following on the heels of this was the bannock buddy. Scrambled eggs and bacon wrapped in bannock. It was like an edible version of a Pizza Pop. Topped with a little hot sauce the flavour was incredible. The best part was that the eggs were not runny at all. This meant that the bannock didn’t get soggy.
At the same time, we were served a fresh fruit salad and shortly we finished our meal with a chocolate brownie topped with vanilla whipped cream. The brownie also was infused with lemon to give a pleasant mixture of flavours.
I recommend that you make the effort to take in the brunch. If the dinners and tasting bars aren’t sold out, try those as well. Allow yourself sufficient time for the brunch. While the service was excellent, it is not a rushed experience. Fortunately my table mates graciously dropped me off at St. Philip’s after the brunch allowing me to enjoy the fullness of the experience.
Also, check out chef Hitzer’s 21 day Great Canadian Sleep Out. This sleep out is in keeping with the community care that is rapidly becoming one of the hallmarks of the Winnipeg food community.
As a priest, Saturday’s are generally a semi day off. Generally this means I catch up on my sleep in the mornings. However there are some things that will get me moving early on a Saturday, and the annual brunch at Raw:Almond is definitely one of them. Last year, unfortunately I didn’t manage to get there, but this year I was determined to get back on track.
This year with the warmer winter, Raw:Almond had to be moved off of the river and onto the railroad bridge at The Forks. This meant a change in the space and layout. I quite liked the change, as it is a little smaller and combined with the warmer weather, a little easier to keep warm while dining.
Saturday Dream Team:
Although the brunch this week was headlined by Talia Syrie of The Tallest Poppy, she had plenty of help including Chef Ben Kramer, and Pam from Cake-ology. Saturday morning is for super heroes and these chefs are among Winnipeg culinary super heroes.
I arrived a little early for the 9:00 am start time, and so I walked over to the Johnston Terminal to get a coffee from Espresso Junction. I headed back just after 9:00 and took my seat.
After having a brief chat with Ben, I was headed back to my seat, when I was stopped by the other diners. It was Primrose MK. Primrose is a Winnipeg playwright and novelist who I had the pleasure of first meeting at the 2014 brunch. So, I joined her, and later a co-worker of hers and the co-workers mother and aunt also joined us. It was good being able to catch up with a little of what Primrose has been up to.
As expected, the food was fantastic. We started out with Red River Cereal with a Berry Sauce. Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t eat Red River Cereal when I was young. We were an oatmeal for winter breakfast kind of family. Somehow though, if left to my own devices I don’t think I could prepare the cereal this well. This is a dish I could easily start every morning with. The fruit adds a great little touch of sweetness to the dish.
The next dish was our main course, A Mexican Hash. One of the things I like best about The Tallest Poppy is their free range eggs. The yolks are a brilliant orange which adds a wonderful dash of colour to their dishes. There was little bit of kick to the salsa, and I liked the mini potatoes in place of regular hash-browns.
The main course was followed up by a Saturday brunch classic with a twist. There was a Belgian Waffle with cranberries and apples in a sauce, along with whipped creamed. The twist was that it was served with duck along side. The waffle itself was terrific. Crispy when you bite into, and moist when you chew it. I’ve often found Belgian waffles a little on the dry side. Not this one. The duck was also very moist and offered a contrast to the sweet of the waffle and the tart of the sauce.
I thought that was the last item to come, but found out there was dessert. I thought the waffle was dessert, but hey if one dessert is good, two are better. The final item to come out was a Berry Crumble Cake with a Nutmeg Whipped Cream. I’m not a huge Nutmeg fan, but this was done exceptionally well, with a rather mild Nutmeg flavouring that didn’t overwhelm the whipped cream.
One of the other things I love about the Raw:Almond brunch is that it wasn’t rushed. It started at 9:00 and we had a good hour and a half to enjoy our brunch and the conversations that went with it. Also, the coffee cups were kept refilled on a regular basis during the brunch. The service throughout was friendly and relaxed, just like the brunch.
The brunch is running again tomorrow, and Saturday and Sunday next week. If you have the chance, plunk down the $30.00 and take in this brunch. You’ll be glad you did.