Thursday, September 18, 2014

529 Wellington: 4.6/5

529 with Bacon and Cheddar
Score: 4.7

529 Prime Burger
Score: 4.4

Portobello Burger with Brie
Score: 4.4

529 Wellington is deserving of its reputation for fine dining - and now a top burger destination as well!

529 had fun designing special burgers for “Burger Week” September 1-7 and decided to keep them on the menu until Thanksgiving. I had come for supper during Burger Week but forgot ground round is only available at lunch. This week we returned with a dozen Burger Clubbers.

529 Wellington Crescent is a magnificent old wood and stone house. The separate dining rooms are well suited for groups and business meetings. The building was constructed in 1913 for one of Winnipeg's founding fathers and now (James) Ashdown House is designated as an historic site. The 529 Wellington Steakhouse opened in 2001 after purchasing the building from the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine who owned it since 1952.

When we arrived in the grand stair cased foyer we were greeted by Caroline Mehra (who incidentally, speaks 7 languages) and were shown to our second floor dining room overlooking the front yard. The single long table was set with a full complement of silverware, dishes, glassware and cloth napkins. There were tumblers of water already poured and our server, Jeff, set out baskets of delicious bread to distract us. He was respectful and unobtrusive, but once we engaged him he had some of his own burger stories to tell.

Jeff explained that the regular menu "529 Prime Burger" is 8 oz and the Burger Week specials were all 6 oz. We're a savvy bunch so most people specified the 529 with bacon and cheddar vs. the "Fully Loaded" special burger for the same $15. Prices ranged from $11 for the simple beef burger to $23 for the tenderloin and lobster burger, or $24 for the Rossini burger with Seared Fois Gras and Truffled Cabernet Jus. Some might think 529’s prices high, but Dessert Sinsations still holds the crown for Winnipeg's most expensive burger.

The service can't be beat - there were wait staff everywhere and they couldn't fit one more person in the kitchen. In fact, 529 received Burger Club’s highest restaurant rating. Caroline was happy to show me to the kitchen for a photo op. She pointed out that each burger is ground to order, and sure enough, there was a prep cook grinding beef tenderloin and gently shaping the patties; all the more impressive considering how quickly we got our burgers. Despite the lunch rush, Head Chef Fraser MacLeod took a minute to talk burgers and rustled up as many kitchen staff as he could for a group burger photo. Jim Armstrong – WOW VP and one of the managing partners at 529 took a moment to say hello – and then helped deliver trays full of burgers to our dining room.

The burgers were served bun-open and there was a lot to catch the eye. On the hot side was the big beef patty draped in melted cheddar, a good dollop of fried onions and three glorious slices of bacon. The cold side was topped with a radiant slab of ripe beefsteak tomato resting on a bed of iceberg lettuce. I love fall harvest time. Nelson commented “There was a giant tomato slice; I suspect they used 12 different large tomatoes and threw out the side pieces.”

Karen wrote the “529 burger is stellar - the meat was a treat, very simply seasoned. Terrific bacon, fairly well balanced, I could taste each ingredient.” Bill said “It was fantastic. Bacon, cheese and fried onions were icing on the burger.“ Brian summarized “The burger arrived fast with freshly cooked bacon, a thick slice of tomato, lettuce, and condiments.  It was cooked perfectly and looked so good that your mouth watered. The patty was lightly seasoned that allowed the natural flavor of the burger shine through. Over all a good burger, especially for those that don't like a lot of spice.” Stephanie was succinct: “529 does a burger right.“

A couple of people had the special portobello mushroom and Brie burger. April wrote "After I "fluffed" my Brie Mushroom burger for the picture, I had the opportunity to enjoy the flavour. The patty was nicely seasoned. The mushroom/Brie combination was lovely. That was the fastest burger ever served after the order. I am impressed. Service is fantastic.” Dennis said the “Fried pickle garnish was a real treat. The Portabella, Brie and  balsamic reduction were all very discernible and very tasty.”

Surprisingly, the sesame seed buns were from Sysco, though the pictured Burger Week bun on Facebook and Twitter looked more like a Brioche. It was right sized to the burger, but cold and I thought not quite up to par with the rest of the ingredients. It didn't detract, but might have been all that separated this burger from nirvana.

A few in our group ordered side dishes of Spinach salad, house cut fries, creamed mashed potatoes and sautéed button mushrooms. Everyone ordered a small portion ($5 for half or $10 for full) and the servings were plenty large. I saw some unfinished fries and mashed potato, the salads were shared and the mushrooms passed around the table. The fries were crispy-delicious and came with little finger tongs. The whole button mushrooms were divine and the salad had generous candied walnuts, fresh gorgonzola, and the right amount of sherry vinaigrette.

529 Wellington on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cibo Waterfront Cafe: 4.4/5

Rob Ford
Score: 4.5
Platter: $14

The Burger
Score: 4.1
Platter: $14

The Cibo Waterfront Café did it all right. They dished out top notch burgers and service in a wonderful setting to 21 hungry Burger Clubbers for Burger Week.

Cibo is located in the old James Street pumping station at 339 Waterfront Dr hidden behind the colourful Mere hotel in the revitalized Exchange District waterfront. The interior is a large, bricked space brightly lit from the tall windows. From the pedestrian walk hanging off the outside of the building you have a great view of the Red River, Alexander Docks and The Forks skyline. “Lovely use of an existing building” wrote Bess.

The Burger Week organizers look for restaurateurs with a sense of humour who can rise to the challenge of creating a special burger. Cibo’s entry, the “Rob Ford” with “Smoked Crack(ed) Black Pepper Beer Bun, Hand Cut Bacon, 2 x 4 oz. Smash Patties, Smoked Cabbage Coleslaw, House Pickles and Charred Onion Aioli” fit the bill perfectly. Burger Club was lucky enough to be on "The Main Ingredient with Chef Rob" on CJOB and you can hear Russell Loewen’s interview with Rob Thomas and Burger Week cofounder Na'eem Adam here.

I had originally booked us for 12 people and there was a barely discernible pause over the phone from Dean, the manager, when I upped it to 20. When we arrived a fellow was hustling near the entrance and I asked if he was Dean and he replied "I wish! I'm just a lowly server." That was Liam, our server, and he was great – he was a pistol and a quick and attentive server. They were staffed up in the back and front of the house and it felt like everyone working at Cibo was there to make us happy. Geoff wrote “I felt like a VIP sitting at the giant table with 20 people in the middle of the open air room.” It’s a popular restaurant and the patio, bar and dining room were all busy.

Cibo has a great bar selection and we sampled the drinks while they cooked up our burgers. Granville Island Hefeweizen was the popular on-tap choice. Stan raved “They have a great Caesar drink! A very unique smoky rimmer.” The barista created a message of love in Dani’s latte.

Instagram: TheColdKitchen
When Cibo set down the first wave of burgers, out came the cameras as we all did our social networking due diligence. I saw four burger pictures in a row appear on Instagram and then a fifth from the kitchen with a picture of the dining room. Our group of 21 are hiding behind the bartender’s shaker.

The Rob Ford burger was impressive. Geoff wrote “The tower that arrived was an imposing sight, but once the two patties were compressed down into the buns it was manageable without resorting to cutting it in half.” It was a very well designed and balanced burger from the fissured smashed patties to the lightly tanned bun. April whooped “The bun was fabulous, the meat well seasoned, the bacon was thick and the perfect texture; this is my new favourite burger.”

Karen described it well: “Fresh bun! Was the first thing that hit my nose. The burger's ragged edges gave away the handmade origin of this burger. Good bite factor as the burger is firm, juicy and nicely seasoned. I love the bacon, only wish it had been across the whole burger not huddled on one side. The pickles and sauces married well for an excellent overall flavour.” Bess added “The flavours of the burger and condiments were complex; a surprise with every bite.” Jeff wrote the “Bun:burger ratio was excellent to the last bite, and the bun held together admirably. This burger should be added to the regular menu - I'd definitely come back for it!

Sandy had the regular menu single burger and said “There was so much I enjoyed about this burger - from the little onions within the patty to the slightly charred edges. The onion topping had a real vinegar like zing that I loved. The bun was fresh but struggled to contain the massive 8 oz patty. The bun was also very "greasy" and I found myself wiping my fingers after every bite. I'll be back!” Jacques also had the standard “Very tasty, moist and flavorful throughout, a hint of sweetness from the bun made for a divine experience.”

Most people loved their burger, but as always with a group of people with varying tastes, it didn't tickle the fancy of everyone. Burger Club brings you not just one opinion, but in this case, 21! The Rob Ford burger made special for burger week, averaged with the regular menu offering that 5/21 people had, placed Cibo at an impressive fifth place on Burger Club's ranking list. Several people wrote they thought the Rob Ford should stay on as a regular menu item. I think they want to know they can come back for another one. I can always tell when Burger Clubbers had a good time by how much they wrote in their review, and this week everyone had a lot to say about their meal and scrawled over a 1,000 words on their tiny slips of paper.

The shoestring fries received conflicted reviews. They tasted great and there were lots of them, but they were short and too crispy to fork. You couldn't pinch enough in your fingers to stuff in your mouth at once to make it worthwhile. Stan commented “The fries were kind of a waste of time.” Cary said they were "Like trying to eat a deep fried spider." The brothy smoked vegetable soup didn't excite. The side salads made people happy.

Cibo Waterfront Cafe on Urbanspoon