Monday, October 8

A new breed of Vietnamese

I've always been a huge fan of Vietnamese cuisine, and growing up in central Winnipeg had related perks. Ever since junior high, I was always within a two block radius of a Vietnamese restaurant or two.

From one eatery to the other, most adhere to a similar format. They're largely family-run sit-down restaurants, featuring a menu with at least 30 different options to choose from. They're always a little overwhelming at first. Of course, you soon figure out your favourites and number 53 soon becomes synonymous with the deluxe vermicelli bowl.

After becoming so accustomed to the culture of Vietnamese dining in our city, I was delightfully surprised by newcomer Saigon Jon's Vietnamese Kitchen. Unlike any I've ever gone to, this restaurant has taken the traditional model and turned it into something refreshing and modern.

The familiar Pembina location turned out to be an old Blockbuster we used to frequent. They completely gutted it from the inside out (you can see progress of the renovations on their Facebook page).

The two-step ordering process is simple. You first choose your main dish: banh mi (Vietnamese sub), rice bowl, noodle bowl (vermicelli noodles) or salad. In the second step, you choose what type of protein you'd like. They have a wide range to choose from, including lemongrass steak, hot honey hoisin chicken and tofu. They pride themselves in serving seven ounces of protein with every meal, a generous portion for dishes all under $10. All of their meat is also fresh, never frozen and marinated for 12 hours before being cooked on the grill.

Saigon Jon's also offers a unique selection of sauces, including Thai basil aioli, siracha mayo, roasted shallot aioli and cilantro lime mayo. They grow their herbs in-house using a Commercial Urban Cultivator, a product previously featured on Dragon's Den. That's pretty rad.

Asides from their four main dishes, you can also order the Vietnamese staple - sirloin beef pho. Their pho comes in two sizes: regular and make you strong.

My company and I ordered a sub with hoisin garlic steak, a rice bowl with lemongrass steak and peanut sauce, and a vermicelli bowl with tofu and peanut sauce.

The general composition of their dishes stayed true to their traditional formats, with a modern take on some of the marinade and dressings. The meats were fragrant, and all pieces of the dishes were fresh, warm and crispy. They held true to their seven ounce statement, and there was plenty of food on all of our plates. Some of us even ended up having to doggy bag the rest to take home.

The open atmosphere of the restaurant is truly inviting, and the staff are friendly and accommodating. The format is a little strange for those who are used to traditional sit-down Vietnamese restaurants, but after a few visits, you will easily become accustomed to the streamlined ordering process.

This Winnipeg restaurant has a franchise-like feel, and I won't be surprised to see it expand across the city and beyond in the years to come. We had a wonderful and satisfying dining experience at Saigon Jon's, and I would not hesitate to visit the restaurant again to try out their other dishes. For those of you who love traditional Vietnamese cuisine, you may want to switch it up because Saigon Jon's is definitely worth the taste!

Saigon Jon's Vietnamese Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 21

It's Fabulous Underground

Last week, I went underground. As in, to the Underground Cafe on 70 Arthur Street.

The restaurant is tucked away in the building's basement, featuring some colourful murals and some delicious lunchtime dining eats.

I tried the Fabulous Sun Burger for the first time (which is apparently a famous Winnipeg staple, accordingly to everyone I've raved to). Their burger is a masterpiece made of toasted sesame and sunflower seeds, vegetable protein, mozza and cheddar cheeses, rice, eggs and assorted spices. The patty is served with lime-dill sauce, romaine lettuce, green peppers, onions and tomato, served on a perfectly toasted bagel.

It was definitely one of the best vegetarian sandwiches I've had in a while, on par with the White Star Diner and Boon Burger Cafe. The restaurant features a delicious selection of other menu items, featured on their website.

The Underground Cafe is also excellent at updating their Facebook page with their specials of the day. Check them out!

Friday, September 14

So many things to do at Manyfest!

As a proud downtown Winnipeg supporter, I was absolutely ecstatic to hit up Manyfest for the first time last weekend.

Manyfest is a street festival organized by the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. It celebrates the arts, entertainment, health and most importantly, community in the heart of our city. Downtown Winnipeg's largest street festival anticipated 30,000 people in attendance this year, and stretched all the way from the Manitoba Legislative Building almost all the way to The Forks!

The festival was constantly bustling with vendors selling goodies like crafts, baked treats, vintage clothing and fresh produce. One wing branched off into food trucks offering delicious eats including my favourite indulgence in the world, mini donuts.

At night, the medians of Broadway hosted space for a wide array of performers such as fire dancers, Bollywood talent and local bands.

Although I loved every aspect of the street festival, I would have to say my personal highlight was the outdoor wine tasting event. You could purchase taste tickets for $1 each, which gave you a small sample of their huge selection of wines or you could redeem it for a tasty treat, like a kebob of cheese of a few slices of bread with bruschetta.

At the end of Saturday night, volunteers passed around candles for Lights on Broadway. Those who cycled to the event also had the opportunity to light their bikes up at a designated station. It was beautiful to see lights flickering as far down as the eyes could see.

All in all, the festival was a great experience and shone light on local business owners, performers and most importantly, the spirit of togetherness in downtown Winnipeg.

Friday, September 7

Here will always be home

Dear reader,

It's hard to believe a whole year has passed since I first started writing for The Downtown Dweller.

Last September, I practically pulled my hairs out of their follicles trying to choose something worth blogging about. Food? Crafts? Fonts? (Yes, I was seriously considering pitching an anti-Comic Sans website.)

And suddenly, it came to me. Why not write about what I already know? Quite practically where I eat, sleep and breathe. Downtown Winnipeg was, and still is, a huge part of my life and why wouldn't I want to share my love for it with the rest of the online world?

I moved into the Exchange District over a year and a half ago. Since then, I've discovered (and blogged) about dozens of new eateries, shops and festivities I originally knew nothing about. During my short lifespan in our city's DT, I've grown to appreciate all of its quirks and character. The people and places here truly highlight the best that our city has to offer.

Never mind the breathtaking architecture in the Exchange. Forget about the scenic trails down Waterfront Drive. Who cares about the fun festivities held at Old Market Square and The Forks - they're nothing here compared to grandeur of big cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, right?

Well, in my opinion, anyone that hasn't put in the effort into appreciating our city's bright and vibrant personality is truly missing out. It's not only these things I cherish, but also the not-so-glamorous qualities - like rowdy Jets fans flooding the streets for a late celebratory night. Heck, I'll cheer with them.

Downtown will always be my home. Wherever I end up in a few months, years or decades from now - this part of our city will always have a part of me.

Always yours,

Friday, August 31

A summer in the city centre

It's time to sharpen your pencils and open up your textbooks. Summer, like a hunger pang, has come and gone and the educational grind has finally been reinstated.

Spending another summer in the Exchange District has definitely opened my eyes and diversified my taste palette. There was never a shortage of festivals to attend, new restaurants to dine at and chic boutiques to stare hopelessly into.

In the spirit of celebrating the end of the season, here are a few of my summer highlights:
  • Festivities at The Forks
  • Yoga & Zumba in the Park
  • Let's Do Lunch Downtown
  • The Winnipeg Fringe Festival
  • The TD International Winnipeg Jazz Festival
  • The Chinatown Street Festival
  • Heck, all the festivals!
  • ... And did I mention food?
 Burger and fries from Boon Burger down Sherbrook

A mixed greens salad from Deer + Almond in the Exchange

An assortment of empanadas from Corrientes Argentine Pizzeria in the Exchange

Lahma├žun (Turkish yoghurt pizza bread) from Arkadash Bistro & Lounge on Portage

Vegetarian nacho platter from La Bamba on Portage

Needless to say, my summer was nothing short of amazing - and I hope yours was, too. Here's to another eventful school year, and an upcoming collection of interesting tidbits straight from downtown Winnipeg from your Downtown Dweller.