Winnipeg it seems is starting to make its self known on the world culinary scene, our economy is steadily growing and people enjoy going out for a good meal. One fine example of our growing culinary prowess can be found in a most unlikely location. Deseo Bistro , at 48 Albert St in the front of the Royal Albert Arms Hotel, sits like a contradiction. This jewel in a back corner of Downtown lays in among empty sherry bottles and fleabag businesses.
Chef Scott Bagshaw, formerly of Pizza Gusto and Resto Gare, has really put his signature style on his food here. With a slightly south of the border feel to the cooking it’s as if he is finally getting to cook the foods that he likes and it shows.
The restaurant is small by any standard perhaps having a dozen or so tables in a bright and airy atrium that juts off the front of the old hotel. The service is very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu options.
On my first visit we were waited on by the infamous Lauren, with a quick smile she settled us in and gave us the rundown on the menu options.
We decided upon an appetizer of adobo rubbed grilled skirt steak topped with salsa fresca. The steak was incredibly flavourful, cooked to the perfect level of rarity, rested and sliced paper-thin. The topping of salsa fresca added a level of brightness to the steak, the acids refreshing the palate.
As we decided on our mains Lauren managed to twist our arms into trying one of the house specialty drinks. A tequila caesar, a twist on the standard vodka and clamato beverage, with a pinch of horseradish to offset the bite of the tequila.
I opted for a main course of Beef Short Ribs in Corn Porridge with Wild Mushrooms. Being the off menu special I had no idea what I was getting myself into but when it arrived I was hit by the simplicity of the dish. A large beef short rib perched upon a bed of beige porridge. To my simple mind I instantly thought, meat and cream of wheat. Yummy, I think?
My first instinct could not have been more wrong. I timidly took a small spoonful of the porridge and was blown away. Such depth of flavour, the beef juices and mushrooms marrying perfectly in a rich creamy sauce. The ribs themselves were meaty and very tender and the mushrooms added that extra punch of complexity to what would stand alone as a fine dish.
My dining partner insisted on trying the Adobo Chicken with Rice, Beans and Chorizo Sausage. Her dish was equally amazing, once again a topping of salsa fresca served as a counterpoint to the richness of the chicken and chorizo sausage.
A second trip proved that this wondrous meal was not just a chance event. Having the opportunity to let my hungry belly lead me onward today, I headed back downtown for lunch.
Once again simplicity was the order of the day, I ordered a bowl of soup and a sandwich. Nothing special right? Wrong. Something as pedestrian as tomato soup is transformed in Bagshaw’s kitchen. Served with cornbread it is hearty and practically a meal in its self. I commented to Lauren who was on staff again today that I don’t even like cornbread but this moist dense slab bathing in my tomato soup was incredible. The hearty goodness mixed with a rich roasted tomato soup is worth the trek alone.
Paired with a sandwich like the Sloppy José, a twist on the sloppy joe, substituting ground beef with slow braised pulled pork. The meat was incredibly juicy and tender, sloppy as promised I had to use my napkin often to hide the sauce from running down my chin.
It’s said that for a chef to achieve perfection that all he has to do is take simple ingredients and just not mess them up. This my friends is the art of cooking simplified, one that Scott Bagshaw and the crew tucked away on Albert St. have mastered to a advanced, tasty and consistent level.
Two caveats though, as I mentioned seating is limited so either come early or book ahead for a table, Deseo Bistro fills up fast. Also the business is cash only so leave your plastic at home, but prices are affordable so you won’t have to break the bank to eat very well.