The other night Dar decided that we needed a nice meal out. To my complete surprise she mentioned a place called Hermanos in the exchange district. “Hermanos?” I mumbled “never heard of it, is it Greek?” She replied Argentinian. Instantly the wheels in my creaky mind began to whir and spin to life, Argentinean I bet they do a good steak there I thought.
Reservations were booked on line at Open Table and we were set. Having never dined at a South American restaurant both of us were intrigued and excited with the menu options that lay ahead. From watching such programs as Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations I knew that the Argentinean diet was one rich in flavour and tradition. Beefsteak is highly rated, as are many of the seaside dishes native to a coastal South American country.
Arriving at our destination a little early to hunt for parking on the street turned out to be the right call. The Winnipeg Fringe Festival was in full swing again and street parking was at a premium. Luckily thanks to Dar’s eagle eyes she spotted a van leaving a parking stall and I was on it in a heartbeat.
I love exploring the century old rabbit warren that is Winnipeg’s Exchange District. Not only is it home to many of the summertime festivals that come alive in the warm few months we have, but it is also home to many eclectic and excellent restaurants. Seemingly they sprout up like mushrooms, popping up in a previously vacant building or renovated warehouse. Sadly though most hardly make it a season before they paper up the windows and another moves in to take its place.
Thus it is understandable how I could miss Hermanos. Apparently open since 2009 and thriving with top rated food literally only a few kilometres from my front door. Upon entering the front door at 179 Bannatyne Ave a sense of familiarity washed over me, the strong century old stonework braced with thick wooden beams mixed well with the leather chairs and low tables in the lounge area of the restaurant. The bar stood front and centre acting as a divider between the lounge and the dining area. Reserve bottles of high end liquor were gracing the shelves behind the barmen.
The menu spoke of simplicity and rustic goodness. As I expected, beef and seafood featured prominently, the chef taking a light approach with naming of some of the dishes. Peru meets Lake Winnipeg for example features a classic South American staple, ceviche prepared with Lake Manitoba walleye pike. Of course we had to try it.
Our starters of ceviche and fresh fried potato chips were quick to arrive. The chips were hot, light and crispy. Splashed with a sprinkling of sea salt and served with a delicious aioli dip. The ceviche came marinated in a refreshing traditional citrus mixture and served upon a bed of sweet red onions and corn.
The fish was so light and flaky that one had to keep reminding themselves they were actually eating local walleye. Freshness is obviously key to this kitchen staff.
Our server Vanessa returned to take our selections for the main course, we both selected beef rib eye steaks each done slightly differently to accommodate sharing. I selected the Baby Cabrera, dusted with a house rub and served with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar and port wine reduced bacon and mushrooms.
Darlene chose a simple rib eye treated with coarse sea salt and Brazilian vinaigrette. Our sever was quite knowledgeable in both the menu and wine list and helped us to select an exclusive Uruguayan red wine to pair with our beef.
Dear readers as many of you know I am a huge fan of grilling and of the rib eye steak in particular. I take great pride in serving my guests a top notch seasoned well-marbled and tender cut of beef. The steak that I was about to bite into was simply the finest, most tender, and hands down the most delicious single piece of meat I have ever put into my body PERIOD.
When the meal came, the presentation looked simple but effective, steak alongside broccoli and pepper served with a little pot of garlic mashed potato. The aromas were quite appealing and my steak appeared to be cooked correctly rare. Earlier Vanessa quite properly inquired if I did indeed want a proper rare steak, as the grill man was very accurate and rare to him is a cool centre with blood visible. I replied, that I liked my steak just the other side of mooing, and she trotted off visibly assured.
Cutting into my choice cut of rib steak, I could not help but notice the ease in which my knife sliced into the charred flesh. The inside cross section proved my suspicion, the inside remained dark red with tan and brown radiating towards the surface. I have never indulged in hard drugs; to me a fine meal easily beats out that particular vice. With my first bite it was like someone had shoved a spike full of some wonderful endorphin into my veins and pushed the plunger down hard. My eyes instantly closed as my primal senses took over, the blood and grilled textures mingling over my taste-buds blocking out all other stimuli. The supreme tenderness of the beef defying the need to chew as the small piece seemingly melted away in my mouth.
Slowly the room started to permeate my peripheral senses again, my eyes fluttered open to see Darlene staring, grinning and almost laughing at my reaction. “That good eh?” she laughed, the words coming in waves to my still blissed out brain stem as I managed a nod.
The funny thing with most pleasure seeking behaviour is that the second hit is never ever as good as the first; you always end up chasing that virginal high. This particular steak though broke that rule into a thousand flavour filled shards. The rush just kept coming and coming, every bite seemingly better than the last. Like someone had dusted my steak with powerful Argentinean opiates instead of seasoning. Fat, lean it didn’t matter I moved around the cut trying to find a bad piece, something to snap me out of my meat filled delirium. Impossible!
Normally I am all about the total flavour profile on the plate, how do the vegetables work with the protein, how does the wine pair? That night though I charged headlong down the rabbit hole and fell under the powerful dark magic that is an exquisitely cooked rib steak.
Overall I would have to rate Hermanos Argentinian Restaurant to be one of those fabulous five star gems that I wish I had found earlier, but one that I will definitely be returning to in the near future.
Authors Note: I am not the only one who has gone crazy over Hermanos. Winnipeg Free Press , Where Winnipeg and Winnipeg Sun have all given stellar reviews to this hidden jem in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.