“The best meal I’ve ever had.”
I realize that’s a strong statement. I’ve worked in various restaurants for over 12 years, and almost half of that time was spent in a kitchen. So, coming from someone who loves and appreciates a well-prepared dining experience, I truly understand and respect the hard work and passion that goes into preparing a quality meal.
When it comes to food, I choose my words very carefully. But it’s true, this week’s opening night at Raw Almond on the Red River was the Best Meal I Have Ever Had.
Raw Almond is a gathering of over 30 chefs from all over the world, cooking a seven course meal three times per night, from Jan. 22 until Feb. 11. All of which is situated on a temporary man-made structure in the middle of the frozen Red River, outside The Forks in Winnipeg.
Although the night started a few minutes later than the scheduled time, and the table we sat at was partially in the dark due to opening night electrical problems, the meal was absolutely world-class, and more importantly, the experience was unforgettable.
Each night, the event features three chefs from Winnipeg or beyond that treat 10-12 guests to a culinary experience based on whatever the chefs can come up with.
Norm Pastorin of The Cornerstone Bar and Restaurant was the chef for Table 2, our lucky table.
He introduced himself at the beginning of the meal, apologized for the electrical problems, and then told us he was going to present a meal based on summer, using summer ingredients and preparing summer-inspired dishes. I was intrigued.
The first course was a cold poached salmon with summer vegetables. It melted in our mouths. It had a better texture than some of the best quality sashimi I’ve had in Japanese restaurants, and right out of the gate Chef Norm Pastorin hit a home run.
The second course was an ox tail consomme soup which had one of the most flavourful broths for a consomme I’ve ever tasted. On top was a baked bread soufflé of some sort and when the bread soaked up the amazing broth, it was an incredible combination.
My favourite dish of the night came next, a duck foie gras on top of deep fried pork belly and baked brioche. Wow. I’m a pork belly addict, and this was the best version I’ve ever had. Easily a 10 out of 10 that left me wanting more.
Up next was the most “summer” dish of the night, a scallop ceviche with mandarin oranges and jalapeños. This dish was fresh, light, delicious, and had a pretty mean heat to it, which not everyone at the table appreciated, but I sure did. An amazing summer scallop experience in the middle of dreary January.
The next dish was a classic take on a beef shoulder steak on top of white beans and asparagus. This dish was the first time I tasted something familiar and comforting, which wasn’t a bad thing at all. The steak was cooked perfectly and very tender, with a nice accompaniment. A solid entry.
Another familiar experience came next, a rabbit ravioli. The sauce tasted like grandma’s beef gravy, and the pasta was cooked perfectly. Although I can count the number of times I’ve had rabbit on one hand, this was the most enjoyable rabbit experience of them all.
Lastly the dessert, a chocolate brownie, with white chocolate and caramel crunch, and fresh strawberries. A light and perfect end to a delicious meal; not too sweet and leaving me wanting more.
In fact, that could be said for almost every dish. Since it was a 7-course meal, every portion was humble and every course left me wanting more. However, I was pleasantly full by the end of the night and the portions ended up being just perfect.
Raw Almond is new to Winnipeg but it’s already making waves on the Red River. It was such an incredible experience to sit on a fur covered wooden stump, drink delicious wine in the dark, in the middle of a frozen river. In Winnipeg. In January. And truly enjoying the best meal I’ve ever had.