Café Ce Soir
Address: 937 Portage Ave
Those who think that a tiny room on Portage Avenue could have nothing in common with the south of France are in dire need of a trip to Café Ce Soir.
From the moment diners stomp the snow off their boots and pass the threshold, the warmly-lit, red-walled room has a transportive effect. It could be the bistro blackboards, the welcomingly large wine glasses, the photos and postcards of Normandy under glass at each table, or a combination of all three. Regardless, this is the cheapest ticket to France you’ll find.
The size makes an open kitchen more necessity than statement, a stroke of luck for diners who get to watch chef Cam Tran work his magic. Wafts of garlic butter sauce take over the room as the chef pumps out plates with assistance from a small staff.
Tran’s French training results in sky high standards for cuisine. This is the place for classics, like comforting coq au vin bathed in wine sauce. Haute cuisine prowess with meat is showcased in preparations like beef tenderloin, wrapped in bacon and perfectly paired with a dusky coin of pâté and a sweet tart demi glace.
Bistro favourites are ideal for long lunches or weeknight dinners, like the croque monsieur, which oozes cheese and creamy beschamel. Crispy, pencil thin frîtes are standout as well, great for dipping in housemade aïoli. A take on goat cheese salad incorporates whole toasty hazelnuts and a richness-cutting vinaigrette zinging with blood orange and chive.
Amid the French fare, the restaurant keeps a sense of place. Chef Tran is a pioneer of the Slow Food movement in Winnipeg, which stresses the importance of regional cuisine and preservation of indigenous plants and wildlife. Many local ingredients fill the kitchen – in warmer months, visitors may find Café Ce Soir closed so that its chef can take to the woods to forage mushrooms. Fresh baguettes from local L’epi de Ble bakery or a decadent tartiflette, swimming in cream and topped with funky Trappist cheese, show where the ideology hits the plate. Other menu items, like bison spring rolls or a salad dressed with hoisin peanut butter sauce nod to Tran’s Vietnamese heritage.
The space has the air of one man’s passion for cuisine, with the pastry case as playground. Delicate tarts, pies mounded with meringue, crème brûlée in a daily-changing flavour, and signature Death By Chocolate – glistening with glass-smooth ganache – are excellent excuses to linger.