Neighbourhood: St James
Address: 2069 Portage Ave
It may be romantic, but even winter-loving Winnipeggers have to admit that stargazing is not a cold weather activity. For an out-of-this world date night with a warm atmosphere and delicious eats to boot, dinner at the Star Grill makes a perfect substitute.
For twenty one years this little spot has transformed a narrow room across from Assiniboine Park into a dreamy destination. Festooned with silver stars and astrological ephemera on the night-blue walls, the effect is at once quirky and cozy.
Service is just as stellar, which is good, because the menu can overwhelm with options. The large selection includes shareable plates, upscale entrées, and casual classics.
Seafood is a highlight here–irresistible calamari, dusted with lemon pepper, have been a menu star since this publication reviewed the restaurant in 2005, if not longer. A pile of the tender rings anoints a scrumptious seafood ravioli, also topped with juicy shrimp and a rosette of smoked salmon, and a heady parmesan cream sauce scented with lemon.
Pickerel is also a must. A cornmeal crust clings to the perfectly tender and flaky fish when served as an appetizer, ready to be dunked in zippy horseradish aioli. Coconut shrimp, another starter staple, may cause arguments over double-dipping. Served with an irresistible mango sauce, it starts cool with coconut and ends with a kick of spice.
Ultra-decadent comfort food is all the rage these days, but Star Grill shows the value of a little restraint and practices a rare type of elegance: simplicity. A tender slab of pork schnitzel with fried onions, tangy sauerkraut, and a horseradish cream sauce proves the value of a classic. Opt for the thick house cut, skin-on fries on the side.
Vegetarians are well served with a tower of power that layers panko-crusted strips of tofu and eggplant with sweet roasted red peppers, mushrooms, and spinach. Plated on a bed of mashed potatoes, this scrumptious stack is doused in an herby and aromatic tomato sauce.
If you really want to know what’s written in the stars, in-house psychic Reid Edwards provides nightly tarot card readings (except Wednesdays and Sundays). But even those of us without psychic gifts can see something sweet in our future, thanks to the enticing dessert case by the door which contains an ever-changing array of treats made in house.
On one visit, a towering lemon and white chocolate torte balanced light sweetness with zing, while death by chocolate seduced with layers of surpassingly creamy mousse. Chewy bread pudding, studded with cranberries and served warm in a puddle of sticky caramel sauce, is a perfect finish to a meal, served with a cup of strong dark coffee.