In his hands: Chef Mandel Hitzer stands at the bar in Deer + Almond, the restaurant he opened earlier this year in the Exchange District. – Jesse Oberman
Deer + Almond
85 Princess St.
Winnipeg’s modern tapas-meets-diner eatery, which overlooks the corner of Princess Street and McDermot Avenue in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, has a distinctly casual, yet stylish, demeanor.
Upon entering, my guest and I were promptly seated at the wooden bar-style counter and served water in tall, sleek glasses without ice.
Glancing around, I admired the quirky eclectic decor including antlers, porcelain owls, and a Buddhist shrine offering some Star Wars memorabilia to appease the idol.
The menus were simple and handcrafted, with fun scripted edits such as “e.v.o.o.” (extra virgin olive oil) and “brown burr holly” (brown butter hollandaise sauce).
Upon review of the menu, the cuisine offered by Deer + Almond’s chef, Mandel Hitzer, is undefined and unusual, yet calculated and creative.
The flavours celebrate authentic Asian and French cuisine, with a sincere nod to the Mediterranean. The cocktail menu was equally interesting, full of classics with a twist and house inventions.
I began with a Manitoba Trappist arancini in tomato basil sauce - a large ball of risotto and heavenly cheese, made locally by the Trappist Monks, covered in seasoned breadcrumbs.
The savoury arancini was proceeded by an aesthetically pleasing tomato and cucumber salad, which was reminiscent of caprese salad, full of whole skinned tomatoes, cut cucumbers, red onions, fresh basil, buffalo mozzarella and dill with a house-made balsamic dressing.
Our server assured us of the freshness and quality of the vegetables - most were from his personal garden.
The entrees followed in a timely fashion, which were Benny and the Jets (eggs benedict) and quail on a bed of risotto.
Eggs benedict are a personal favourite - I have tried this dish at nearly a hundred restaurants across North America, including New York, Chicago, Vancouver and Montreal.
There are multiple factors to create the perfection that is eggs benedict; however, it comes down to the hollandaise sauce, and Deer + Almond deserves highest acclamation for their brown butter hollandaise.
In all my years, this is the best variation you will savour in North America. To quote my guest: “This makes me want to dance.”
Beneath this decadent, tangy blend were two perfectly poached eggs, revealing tantalizing, golden yolks atop house-made bacon, and all delicately resting on buttery, fluffy brioche.
On the side was a parsley salad with red onions and capers, which was a surprising match, but cleansed the palate between bites and balanced the flavours of the plate.
The quail was served with lemon yogurt, on a bed of risotto pilaf with halved grapes, almonds and crisp flash-fried saffron leaves.
Recommended by our server, we applauded his taste and were not disappointed.
It was elegant and comforting, as was my experience at this hip new gem in the Exchange. From the friendly staff to the phenomenal eats, Deer + Almond is a welcome addition to the city, providing modern tastes at a reasonable cost.