I haven't seen anything posted about In Ferno's Bistro - Winnipeg's latest "it" restaurant. It has all the right things to make it popular - an obscure location, hip decorations and a slim chance of being able to walk in and get a table. Our local restaurant reviewer had nothing but good things to say about it. Winnipeg doesn't have a nice French-style bistro, so I was looking forward to our meal there. Sadly, as I just found out, I don't think In Ferno's matches the hype.
First of all, there's the noise. Be prepared for lots of it. The bistro was half-full on Monday, we had nobody seated beside us, yet I could barely hear my father and stepmother speak from across the table. I don't know what it would be like when it's full. They have hung a few pieces of brown foam off the ceiling in an effort to reduce the noise. It doesn't work and looks like sheets of lichen hanging from the ceiling.
The wine list is excellent, well-chosen and well priced. (Admission: I do work with one of their wine suppliers, but all this means is that I know what they pay for the wine). We had a bottle of the Cono Sur Pinot Noir which was very tasty and VERY well-priced at only $22. All of their markups were very reasonable. There are also a number of splits on the menu, in case you don't want a full bottle, but don't feel like either of the two (mediocre) house wines. It did take the waiter approximately twenty minutes to bring the wine to our table though.
The food was adequate, although I will say the appetizers were excellent. I had the crab cakes, which the reviewer for our local paper had raved about, and she was right. They were excellent. My wife and stepmother both had the (broth-based) mushroom-cognac soup and also enjoyed it. My father's cream-based soup was fine, but he regretted not ordering the mushroom-cognac instead.
The real problems came with dinner. We ordered our food at 7:15 and received it at 8:40. The restaurant was not busy (being at most half-full), and there were plenty of staff in evidence. I don't mind waiting if there's good reason, but a large party that came in after us was served about fifteen minutes before we were.
Our meals came with a parsnip-carrot puree (very tasty), a small piece of broccoli and a similarly-sized piece of cauliflower. However, by the time we were served, the chef had chosen to substitute (cold) baked potatoes for the tasty-looking frites that I had seen coming by on other plates. The only explanation offered was "Chef is now serving baked potatoes". Nothing else. Nor was there any explanation for the temperature of the potatoes.
Both of the women in my party had ordered the lamb shank, and both received what looked like a dinosaur leg. They enjoyed it (despite the over-abundance of glaze) but neither was able to finish their dinners. My wife suggested that perhaps the waiter could have told them how big it was, as this would have affected their decision. It's a minor quibble, but worth noting.
My father's grilled swordfish was fine, if slightly dry. He enjoyed his food, but found the fruit salsa (?) too sweet and had to push it aside. However, my filet mignon was a disaster. I had ordered it rare, and it arrived with one side still raw. The chef hadn't seared it. When I sent it back, the waiter wouldn't acknowledge that it was partially raw and (10 minutes later) returned with a smaller, unseasoned piece of meat. And to top it off, I was charged full price for the meal, which I thought was inappropriate considering that my meal was not worth it.
By this time, we were ready to go, and turned down the offered desserts. I have heard very good things about their desserts, but can't comment on them myself.
I chose to bring up my complaints with the owner the next day, and after being unable to reach them by phone, faxed in a letter of complaint. Two full days after doing so, I have not heard anything. In sharing my experiences with friends, I hear that we're not the only ones who had a disastrous experience there.
So if you're in Winnipeg and are looking for a good bistro-style meal, you may find it here. The appetizers were excellent, the wine list was very good, and if you REALLY like red meat, the Flintstones-sized lamb shank may be just the ticket. Just be warned that reality and hype don't necessarily coincide at In Ferno's. And don't bother complaining to them.