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Best New Restaurants 2016

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Clementine

Neighbourhood: Exchange
Address: 123 Princess St
Phone: 204-942-9497
Entrées: $9-$13

From the first step down the flight of stairs that leads to Clementine’s subterranean Exchange District space, an excitement begins to take hold. Over the buzz of chatter from filled tables, anticipation sets in. A look at the menu reveals something conspicuously absent from the city’s dining scene, until now.
Breakfast fine dining has oft been interpreted as home cooking classics delivered on fancy china. Following the lead of chef-owned hotspots pushing boundaries, Clementine reimagines breakfast with inventive flavour combinations, melding thoughtfulness and creativity with accessibility and casualness in price and atmosphere.

The venture of Segovia progenitors Adam Donnelly and Carolina Konrad burst onto the dining scene in May, and was immediately swarmed with downtown lunchers and cool kid brunch-ers eager for morning cocktails (“Drink This, It’ll Help”, offers the menu) and Segovia’s culinary daring adapted for morning fare.
Comfort food has become the buzz word du jour, and while the plenty of familiar plates are offered, care is taken to elevate approachable breakfast classics with far flung ingredients. Airy, deep-pocketed Belgian waffles are hidden under pear compote, salted dulce de leche, and whipped labneh. Turkish-style poached eggs are delivered on a bed of hummus, topped with warm chile oil and zhoug, a pesto-like Middle Eastern spice paste singing with cilantro and long-burning spice.
Aligned with what’s on the plate, the underground nook’s interior seamlessly blends cozy and kooky elements. The hallmarks of industrial-chic Exchange District hip—rough-hewn wood rafters and ductwork, exposed brick—are complemented by pattern adorned walls and black and white chevron floor tiles.
Through a grid of window panes into the open kitchen, diners get an up close look at head chefs Adam Donnelly and Chris Gama leading what seems like a full brigade, frying, chopping, saucing and simmering marvelous creations. Instant signatures like eggs benedict topped with thick cut maple bacon and glossy hollandaise, or the instagram darling fried chicken toast, which piles juicy crisp chicken on a thick wedge of housemade sourdough.
Lunch cravings are answered with curry-spiked mushroom toast and spicy chorizo tostadas. Smoked Arctic char is destined to become a go-to for nearby office dwellers. A slab of the mild, flaky fish perches atop batons of crisp-fried potato cakes, with dollops of creme fraiche, horseradish, and pearly salmon roe lending bite and pop. Ringing in at a mere $13, this is the most expensive item on the menu.
A range of side dishes, all priced in the single digits, make for a light breaky or a sharable addition to an indulgent brunch. Meaty fried beets tossed with cashews and a smear of jewel-yellow curry aioli begs the question: why is this favourite root veggie ever prepared any other way? Crisp wedges of cucumber pair with a nutty tahini sauce and a swirl of salty-sweet tomato caramel for acidity. In dish after dish it is clear that at Clementine, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Clementine is open Mon-Fri 7 am-3 pm, Sat-Sun 8 am-4 pm.

Blind Tiger Kitchen + Bar

Neighbourhood: South Osborne
Address: 725 Osborne St
Phone: 204-691-9939
Entrées: $24-$39

At the time of Prohibition and other restrictive liquor laws, many illegal establishments hid dining rooms and bars behind front businesses, often exhibits of natural wonders or animal curiosities, earning the nickname “blind tigers”.
South Osborne’s Blind Tiger Kitchen + Bar takes up this moniker with tongue in cheek, presenting an earnest fondness for the past with a sleekly modern twist.
Antique chic décor adorns exposed brick walls, from wrought iron farming implements to an abstract art piece made from a deconstructed piano. Paired with slick dark tones, leather, and a gleaming backlit bar, the space easily blends old and new.
There is food to match, flowing steadily from an open kitchen. Elegance on the plate plays well with the convivial atmosphere, backdropped by lively chatter and the fragrant hisses of sautéing and simmering. Excitement for a dining hub along the South Osborne strip keeps the room hopping with neighbourhood diners and food lovers from across the city.
The menu betrays a fondness for the classic sauces, proteins, and techniques of classic French cooking, with dishes and components that have fallen out of favour in restaurant kitchens revived in clever new applications.

An appetizer of grilled prawns balances contemporary trends with this throwback predilection, pairing the shellfish with pickled lettuce and sauce Americaine, a misnomer historically served in Provence. Alongside Francophone favourites like escargot and chicken livers, delicate devilled eggs make an appearance on the selection of appies, piped with light as air yolk.
Old school French staples make up the entrée selection, like bouillabaisse and niçoise salad. Several steaks with pairings from bourguignon to sauce chasseur suggest the presence of a saucier in the narrow open kitchen.
Dips into bistro fare include mountains of perfectly tender mussels in classic preparations. A Normandy-style rendition is simmered in a creamy broth, umami-laced from pops of bacon and topped with tart matchsticks of green apple. Thin and crispy frites under a heap of funky Parmesan are perfect for sopping up broth.
Oversized pillows of Parisian-style gnocchi underscore a creative willingness to take influence from all areas of French cuisine. The vegetarian dish gets protein and heft from meaty oyster mushrooms, tossed in a pistou redolent of fresh basil.
Service is without pretension, blending airs of fine dining and a comfortable neighbourhood haunt. In keeping with the tribute to classic French cuisine, a glassy, smooth crème brûlée is in order. Despite a concept based around secrecy, the recent removal of the window blinds reveals a lively room, an invitation to settle in over another cocktail or dessert.
Blind Tiger is open Mon-Thu 11:30 am-12 am, Fri 11:30 am-1 am, Sat 5 pm-1 am, Sun 5 pm-12 am.

Chosabi

Neighbourhood:Exchange
Address: 100 King St
Phone: 204-615-8338
Entrées: $10-$15

The fast casual trend hit in full force this year. Fresh, healthy, and adventurous food delivered at sleek order-at-the-counter spots has flipped the script on fast food and proven as versatile as convenient, with countless variations of quick eats spanning global cuisines and dietary styles.
Of the many new concepts that have appeared, Chosabi is the cream of the crop. This small but mighty eatery, the brainchild of Wasabi’s Cho Vengavongsa, has re-engineered sushi into grab n’ go eats, and introduced flavours from Korea, the Philippines, and Hawaii within the span of a handful of menu items.
What’s more, the new venture has already opened a second location mere months after the launch of the original Exchange District spot. Inviting rooms, sprinkled with jabs of colour (red in the Exchange, yellow on Pembina) are effortlessly sleek, with clean lines and a modern mix of steel and wood textures. Stretching powerfully across a wall, a stylized mural of a fish, painted by local artist Pat Lazo, gives these clean spaces an edge.
The sushi burrito (aka Chorito), a hefty hand roll that turns delicate maki snacking into a two-handed affair, is the signature here. The Wasabi pedigree shows through in perfectly seasoned rice, fresh fish, and creative ingredient combinations. An amped up California roll and a blend of tempura-fried shrimp,  fresh cubes of mango, and spicy aioli are go-to varieties. Others push boundaries with fusion-influenced flavour, like a chicken roll incorporating crisp wonton strips and Thai sweet chilli sauce. An option for those who avoid meat is loaded with greens and veggies.
The short menu also lists bowls that pull from a variety of cuisines, from a coconut-imbued Thai green curry to a take on Korean bulgogi drizzled with fiery miso aioli and topped with a glistening fried egg.
Glossy pink cubes of salmon and tuna fill the poke bowl, nestled next to spiralized carrots, edmame, avocado, cucumber, and lettuce. The traditional Hawaiian dish is lent a briny note by threads of seaweed and a mix of soy sauce and lightly pungent wasabi-punched aioli. A tribute to Filipino cuisine (and a Filipino sports hero) the Pac Man Special tops rice with a bevy of veggies and rosy twists of sweet and smoky tocino sausage, a rare find outside of home kitchens.
Flair is added to even the smallest details. Burritos are wrapped, cut, and served in bamboo steamer baskets, and signature take out boxes are styled up with a colourful fish illustration.
The steady parade of lunchtime diners moving through the doors find equal satisfaction in superbly fresh prepackaged salads, traditional nigiri, and fruit and spinach packed smoothie cups ready to be blended at the counter. Goma ae blends delicate strands of seaweed and blanched kale with an addictive miso-peanut dressing. For those with more time to sit and sup, specialty coffee drinks, by-the-glass wine, and Asian beer on tap round out the selection.
Concept-driven eateries have proven popular for entrepreneurs, and Chosabi shows the strongest players deliver with outstanding taste and uncompromised flavour.

Chosabi is open Mon-Sat 10:30 am-8 pm, Sun 12 pm-5 pm.

Feast cafÉ bistro

Neighbourhood: West End
Address: 587 Ellice Ave
Phone: 204-691-5979
Entrées: $9-$14

Food is many things, from basic sustenance and nourishment to an exercise in creativity. In many ways, the food we eat is tied to identity. When Ciao! pioneered Manitoba Regional Cuisine as a dining category in 1997, seeking to highlight the food of this land and its people, pushes for the simple addition of bison, lakefish, or wild rice to a menu were completely novel.
Today these regional staples have become ever more popular, but in the hands of Christa Bruneau-Guenther, these ingredients speak with added significance. Feast Café and Bistro opened on the corner of Ellice and Sherbrook last December, and in doing so became Canada’s first Indigenous cuisine restaurant.
At a time when our country is, more than ever before, acknowledging the rights of Indigenous peoples, Feast represents both a celebration and a reclamation of the ingredients and techniques that make up First Nations food. On the menu are homey staples, like bison chili—twists on comfort fare that would be at home in many kitchens—alongside preparations that have spanned generations, like the pillowy bannock that forms the basis of many dishes.
Inside the welcoming room in the former Ellice Café space, accented with warm colours, pendant lamps, and large black and white photos of prairie scenery and traditional scenes—a canoe, a tipi, bannock cooking over a fire—the intimate restaurant feels at once chic and cozy.
Food is straightforward, filling, and well prepared. A twist on French dip made with shredded bison is juicy and bursting with flavour, a melty mess of Bothwell cheese, sautéed peppers, and mayo lightly kicked with fresh horseradish. Pickerel “sliders” (presented open faced) make use of shore lunch flavour enhancers—lemon pepper, chive, and dill—to amp up the favourite fish.
Indian Tacos are the signature dish, a riff on popular powwow food from Southwestern First Nations groups like the Navajo. Feast’s version is all Manitoba, topped with a hearty bean and local bison chili. Puffy wheels of lightly fried bannock support a mountain of chili, lettuce, salsa, and a drizzle of sour cream hinting of chipotle. This may be the only taco that requires a fork and knife, but it is easily devoured.
The same light-as-air frybread makes the base for pizzas with creative toppings. A vegetarian version sporting nutty-sweet roasted butternut squash, a rich cream sauce, a smattering of pine nuts, and chipotle cream is an out of the park hit.
Simple variations on classic breakfast items draw neighbourhood crowds in the morning, from pancakes and French toast to “eggs banny” on a bannock bun.
While fare is familiar, hinting of classic diners and home cooked meals, small substitutions point to Feast’s real charm. Bannock replaces bread in nearly every dish; bison sausage swaps for breakfast sausages and pepperoni on pizza; fish fingers become oven-baked pickerel. From the use of traditional ingredients to the warm neighbourhood atmosphere, dining becomes more than just the experience of a meal; it is a connection to land, culture, and community.
Feast Cafe Bistro is open Mon-Thu 9 am-4 pm, Fri and Sat 9 am-9 pm.

 

mÁquÈ

Neighbourhood: Crescentwood
Address: 909 Dorchester Ave
Phone: 204-284-3385
Small Plates: $5-$22

In a city as culturally diverse as Winnipeg, there is no lack of inspiration for chefs seeking to explore flavours from across the globe. The resulting fusion across cultures has birthed new diverse dining categories. It is into one such novel genre that Máquè, the new open for Deseo and Enoteca chef Scott Bagshaw, steps.
Like Enoteca, Bagshaw’s River Heights haunt, Máquè features few seats, an open kitchen, and small plates made for sharing. The twist comes in the flavour profiles that populate the carefully considered menu.
Inspiration comes from Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisine, translated into carefully balanced plates that blend far east flavours with French derived technique. Plump dumplings, with tacky dough giving way to juicy pork, are paired with a thick smear of almond butter, playing off the warm notes of Chinese five spice powder with pairings that both complement and deepen the complexity of its flavour. Coins of Japanese eggplant—each topped with a piece of lobster—swim in a gingery black bean sauce which replaces the saline punch of traditional Chinese versions with an earthier richness.
A dish of tender crab, lobster, bacon, and caviar is a menu highlight. The delicate jumble of seafood is doused tableside with a fragrant, swoon-inducing blend of red curry and lobster bisque. This revelatory French-Thai mash up is impossibly rich, savoury, and spicy, overset with hints of sweet coconut and a whisper of black truffle.
Straight adaptations from the world of take out boxes are also found here, like greens fried with XO sauce or fried rice elevated with the likes of oyster mushroom and truffle. Multiple orders of steamed buns can be spied on every table. Drawing Momofuku comparisons, the pillowy crescents are stuffed with a mix of crisped pork belly, peanuts, ssäm sauce and a sliver of pickle.
While many dishes eschew strong funky and fiery flavours for subtle complexity, an egg noodle dish in fermented bean and chile sauce is a rare tongue-scalder, spiciness playing boldly off of the rich tenderness of duck confit.
Décor is simple, with drawings of sparrows (the Chinese translation of the restaurant’s name) adorning the window-wrapped room. Though simple wooden chopsticks replace silverware, saucy French-inflected dishes beg diners to lick the plate.
Máquè is open Tue-Sun 5 pm-12 am.

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