Best New Restaurants 2017

Brazen Hall

Neighbourhood: Fort Rouge
Address: 800 Pembina Hwy
Phone: 204-453-7980
Entrées: $14-$35

When restaurateur Kristian Kristjansson closed the doors of The Round Table 40 years after his father opened it, many wondered what would replace the beloved Tudor cottage building. As months turned into the better part of a year, the massive renovation project unfolded before the eyes of commuters. What emerged may retain the same footprint of the original building, but is unrecognizably new and improved.

The entire experience is both casual and obsessive; relaxed yet smart décor, a menu that pays attention to today’s growing list of crazy diets, and knowledgeable service packaged in jeans and T-shirts. Salvaged wood covering walls and beams above give the new space a rustic beer barn feel, but the finishes are chic enough to make women happy. On-site brew bins are visible through glass, giving a peek at the action while keeping the odorous by-products of the process at arms length.

Unmistakably though, beer provides focus for what to eat here. Snacks, appies, burgers, noodles and entrees are designed for pairing with a pint.  House brew nuts offer instant gratification the spicy, smoky, cocoa covered blend can turn into an addiction without intervention. Tempura cauliflower, a clear favourite by the servers, doesn’t disappoint. Accompanying soy glaze offers a hit of salty while keeping it light(ish).

Local breweries have been opening –  with on site tasting rooms luring avid beer drinkers to the heart of the craft beer buzz – since last December. By now, small batch brewers have staked out a legitimate industry, with Brazen Hall leading the group as brew pub poo bah.  The playful  let-your-hair-down menu is packing in diners of all ages, offering homey multi-culti classics that fit the new age of urban foodsters seeking out favourite flavours from around the globe.

Burgers with beer are an easy sell. The vegetarian burger (“Vurger”) is notable, with mango jalapeno relish and crisp fried onions offering a one two punch. However, it’s the beef and farmer sausage patty on a potato bun, covered with special blueberry maple ketchup, bacon, mushrooms, Manitoba Trappist cheese and beer braised onion that has earned the restaurant a big fan base during the summertime “Le Burger Week” promotion.

Noodles are the surprise delight at this brew pub. Handmade ravioli are filled with a gorgeous mixture of wild mushroom, caramelized onion and ricotta and topped with a rose sauce that holds its own among leading local Italian bistros. The vermicelli bowl rivals any of our favourite pho joints, and the red Thai curry’s hits the right note with its mix of veggies, and balance of spice and sweet.

Classic hearty fare like beef ribs make an appearance too. Rich stout braised short ribs are placed over potato and cauliflower mash, with a generous sprinkle of peas and pickled onion, for a fall-off-the-bone dish that is Sunday dinner worthy. Succulent buttermilk brined Nashville Hot fried chicken layers some heat with a beer tinged hot sauce. Camp style charred bread makes a nice crunchy accompaniment. 

End with spicy warm clove and cinnamon cake for a playful mixture of textures and flavours. Pumpkin white chocolate ganache, sticky beer caramel, buttermilk cream and a sprinkling of pie crust crumble punctuate the dining experience with a lasting impression.

Brazen Hall is open Mon-Tue 11:30 am-12 pm, Wed-Sat 11:30 am-1 am, Sun 11:30 am-11 pm.

Bouchée Boucher

Neighbourhood: St Boniface
Address: 101-300 Taché Ave
Phone: 204-237-1530
Entrées: $25-$35

When a new restaurant opens at a popular corner that has perplexed many business starts before it, eyebrows raise.  When that restaurant is opened by a team of chefs and enthusiasts who want to introduce the community to a business concept not yet trending in Peg city, tongues wag.  This is the case with restaurant butcher shop Bouchée Boucher.

A bright window lined room is fashionably festooned in contemporary upholstery, shades of blond wood and a few red chairs to spice things up. Two entrances, one to the dining room, the other through the retail space, both set the scene. It is lively and loud, and the greeting is warm. Entering through the store teases what’s to come. Shelves are stocked with Manitoba brands, specialty food, and gifts and souvenirs reflecting the practice of buying local. The way to the restaurant passes in front of the temptation case – beautifully laid out cuts of meat that will arrive at tables seared, roasted and braised throughout the evening.

While at first blush diners may expect a menu dominated by meat, it is quality, not quantity, that is revered here. Many dishes are presented as small plates, encouraging sharing tastes. Larger plates are presented too, with the suggestion to share among more.

Vegetables, the food group of the moment, appear at the top of the dinner menu and coax some palate pushing.  Pairings of herbs and spices eschew the expected: like maple, mint and pickled chiles (fennel); dates, orange, and sumac (fennel); and raisin puree and farro (carrots). The ubiquitous beet salad is traded for a gorgeous beet fritter dressed with whipped goat cheese, caramelized honey, and an innovative crispy quinoa crumble.  Even mashed potatoes skew a bit glam, infused with ricotta, lemon honey and basil.

Of course, proteins are celebrated too. With a team of butchery specialists in the next room, the meat dishes are stellar. Braised beef is tender, satisfying and lusciously bathed in a red wine jus. Spaetzle, mushrooms, and celery root puree offer a classic flavour combination with a lighter twist.  The pork loin chop is another exquisitely prepared winner. Roasted cabbage, warm apples, walnuts and calvados beautifully add texture and deliver a balanced plate with hints of sweet, salty and sour.

Lest we think all the good stuff is on dinner menus, lunch and Sunday brunch here offers a no holds barred approach too. An ever changing menu guarantees a few new delights every visit. Waffles topped with caramel sauce and cinnamon honey gelato, French toast with tomato jam, and pork belly can be wolfed down to the tunes of different local musicians – making Sunday a fun day.      

Open Mon-Thu 11 am-10 pm,  Fri-Sat 11 am-11 pm, Sun 10 am-2 pm.

Carne

Neighbourhood: Downtown
Address: 295 York Ave
Phone: 204-896-7275
Entrées: $22-$95

The trend reports declaring vegetables the most fashionable food group of the year don’t completely factor in the prairies’ innate love for meat. Thankfully, the restaurant group behind Carne has. Wow! Hospitality’s 529 Wellington has been setting a gold standard in its stately riverside mansion since 2001. This newest addition is assuming a firm position competing with successful steak chains downtown.

Modern chophouses specialize in steaks and chops, and offer an array of cuts of meat: veal, pork, poultry, and lamb as well as fish and seafood. Carne Italian Chophouse is just this style of new wave meatery, where a porterhouse can be enjoyed with a side of gnocchi. With Executive Chef Michael Dacquisto drawing on his own heritage and recipes, meat preparations get the Italian treatment too, making veal Marsala and osso bucco tempting choices.

The luxury ingredients and high standards of excellence of a premium steakhouse are on full display. À la carte eating lets diners choose a grade of meat (ranging from premium to super premium), veggies, and sauces. This mix and match eating counters the new generation of establishments that discourage substitutions in favour of a “chef knows best” sort of acumen.

In step with fashion, the menu leads to a sprawling collection of small and large plates, including an all hits pasta list to share or as legitimate entrées. Old and new school veggies (yes, there is kale) are extraordinary. Fried Brussels sprouts are anointed with salty pancetta and sweet balsamic syrup.
Tuna tartare, beef carpaccio, and fresh oysters are raw luxuries, fresh and superb. Fried briny capers, shallots and a peppery bite of arugula dress delicate slices of beef, while tuna tartare delivers a hit of chili, sesame and nori, offering some Asian flair. Oysters are pure and perfect.
Hot starters are equally divine. Tender chicken livers, a steakhouse favourite, are brightened with delicately flavoured tomato and balsamic red wine gravy. Diver scallops, paired with spiralled and puréed butternut squash could be an entrée. There are four, generous sized. A delicate mix of micro greens and walnuts added give this dish impressive dimensions.

Ultimately, though, a steakhouse must be judged on its meat, namely the beef. Carne is proactive. Chef Dacquisto sources Alberta AAA Prime and Wagyu hybrid beef from Alberta, USA and Japan. Tableside questions are answered with enthusiasm, revealing a depth of detail. Each box of Wagyu comes with a certificate of authentication revealing the animal’s name, its ancestry and its stats, giving a new level of understanding to where your food comes from.
Canadian Wagyu tenderloin has the appearance of most; don’t be fooled. The ultra-fine marbling achieved from its special upbringing packs each bite with juiciness so remarkable, it nearly defies description. A rib steak for two, beautifully charred and tender fills an entire plate, and could feed more. The pork and veal chops follow suit, yielding flavourful tender bites.

Even after one of those big steaks, desserts are still a must. Creamy rice pudding may be an old school comfort, but it wasn’t topped with pistachios, coconut and begonia petals in our house.

Dining on succulent steaks in luxurious rooms doesn’t need a trend report to gain favour: neither does having vast amount of choice. Just remember to order simply, and let the meat shine.

Carne is open Mon-Thu 4:30 pm-10 pm, Fri-Sat 4:30 pm-11 pm, Sun closed.

Cordova

Neighbourhood: Exchange
Address: 93 Albert St
Phone: 204-691-1900
Entrées: $11-$28

The romantic streets of Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District are where the cool kids go–it has been that way for decades. As a result, restaurant upstarts in this ‘hood have somewhat of a leg up out of the starting gate, anticipated as the next hot spot everyone will be talking about.

Cordova Tapas and Wine Bar is packing in the city’s beautiful people, who arrive seeking a whiff of culture and a sip of European flavour; the location is prime, but the two handsome young fellows from France and Belgium, with endearing personalities and a knack for working the room, may be just as much of a draw.

Tucked into a long, narrow space in heritage digs, the newest spot to bring Spanish-style tapas to the ‘Peg revels in old world hospitality. Happy smiles, the kind given to friends, and engaging tableside banter invite conversation from the outset. Warm colours and greenery, soft lighting, easy listening Spanish music, and stylish Mediterranean tilework set a moody backdrop for companions to catch up. Space fills up quickly each night at high top tables, followed by diners sitting intimately shoulder to shoulder along the bar.  The room is abuzz.

While a few short years ago, tapas style eating was a hard sell in this city–prairie folks like big plates of food–the small plates trend has snowballed. Many restaurants have added more appetizers to their menus, rebranded “tapas” to score cache off of Spain’s pub scene. Shareable eats have won the hearts of diners eager to try something new while keeping options open for another plate.

Gaël Winandy and Gregoire Stevenard, the aforementioned men from Europe, may simply have spotted a business opportunity in a new land and capitalized on it. Indeed, Spain is a mere skip from France and Belgium and pubs are a pretty inviting research project.

Here, signature dishes from Spain and France are sautéed swiftly over a couple burners behind the bar, filling the room with heady aromas. Garlic, sweet paprika and frying mushrooms entice. Many little plates stage a seduction and delight the senses. French baguette accompanies salmon mousse. Sourdough bread is slathered in goat cheese, mushrooms and fresh herbs. Chicken liver pate is luscious and smooth – accompanied with picante medley of pickles, and more bread. A Chorizo and potato pan fry mix is spiced with smoky, sweet chili; piment d’espelettes from French Basque countryside.

Desserts come little too. A trio of sweets on a stone platter take a turn at making a big impression. Being cool doesn’t happen simply by following suit. Timing plays into this story, yes; as does a hip address. The essential ingredients in this formula, though, are a warm, inviting atmosphere and impeccable cooking. With all of the above, Cordova feels like the place to be.

Cordova is open Tue-Wed 5 pm-12 am, Thu-Sat 5 pm-2 am, Mon-Sun closed.

Harth

Neighbourhood: St Vital
Address: 1-980 St Anne’s Rd
Phone: 204-255-0003
Entrées: $18-$36

Suburbs are not a huge draw for the culinary elite seeking chef forward menus. Yet, in St. Vital’s extreme far south, a beacon for eaters with high standards emerged this year. Locals from near and far are beating a path to Harth, drawn by the promise of stylish and forward-thinking food.

Owners Greg Gagliardi and Greg Masi, and new partner Chef Brent Genyk, are not exactly new to the hospitality game. “The Gregs” brought culinary excitement to Lindenwoods nearly 20 years ago with Bellissimo. Modern décor, smart staff and light versions of Italian dishes won us over.

Harth is poised to do the same. A few meals, and we are smitten. The menu wears its Italian heart on its sleeve, encouraging  sharing familia style. It’s the Italian way. Pacing is important when the selections start with boards piled with house cured meats and Italian cheeses, and tastebud-awakening starters to share. A small bowl of warm olives are hit with a bright splash of citrus, and a pop of spicy chili. Chicken liver mousse is delectably creamy and finished with earthy mushrooms and slightly sweet pickled onions. Burrata–a softer, creamier buffalo mozzarella–is drizzled with herby olive oil and aged balsamic, and paired with roasted tomato bruschetta. Grilled bread adds a charred smokiness to both dishes.

The room is beautifully designed, with wood finishes, wine bottles hanging as a dividing wall, big booths for groups, and bar top seats offering a window on the open cucina. Dinner is a show, the action supplied by chefs forming pizza dough, slicing a big leg of prosciutto di Parma, and pulling dishes from the wood fired oven.

That fire is the restaurant’s pride and joy, blazing behind glass for the benefit of curious diners. Pizzas are constantly rotating in and out. Elevated toppings like fire-roasted tomato, roasted chicken, caramelized onion, capers, prosciutto, fig jam, gorgonzola and arugula make appearances.

Wood burning pizza ovens are not new to Winnipeg, and the pies are only half of it.  Meat is also going into the fire. Veal chops and chicken emerge kissed by the flame – delivering summer’s smoky flavour to each dish. Prosciutto wraps the veal chop adding salty crunch and a hint of sage adds a layer of herbaceousness. The roast chicken arrives anointed with charred lemon and warm radish, its peppery bite mellowed by cooking. Salsa verde adds even more vibrancy to this winner chicken dinner.

Perhaps it is the warm glow in the room, or the convivial staff, or a sense of confidence that whoever is in that kitchen can be trusted to make vegetables taste good; whatever it is, here dishes of broccolini, green beans, Brussels sprouts and carrots are as popular as the pizza. Roasted carrots are decadently sweet, topped with coriander and pumpkin seeds. A parfait-like dollop of ricotta ensures not even one is left behind.

Although pasta is an Italian menu staple, the promise of fresh handmade noodles are rare. Here, options abound – Spaghetti! Gnocchi! Tortellini! Rigatoni! Fettucine! – and these house made versions delight those enjoying gluten. Soft tortellini pockets an herb and kale ricotta blend, sauced in lemon-scented white wine sauce. It is perfect.

With a menu this can’t-miss, dessert separates the dining pros from the amateurs: only for those who have won the pacing game. Finish with a chocolate tart – topped with olive oil, sea salt and almonds – and maybe a nice glass of port while relaxing by the fire.

Harth is open Tue-Fri lunch 11:30 am-2 pm, dinner 5 pm-11 pm, Mon and Sat 5 pm-11 pm, Sun closed.

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