Bonfire Bistro

Neighbourhood: River Heights
Address: 1433 Corydon Ave
Phone: 204-487-4440
Entrees: $13-$23

Bonfire Bistro, on a quiet section of Corydon in the middle of River Heights, has achieved ambient perfection. The atmosphere is so comfortable that guests table-hop regularly, and staff address the majority of patrons by name. Since owner Duncan Grant opened it six years ago, Bonfire has become the ultimate house party—one that you better not show up for late. Arrive after 5:30 pm on a weekend, or even some days during the week, and its good luck getting one of the restaurant’s 30 sought-after seats.

Bonfire is the casual cousin to the older, sophisticated Cafe Carlo (co-owned by Grant). Chef Shaun Ursell oversees a lengthy list of pizzas and pastas, with a strong focus on Mediterranean flavours.

Bruschetta boasts six pieces of crunchy crostini with a thin spread of goat cheese, and a fresh pesto tomato concassé, perfectly accented with garlic. The bowl full of mussels swims in a light herb wine and fish fumet.

The restaurant’s name comes from the slate-tiled, wood-fired pizza oven. For those who crave a little heat, the labomba chicken is a signature topping, which has remained unchanged since opening. Sweet peppers and a side of tangy yogurt citronette subdue the palate-igniting roasted jalapeños on this pie. The seafood pizza is another one with juxtaposing flavours. Sweet sun-dried tomatoes contrast the tart basil pesto and goat cheese, which are covered with large seared tiger prawns.

Pastas beg to be savoured with a glass of red wine and good conversation. Spinach linguine basks in a delicate, lemon dill cream sauce topped by generous portions of mussels, large prawns, scallops and fresh trout. An item that must be relished is a wild mushroom and saffron risotto. The nutty, slightly meaty flavour of portobello, oyster and porcini mushrooms is ideally suited for this hearty rice. This rich, creamy dish bursts with the bold flavours of red wine and truffle oil, and marries well with a crisp pinot grigio.

A few regulars were worried when steelhead trout replaced the pan-seared salmon on the entrée menu, but it has become even more popular than its predecessor. Its accompanying limoncello reduction is a highlight. The citrusy liqueur is blended with cream and creatively replaces a traditional lemon wedge, with a full, zesty flavour.

This space originally housed Becky’s Pantry and self-taught pastry maker Ray Ferchuk stayed on to create Bonfire’s in-house desserts. Short-but-sweet are the handmade tarts, which sell out fast. If they’re gone, opt for a daily cheesecake selection, or something even more sophisticated like a heavenly brick of chocolate pâté infused with orange liqueur and served with raspberry sauce.

Bonfire Bistro is open Mon-Sat  11:30 am-2:30 pm; Mon-Thu 5-10 pm; Fri-Sat 5-11 pm.