Neighbourhood: Osborne Village
Address: 167 Osborne St
(Editor’s Note – This business is no longer open.)
The sweet scent of cooked garlic inside Tomato Food & Wine Bar welcomes diners and signals the start of the olfactory wild ride.
The Osborne Village restaurant’s window-lined dining room charms a fashionable clientele of diners. A vintage piano, strings of white lights and retro, textured table cloths give the dimly-lit dining room a playful vibe. Familiar Winnipeg scenes painted by local artists adorn the pale blue walls, while vibrant orange paint directs the way to the cash desk and dessert case nook.
The space may not look much different than its pizza and pasta predecessor (Tomato Pie Co.) to the average diner. Yet, behind the scenes there have been significant changes, including a new menu, owner and chef.
Southern Italian cuisine is the cornerstone at Tomato Food and Wine Bar. Enter fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, peppers, eggplant, Italian cheese and spicy cured meats, which are masterfully amalgamated into a range of dishes.
Chef Robin Maharaj doesn’t stop there.
A nod to southern California cuisine fuses effortlessly into the Mediterranean menu. The result is mod Italian fare where classics are partnered with unexpected ingredients like avocado and jalapeños, offering diners a little taste of SoCal in each mouthful.
Case in point: a creamy curry avocado sauce paired with mussels. The thick sauce is fragrant with curry, yet it doesn’t overwhelm the fresh avocado taste. Accompanying toasted and garlic-buttered baguette slices are ideal sponges for surplus sauce.
The chef puts a modern spin on a classic in the house-made hummus, which is spiked with dynamite jalapeños, roasted red pepper and chèvre. A dollop of chilli-lime tzatziki on the side calms ignited taste buds. Crispy, garlicky wedges of oven-fired pita pair well with either dip.
Here, the Tuscan pizzas are also standouts. Crusts are firm with blister-crusted edges and coated with fresh tomato sauce. The pollo piccanti is laden with tangy feta, green onions, juicy pineapple, and shredded chicken rubbed in feisty chilli spice. Ingredients are masterfully layered—including a post-baking layer of fresh tomatoes and cilantro—offering a flurry of flavours.
The kitchen brings the heat using Italian sausage, served thickly sliced in pomodoro al forno. Pan-fried potato gnocchi tossed in tomato sauce are dense, flavourful pouches. Romano beans, Parmesan, a generous layer of sharp provolone and fragrant Italian parsley complement the sauce’s smoky flavour.
Entrées are carefully pared down to five dishes. An 8 oz Angus reserve tenderloin, seared to tender, medium-rare perfection, is the godfather in this family. Oven-roasted baby white potatoes soak up garlic and rosemary flavours. The steak’s robust soy-balsamic reduction and mushrooms hit all the right savoury notes.
Chef Robin’s California fusion cuisine shines brightest in the parmigianna di melanzana, where eggplant parmigiana is deconstructed and redefined. In the centre of the dish lies a stack of roasted eggplant, spinach and basil sandwiched between layers of cheese and roasted tomato sauce. The tower is baked under a tangy lid of corn-crusted bocconcini and then garnished with thick curls of Parmesan. In each corner, a pile of crumbled feta, chopped tomato, and sliced red and green onions allows diners to customize tastes from tangy to zesty on every forkful.
Desserts also walk the line between traditional and contemporary. Row upon row of chocolate-dusted and -drizzled truffles in the dessert case capture the eye and sublimely satisfy the palate. A serving consists of two delightful chocolate bonbons served in a shot glass. Creamy sweetness and tang from an infusion of chèvre and dark rum make for a perfect ending for this fusion food fantasy.
Tomato Food & Wine Bar is open Tue-Thu noon-10 pm; Fri & Sat noon-11 pm and Sunday noon-9 pm.
Ciao! reviewers visit each restaurant several times unannounced and always pay for their own meals.