If views were everything, Prairie 360 -- the restaurant atop Fort Garry Place -- would be heaven. The revolving panoramic views are stupendous, and the space has been handsomely remodelled by designers who were wise enough not to gild the lily. There are some charming details here and there, but the decor is basically understated, its most significant features views from the surrounding wall of tilted windows, and -- along the inside wall -- attractive art by local artists.
To say this restaurant is better than its predecessor isn't saying much (I don't remember the Royal Crown with fondness), but it does offer a few dishes that are well above average, albeit at prices that are also well above average. However, they are the exceptions, and how you feel about your meal may depend on what you order and, possibly, when. The views may be exceptional; most of the food isn't, and the difference between what's good and what isn't can be dramatic.
I had those above-average dishes on my first visit. Dinner started with warm house-made bread and went on to four delicious giant shrimp sautéed with hints of ginger and orange, under a light, honeyed glaze. But how you feel about dropping $19 for four shrimp may depend on the shrimp you get -- I've had reports of less than wonderful wee ones.
The best dish of two dinners was, by far, the dry-aged, 12-ounce beef rib-eye, which is listed on the last page of the menu, along with a few other dry-aged beef steaks, elk rib-eye and elk strip loin. It was grilled a perfect medium-rare, tender, full of beefy flavour and juices, and easily one of the best steaks I can remember. Outstanding, in fact, as well it should be at $47, although at that price one might also reasonably expect something less mundane than the "seasonal vegetables" that garnished most of the dishes sampled on two visits -- "all seasons" would be more accurate than "seasonal" for that inescapable assembly of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and zucchini.
Actually, they didn't come with the other main course we had that first night: grilled pickerel paired with well-prepared asparagus and orzo, but also with a stodgy lemon butter cream sauce that was filmed over like boiled milk ($29). The fish was decent though, and, with the shrimp and the steak, accounts for the three-star rating. However, another night's dinner could have come from a different kitchen.
I couldn't resist trying the three pork sausage appetizer, curious to see if any three sausages could possibly be worth $19. They weren't. The menu doesn't identify them, but they turned out to be bratwurst, garnished with a salsa verde, a rather soupy Dijon mustard, nicely pickled veggies and an inappropriate heap of undressed arugula. And they were the driest, toughest brat (or any other kind of) wurst of my experience.
The one successful main course on that second visit was a whole marinated Cornish game hen, with nicely seasoned, slightly mustardy skin, and moist, tender flesh within ($28). The massive -- about 12 centimetres high -- double Berkshire pork chop might also have been a winner if it had been cooked properly, but when it was cut down between the two bones it turned out to be raw inside -- not rare, but bloody. It was removed and replaced within about 10 minutes -- the same chop, split down the middle, but re-cooked to well-done juicelessness. A waste of an otherwise good, flavourful piece of pork ($21).
The venison scallopini was disgraceful in so many ways I hardly know where to begin ($29). For starters, it didn't come in scallopini slices, but in chunks, and (although not mentioned on the menu) they had been breaded and deep-fried. Our server did tell us about the breading, but only after we'd asked about the preparation -- very lightly breaded, she said, but she was wrong. The breading was so thick the meat within could have been anything, and it had been fried too long, resulting in nothing but a hard, dark-brown crunch. Compounding the failure was the garnish of a tasteless, flabby corn fritter, and an equally tasteless mixture of diced apple and celery.
Those seasonal vegetables turned up again. They had at least been adequate on the first visit, but were over-salted to inedibility on the second, as were the tiny roasted potatoes that completed the dish that night. The only veggies that weren't over-salted were a few brussels sprouts, but they were utterly tasteless.
The two desserts I tried were delicious: Astrid's Fruit Platz, a tasty German-style cake with a tart rhubarb filling and a not-quite-crunchy-enough topping; and a sumptuous chocolate ganache paté with a dab of crème anglaise ($9 each).
The wine list is extensive and pricey, with several available by the glass.
I can't predict the service. It was excellent on my visits, but the restaurant was almost empty during one of them and possibly half-full on another. Ditto the noise level: quiet when empty, but building up by the time we left. Parking can be a problem -- it's either on the street, in a paid parking lot or underground at the Fort Garry Hotel.
If you're planning on a Saturday dinner, be sure to reserve several days in advance (I waited too long on three separate weekends). Also, they don't take reservations for the window tables (which are infinitely better than those along the inside ring), so for the best views, get there early.
They've paid less attention to the access than they have to the restaurant. The lobby is dull and dark, and if you do have a reservation you can take the direct elevator to the 30th floor. If not, take the glass-enclosed elevator to 28th floor to be checked in, and the other the rest of the way up, but both, as it happens, are depressingly shabby.