Taking a bite out of 2018

Free Press restaurant critic names the year's best

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It’s a tough to narrow down a year’s worth of delicious dinners, scrumptious snacks and lovely libations to name Winnipeg’s best new restaurants, but no one denies that doing the research is a treat.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/12/2018 (1435 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s a tough to narrow down a year’s worth of delicious dinners, scrumptious snacks and lovely libations to name Winnipeg’s best new restaurants, but no one denies that doing the research is a treat.

For 2018, we’ve chosen five dining establishments for special mention, as well as singling out some standout dishes and tracking the top trends. 

 

THE TOP FIVE

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Oxbow has dropped its prix fixe format and is focusing on a tight menu that takes honest Prairie ingredients in intriguing directions.

Passero (1 Forks Market Rd.): With a gorgeous approach to modern Italian cooking, Passero is classic where it should be and innovative where it can be.

From an iconic spaghetti carbonara to brussels sprouts given a little edge with horseradish mascarpone and apple mostarda, everything at this cool venue — a wood-framed room carved out within The Forks Food Hall — is thoughtfully conceived and beautifully executed.

Oxbow (557 Osborne St.): This South Osborne resto and bar has dropped its prix fixe format and is focusing on a tight menu that takes honest Prairie ingredients in intriguing directions: Think smoked beet purée or pickerel whipped into light croquettes and served with fennel aioli.

The adventurous wine list features natural wines and trendy pet-nats, and the vibe is good, with a darkly beautiful room and warm, well-informed service.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Spaghetti ‘carbonara’ with guanciale, egg yolk, cured egg, black pepper and cream is among the beautifully executed dishes at Passero at The Forks.

Black bird Brasserie (101-300 Tache Ave.): A prime St. Boniface location with the friendly feel of a neighbourhood spot, this brasserie — from the team that runs the Grove and the Cornerstone — relies on a concise, considered menu of unpretentious French classics.

There are old-school staples like Lyonnaise salad with a perfectly poached egg, satisfying boeuf bourguignon and lovely little chocolate pots de crème.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Black Bird Brasserie relies on a concise, considered menu of unpretentious French classics.

Cho Ichi Ramen (1151 Pembina Hwy.): This bright, casual Fort Garry resto is all about the ramen, with a choice of two basic long-simmered broths (or a vegetarian option), some springy fresh noodles, and a bunch of add-ins — from marinated egg to sous-vide chicken — to customize your bowl. Warming and wonderful.

Capital Broadway Grill and Bar (100-275 Broadway): The longtime Charleswood favourite added a downtown location this fall, with a light, open space looking out on Broadway.

The menu offers refined takes on familiar favourites, like the standout truffle fries made with Kennebec potatoes or the cauliflower soup given a complex umami undertone with a hit of miso.

This is comfort food done right.

 

SOME OTHER GOOD STUFF

The baked egg with gruyere at Little Goat (2615 Portage Ave.) is an adorable little marvel of simplicity and just one of the outstanding breakfast and brunch options at this sunny St. James spot.

ANDREW RYAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES A bowl of Cho Ichi’s original tonkatsu ramen, served with green tea panna cotta, left, tokoyaki and agedashi tofu, right.

I just adore the feijoada – an iconic Brazilian black bean stew with all the fixings — served on Saturday afternoons at Deli Brazil Café (510 Sargent Ave.) in the West End.

Down the street, the beef and huitlacoche and pork mole tacos at the hole-in-the-wall Sargent Taco (698 Sargent Ave.) are super-tasty and crazy-cheap.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Little Goat’s breakfasts and brunches are outstanding.

At the relocated Ivory (141 Donald St.), the Indian buffet is packed with good dishes — palak paneer, lamb vindaloo, the much-loved chicken 99 — and not a bad deal, with the lunch buffet priced at $13.99.

 

TRENDS IN 2018

Coffee culture: Good-looking coffee shops continued to pop up this year, with Little Sister opening a bright, beautiful second location on South Osborne (539 Osborne St.), with the option of coffee made by the mad-science siphon method.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Owner and 'antojitos expert' Carlos Bosque makes chicken molé tacos at the Sargent Taco Shop in Winnipeg.

Grey Owl Coffee and Pub on Main (272 Main St.) offers some third-wave java, beers, ciders and wine, along with small, snacky plates, in a handsome and richly dark interior.

On the tea side of things, the Amsterdam Tea Room and Bar (103-211 Bannatyne Ave.) has added some really intriguing tea-infused cocktails as well as a recently expanded food menu.

Ice cream goes upscale: Chaeban (390 Osborne St.) had its first full summer in 2018, bringing its innovative natural flavours of hard ice cream — vanilla bean, cottage cheese and local honey; rosewater, orange blossom and ricotta — to crowds who were happy to line up out the door. You can also try the posh lavender soft-serve at Little Sister.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Grey Owl Coffee & Pub on the main floor of the Scott Block takes the coffee house concept to elegant new heights, with its its dramatic colours and large front windows.

One true thing: Remember when fine dining conjured up epic-length menus, leather-bound, tasselled and going on for pages and pages? These days many restaurants choose to focus on doing one thing and doing it well.

Cho Ichi Ramen does it with ramen, Kevin’s (141 Bannatyne Ave.) has made a religion out of mac ’n’ cheese, and Hildegard’s (100-686 Portage Ave.), along with its excellent organic baking, concentrates on very good thin-crust pizza.

Plant-based possibilities: No longer just an awkward afterthought on conventional menus, vegan eating is ready for its close-up.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS This City Sunday Special, Hildegard's Bakery at 686 Portage Ave. Photo of loaves of their prairie sourdough sliced. Owners Dave & Judith Newsom and Michael Harms. Various photos for feature on locally owned bakery in heart of city (Portage and Maryland). Place used to be a car dealership, so floor to ceiling is about two stories tall; pics of the brick stove, which was built brick-by-brick, as well as varieties of breads, muffins, etc. Photo of baker, Luke Friesen lighting brick oven. Dave Sanderson story. April 16, 2018

You can get some fresh approaches to salads, smoothies, juices and sweets at the all-vegan and gluten-free Circle Kitchen (709 Corydon Ave.), as well as vegan soups, wraps and baked goods at the Acorn Café (located inside the Generation Green store at 433 Main St., Unit 100).

There are dairy-free frozen treats at Le Monkey Bar (50 Provencher Blvd., kiosk 3) and sweet and gooey vegan cinnamon buns at Cinnaholic (1600 Kenaston Blvd., Unit 170).

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Vegans have lots to choose from at Circle Kitchen, which serves up meat-free treats like this taco salad.

R.I.P.

And in bad restaurant news, that seemingly cursed corner of Osborne and Stradbrook saw not one but two restaurants — Ward 1 and Pete’s Place — come and go this year.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Peter and Samantha Vlahos pose in Pete's Place in their new Osborne Village location, Thursday.
Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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