April 5, 2020

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ABOVE THE FOLD

Ooh-la-la!

St. Boniface bistro's beautiful Parisian style almost matched by its breakfast and brunch fare

Opinion

Restaurant review

Pauline

112 Marion St.

204-235-6001; paulinebistro.ca

Go for: French-inspired breakfast and brunch dishes in a trés chic setting

Best bet: Brioche French toast with rum-spiked caramel

Mains: $10-$16

112 Marion St.

204-235-6001; paulinebistro.ca

Go for: French-inspired breakfast and brunch dishes in a trés chic setting

Best bet: Brioche French toast with rum-spiked caramel

Mains: $10-$16

Monday-Sunday: 7 a.m.-3 p.m.

Noise levels: Moderate

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Reservations: Yes, recommended

Licensed: Yes, including those crucial brunch cocktails

★★★ 1/2 out of five

First, let’s talk about Pauline’s space, a top-to-bottom renovation within the Norwood Hotel that’s light, airy and gorgeous. Designed by Calgary-based firm Frank, this St. Boniface venue has a 1920s Parisian feel, combining comfort and style in sturdy café tables, elegant bentwood chairs, plushly upholstered banquettes and a handsome tiled coffee bar.

The attention to design extends to the details. Everything you touch has a good, solid feel, from the substantial striped cloth napkins to the Italian bistro glasses. Even the clientele seems better dressed — by my last visit, I was wearing a silk scarf — perhaps inspired by the francophone feel of the neighbourhood or by the bistro’s accomplished namesake, Pauline Boutal, an actor and influential artistic director of Le Cercle Molière, who was also a painter and designer known for her fashion illustration. Her work and life are referenced in charming, quick black-and-white drawings on the walls.

The newly renovated St. Boniface restaurant has a Parisian feel.

The newly renovated St. Boniface restaurant has a Parisian feel.

There is style to burn, then, at this St. Boniface venue, but the food doesn’t always rise to the level of the space. The best of the kitchen is good, often very good, but some dishes are let down by small inconsistencies.

A daytime resto, Pauline is open from 7 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, starting with breakfast and then switching to brunch at 11 a.m. The brunch menu retains some breakfast overlap while bringing in lunchtime fare such as burgers, sandwiches, salads and soups.

The fair trade coffee options include a very good Americano, intense but not bitter. Fresh-pressed juices are also good. The sunny pineapple, orange and lime option has a subtle kick of turmeric, while the ruby-red beet option is finished with strawberries and ginger.

The savoury smoked salmon and rosti is available at both breakfast and lunch.

The savoury smoked salmon and rosti is available at both breakfast and lunch.

A treat for those who prefer breakfast on the sweet side — well, veering toward dessert, really — is french toast crossed with a touch of bananas Foster. Two absolute slabs of rich, eggy brioche are finished with banana slices and a puddle of rum caramel sauce.

At the savoury end is smoked salmon with poached eggs and potatoes rosti, available at both breakfast and brunch. The dish is generously loaded with salmon, the eggs are nicely executed, and the citrusy hollandaise is creamy but not gloppy. The rosti lacks the required crisp exterior, though, and the promised grilled tomato is blistered in one spot but otherwise hard and cold.

The basic breakfast — two eggs any style with sausage, bacon or vegetable patty, toast and hash browns — is called The Standard, but it felt perhaps too standard for this setting and this price point ($11), especially with underwhelming breakfast links offered for the sausage option. (I also need a sidebar here to raise a labelling issue: the potatoes billed on many menus as hash browns are what many people — me included — would call home fries, and that is what’s served at Pauline.)

A vegan chia bowl

A vegan chia bowl

Add-ons include fresh fruit, and counter to the prevailing trend of serving fruit in massive, aggressive chunks, the Pauline version is cut in small dice, which allows the fruits to macerate a little and the flavours to meld. I liked it a lot.

Tartines — basically open-faced bread-and-topping combos — have some very good points. Prosciutto, pear and chèvre is a tasty option, as is avocado with pickled onions and tomatoes cooked in the restaurant’s big open wood-burning oven. Pauline offers lots of coal-roasted and fire-grilled ingredients, and the blistered tomatoes have a lovely sweet smokiness. The sourdough toast base is a little flimsy, though, and if you are in the brunch business, you need to be absolutely reliable with your poached eggs. Two tartines were topped with eggs, and while one was perfectly gauged — cut into it and it melded into all the other ingredients — another was overdone.

Servers are professional and quick with coffee top-ups, but food was slow out of the kitchen during the Saturday rush.

And since wait times for tables are the bane of brunching, reservations are strongly recommended at Pauline, even for small groups of two or three, and especially on the weekend.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

The avocado tartine dish is a popular choice.

The avocado tartine dish is a popular choice.

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.

Read full biography

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