Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 10/11/2016 (1418 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In the past few months, I’ve eaten at a lot of hipster joints and holes in the wall, sampling dishes served in Mason jars or on mismatched vintage-store china, sitting on metal stools or hard school chairs. Taking in Winnipeg’s young, cool, contemporary food scene can be tons of fun, and the food’s often flat-out terrific.
Still, there’s something kind of reassuring about an unabashedly old-school, upscale restaurant. And when it’s done right, as it absolutely is at Carne, the whole experience can feel refreshing, even new.
Carne’s space is dim, quiet and insulated from the outside world. The chairs are padded and the linens are pristine white — and expertly cleared of crumbs between courses. The service is professional, striking the right balance between formal and friendly.
The restaurant’s location at 295 York has gone through several doomed incarnations in the past few years, including a recent and very brief stint as DT Downtown Kitchen and Oyster Bar.
The new reworking embraces the space’s closed-in, windowless feel, channelling a plush retro ambience that’s reinforced by the Rat Pack-era music frequently playing on the sound system (though never too loudly, of course!).
The attitude to food is up to date, however, with chef Michael Dacquisto offering a refined take on an Italian chophouse menu. As the name suggests, Carne is mostly about meat, with selections of premium Alberta beef, American Wagyu beef and — if you really want to splash out — Japanese A5 Kagoshima Prefecture beef at a whopping $20 an ounce.
The American Wagyu ribeye ($49 for eight ounces) was heavenly — buttery, marbled and cooked to a smoky black char on the outside. The flat-iron steak, a lean but intensely flavourful shoulder cut, was equally good. The menu offers some dishes made for two people, such as a bistecca Fiorentino porterhouse ($92) and one-kilogram rib steak ($69).
Beyond steak, the menu also offers rack of lamb, free-range roast chicken, and veal osso bucco (also prepared for two). A sampled chop of heritage pork ($36), meltingly tender and with just a blush of pink at the centre, is served with roasted apples and Calvados.
Meat, of course, is all very well, but it needs some backup. Carne is painstaking with the starters and sides, starting encouragingly with the bread. Long, pencil-thin breadsticks and nicely chewy focaccia with roasted tomatoes are served with olive oil and balsamic.
The Caprese salad features tomatoes, basil and burrata, fresh mozzarella that opens up to creamy curds inside. Chicken livers with an agrodolce balsamic glaze are a shout-out to the old Pasta la Vista restaurant, a local favourite in the 1990s. Scallops are just seared and served with pools of cauliflower purée and verdant herb oil.
The Italian standard of prosciutto and melon is elevated with aged prosciutto that’s fresh-cut, tender and not too salty. Silky beef carpaccio is garnished with crisp, deep-fried capers and served with perfect pieces of toast.
Because the meat is served à la carte, you’ll need to order sides, most of which can be split between two or even three people. The spinach is a garlicky Italian take on a steakhouse staple. Brussels sprouts are fried to the point of frazzling, leaving the outer leaves wonderfully papery and dark — you need to really like char for this one — and paired with pancetta and pine nuts.
The standout Tuscan fries are crisped and tender frites, finished with aromatic rosemary, truffle oil and shards of Parmesan.
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Fish and seafood show up in starters, sides as well as mains, and include oysters, prawns, scallops, lobsters and tuna, flown in fresh.
The short dessert menu features a lovely lemon mascarpone cheesecake, rich but light and finished with lemon crackle. Tiramisu, which can be something of a sad, soggy restaurant cliché, is beautiful — the creaminess complemented by a deep undercurrent of espresso and rum.
The restaurant’s one unexpected weakness could be the pasta, which feels like an afterthought in comparison to the spectacular meat and meticulous starters. The pappardelle with wild boar ragu is good, but not the out-of-this-world-good you’d expect from the level of other dishes. And the gnocchi is nicely sauced, but slightly pasty.
Of course, all this luxury is expensive. The atmosphere may be a throwback to an earlier era, but the prices are very 2016.
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.