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Best New Restaurants 2009: Make a resolution to check out the city’s hottest new restaurants and be rewarded with exciting flavours

On the prairies, creative concepts and innovative chefs present some of the best cuisine in the country. This year, Hermanos Restaurant and Wine Bar tops the list in Winnipeg. It is one of Canada’s Top 10 New Restaurants chosen by the editors of WHERE Canada.

SOUTH AMERICAN SIZZLE

Winnipeg’s diverse dining scene continues to broaden. In recent years, high-end Japanese and Indian establishments have hit the mainstream, and now, restaurant owners Noel Bernier and Leonard Wong want to make the same transition with the exciting flavours of South America served in Hermanos Restaurant and Wine Bar.

The spacious Exchange District restaurant has communal seating to encourage the South American sharing-style of eating. Giant framed photos showcase the continent, while exposed brick, cloth lamps and wood floors add coziness. Service is provided by charming native Brazilian beauties wearing chic black dresses and red heels.

Authenticity is also found in the Argentinian- and Brazilian-influenced menu, where meat reigns. Most entrées are served on wooden cutting boards, a nice rustic touch.

The Argentinian strip loin is thick and juicy, smothered in a creamy blend of chèvre and crab that tangos nicely with a spicy chimichurri sauce.

The generous portion of baby back ribs is presented with a large knife, which is mostly for show since they easily pull apart. A subtle apricot glaze makes these slow-roasted ribs even sweeter.

Turn to the tapas list for the restaurant’s sought-after empanadas. Three fried pouches encase a choice of fillings: black bean and beef; chicken and sausage; or vegetable and cheese. The meat combinations are pleasingly picante; a side of marinara-style sauce tones down the heat if needed.

For a divine chocolate feast, order the black gold dessert. A massive slice of rich Peruvian chocolate cake is covered in gooey dulce de leche and chai crème anglaise. 179 Bannatyne Ave, 947-5434, Map 1: O-4.

ASIAN FUSION

Osborne South’s latest newcomer, Champa Bistro dares to be a one-stop spot for Far East flavours. Classic Asian plates are taken up a notch with local ingredients and smart presentation, but what sets Champa apart are playful fusion creations that can’t be found in any other Asian kitchens.

Start the evening with soup, an essential course in Asian cuisines. The Champa chicken noodle’s unassuming clear broth simultaneously explodes with heat from chiles and sour from lemongrass. Egg noodles are wonderfully chewy, proving made-from-scratch ingredients can’t be beat.

The teriyaki beef taco appetizers showcase Champa’s panache for fusion. A trio of crispy fried wontons cradle mounds of saucy beef strips. The burly meat is given fresh relief with a topping of creamy coleslaw. The crunch factor and lingering bite of wasabi in the salad dressing are pleasing.

Entrées like seafood ravioli and lemongrass chicken also reflect the kitchen’s deftness in merging Asian ingredients with western preparation. In the former, translucent wonton rosettes are filled with ricotta and mushrooms. House-made tomato sauce, fragrant with fried leek and bodacious scallops and prawns, is heaped over the light rice flour pouches.

At a mere $16, lemongrass chicken is of stunning value. Two pieces of roasted chicken, prepped in a lemongrass-garlic marinade, arrive bronzed with candied teriyaki coating.

Champa Bistro’s traditional vs. modern menu theme is also paralleled in the decor. Bold abstract paintings and silver feature walls transform the original brick and beam interior into a hip, smooth bistro. 696 Osborne St, 415-4847, Map 1: R-3.

CREATIVE CUCINA

One of the latest additions to Corydon Avenue, Fazzo Bistro is a contemporary Italian restaurant that has quickly become one of the city’s trendiest eateries.

With wavy, modern stainless steel lamps and high exposed ceilings, the former retail store has an urban loft feel. But, while the setting is sophisticated and sleek, the vibe is relaxed.

Executive chef Norman Pastorin changes his “Italian-inspired” menu quarterly to accommodate local ingredients and the tastes of each season. The dishes—some traditional and some modern—are simple, elegantly presented and packed with flavour.

Lined up the length of a long plate, scallops are seared to perfection. Tender creamed leeks, dollops of sweet tomato jam, and a rich balsamic reduction complement the scallops beautifully.

A generous cut of sablefish provides a contrast in textures. Its skin is fried crisp, while its flesh flakes apart. The fish pairs nicely with a red wine and caramelized cipollini onion reduction. Accompanying crushed new potatoes with crisp pancetta are reminiscent of summer picnics.

Tender slices of duck breast are accentuated by a well-balanced balsamic vinaigrette naturally sweetened with a touch of honey. Sides of seared confit of pork belly and char-grilled asparagus all add delightful complexity to the dish.

The more traditional cavatelli bolognese lets its ingredients do the talking. Plump little scrolls of handmade pasta cradle an old-country meat sauce made of chunky veal and beef simmered with fresh herbs and tomatoes. 905 Corydon Ave, 478-1872, Map 1: T-2.

METRO DINING

Forget the recession—Winnipeggers are buzzing over the drop dead gorgeous dining establishment Lobby on York Restaurant & Bar. With the talented veteran crew of owners Barb & Dale Yuel and Chef Joe Dokuchie at the helm and a super chic six-figured renovation, locals are excited to brag about it.

Upon entering, a sleek black sushi bar and lounge area on the right is typically packed post-work. The owners play with an aquatic theme throughout the dining room: bronze curtains are hung and cut to look like seaweed and soft blue waves wash over the walls and carpet.

When it comes to the menu, the city’s diverse cultural scene is reflected. The signature downtown lobby roll artfully blends pieces of spicy scallop and tuna tataki with unexpected ingredients like cilantro and chives, resulting in a subtle herbaceous taste.

Entrées are broken up into fine cuts, seafood and mains. One of the more unusual offerings is wiener schnitzel. Two huge portions of golden breaded pork are fried without being greasy and are served on house-made spätzle.

Chef Joe delivers an astonishingly tender rack of Moroccan-spiced lamb. It comes with Indian flatbread—a small parcel filled with shredded lamb and chickpeas in a fragrant curry.

For a lip-smacking dessert, the coffee shop donut goes upscale. A sweet, crumbly brioche donut soaks up cinnamon syrup and vanilla ice cream. 295 York Ave, 896-7275, Map 2: D-3.

ELEGANT EATERY

Located in the east side of the Exchange, The District Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge plays into its historical surroundings: jazz music and an adjoining vintage-style billiards lounge all help create a throwback feel. The renovated open-concept dining room retains its stately columns and mouldings mixed with modern touches—colourful contemporary art and sleek vases—that reflect Chef Jaime Briones’s adventurous Canadian menu.

Take the Berkshire pork appetizer for example—glistening pieces of meat with crispy salty skin sweetened by a maple walnut glaze are combined with fun miniature slices of brioche French toast and peeled bite-sized poached apples; the three items together taste like a dressed up version of a hearty breakfast.

The s’mores dessert offers a playful choice. A toasted marshmallow is served under a glass bell jar; when lifted, smoke billows out. Break off a piece of the crumbly tuille and spoon on the smoky marshmallow and dark chocolate crème for a grown-up version of this

BONFIRE FAVOURITE

The kitchen pushes boundaries again when rabbit, rarely seen on menus anywhere, appears as an entrée. Offering a very mild game taste, the meat is braised in tomato and served on chewy pearls of house-made risotto. A cheeky side of cumin-roasted carrots demonstrate Chef Jaime’s deliberate layering of flavours for a rustic earthy taste.

Grape tomatoes and rapini brighten up the presentation of albacore tuna. Here, this prized fish is rolled in chewy proscuitto, with the tuna’s delicate oceanic flavour heightened by the proscuitto’s saltiness and the rapini’s strong bitter taste. 177 Lombard Ave, 415-3119, Map 1: O-4.

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