Winnipeg maintains its status as a destination food city with a bumper crop of hot new restaurants. Clementine tops our list of the best new opens this year, and has been chosen as one of Canada’s Top 10 New Restaurants by Where Editors.
By Joelle Kidd
From the first step down the flight of stairs that leads to Clementine Café’s subterranean Exchange District space, an excitement begins to take hold. Over the buzz of chatter from filled tables, anticipation sets in. A look at the menu reveals something conspicuously absent from the city’s dining scene, until now.
Breakfast fine dining has oft been interpreted as home cooking classics delivered on fancy china. Following the lead of chef-owned hotspots pushing boundaries, Clementine reimagines breakfast with inventive flavour combinations, melding thoughtfulness and creativity with accessibility and casualness in price and atmosphere.
The underground nook’s interior seamlessly blends cozy and kooky elements. Industrial-chic elements like rough-hewn wood rafters and exposed brick are complemented by pattern adorned walls and black and white chevron floor tiles.
Through a grid of window panes into the open kitchen, diners get an up close look at head chefs Adam Donnelly and Chris Gama leading what seems like a full brigade, frying, chopping, saucing and simmering marvelous creations. This creative kitchen has produced instant signatures like eggs benedict topped with thick cut maple bacon and glossy hollandaise, or the instagram darling fried chicken toast, which piles juicy crisp chicken on a thick wedge of housemade sourdough.
Despite the extravagance on the plate, entrées ring in between $9-$12, and a range of side dishes, all priced in the single digits, make for a light breaky or a sharable addition to an indulgent brunch. In dish after dish it is clear that at Clementine, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 123 Princess St, 204‑942‑9497, clementinewinnipeg.com.
OLD MEETS NEW
At the time of Prohibition and other restrictive liquor laws, many illegal establishments hid dining rooms and bars behind front businesses, often exhibits of natural wonders or animal curiosities, earning the nickname “blind tigers”. South Osborne’s Blind Tiger Kitchen + Bar takes up this moniker with tongue in cheek, presenting an earnest fondness for the past with a sleekly modern twist.
Antique chic décor adorns exposed brick walls, from wrought iron farming implements to an abstract art piece made from a deconstructed piano. Paired with slick dark tones, leather, and a gleaming backlit bar, the space easily blends old and new.
The menu betrays a fondness for the hallmarks of classic French cooking, from appies like escargot and chicken livers to entrée selections like bouillabaisse and niçoise salad. Dips into bistro fare include mountains of perfectly tender mussels in classic preparations. A Normandy-style rendition is simmered in a creamy broth, umami-laced from pops of bacon and topped with tart matchsticks of green apple. Thin and crispy frites under a heap of funky Parmesan are perfect for sopping up broth.
Service is without pretension, blending airs of fine dining and neighbourhood comfort. Despite a concept based around secrecy, the lively room is an invitation to settle in over another cocktail or dessert. 725 Osborne St, 204‑691‑9939, blindtigerwinnipeg.ca.
The fast casual trend hit in full force this year. Fresh, healthy, and adventurous food delivered at sleek order-at-the-counter spots has flipped the script on fast food and proven as versatile as convenient, with countless variations of quick eats spanning global cuisines and dietary styles.Of the many new concepts that have appeared, Chosabi is the cream of the crop, instantly gaining enough fans to open a second location mere months after the launch of the original Exchange District spot.
Inviting rooms, sprinkled with jabs of colour (red in the Exchange, yellow on Pembina) are effortlessly sleek, with clean lines and a modern mix of steel and wood textures. Stretching powerfully across a wall, a stylized mural of a fish, painted by local artist Pat Lazo, gives these clean spaces an edge.
The sushi burrito (aka Chorito), a hefty hand roll that turns delicate maki snacking into a two-handed affair, is the signature here. Perfectly seasoned rice, fresh fish, and creative ingredient combinations are a winning formula. The short menu also lists bowls that pull from a variety of cuisines, from Thai green curry to Korean bulgogi. The poke bowl is a must have, laden with glossy pink cubes of salmon and tuna, lent a briny note by threads of seaweed and a mix of soy sauce and lightly pungent wasabi-punched aioli.
Flair is added to even the smallest details. Burritos are wrapped, cut, and served in bamboo steamer baskets, and signature take out boxes are styled up with a colourful fish illustration. Even prepackaged eats are superbly fresh, like salads, nigiri, and fruit-packed smoothie cups ready to be blended at the counter. For those with more time to sit and sup, specialty coffee drinks, by-the-glass wine, and Asian beer on tap round out the selection.
Concept-driven eateries have proven popular for entrepreneurs, and Chosabi shows the strongest players deliver with outstanding taste and uncompromised flavour. 100 King St, 204‑615‑8338; 2696 Pembina Hwy, 204‑615‑8313, chosabi.com.
Food is many things, from basic sustenance and nourishment to an exercise in creativity. In many ways, the food we eat is tied to identity. Manitoba’s regional ingredients like bison, beets, and lakefish have become ever more popular, but in the hands of Christa Bruneau-Guenther, these ingredients speak with added significance. When she opened Feast Café and Bistro on the corner of Ellice and Sherbrook last December, Canada’s first Indigenous cuisine restaurant was born.
Inside the welcoming room accented with warm colours, pendant lamps, and large black and white photos of prairie scenery, the intimate restaurant feels at once chic and cozy.
Indian Tacos are the menu favourite, a riff on popular powwow food from Southwestern First Nations groups like the Navajo. Feast’s version is all Manitoba, topped with a hearty bean and local bison chili. Puffy wheels of lightly fried bannock support a mountain of chili, lettuce, salsa, and a drizzle of sour cream hinting of chipotle. This may be the only taco that requires a fork and knife, but it is easily devoured.
The same frybread makes the base for pizzas with creative toppings. A vegetarian version sporting nutty-sweet roasted butternut squash, a rich cream sauce, a smattering of pine nuts, and chipotle cream is an out of the park hit.
Simple variations on classic breakfast items draw neighbourhood crowds in the morning, from pancakes and French toast to “eggs banny” on a bannock bun.
While fare is familiar, hinting of classic diners and home cooked meals, small substitutions point to Feast’s real charm. Bannock replaces bread in nearly every dish; bison sausage swaps for breakfast sausages and pepperoni on pizza; fish fingers become oven-baked pickerel. From the use of traditional ingredients to the warm neighbourhood atmosphere, dining becomes more than just the experience of a meal; it is a connection to land, culture, and community. 587 Ellice Ave, 204‑691‑5979, feastcafebistro.com.
PAN ASIAN PERFECTION
In a city as culturally diverse as Winnipeg, there is no lack of inspiration for chefs seeking to explore flavours from across the globe. The resulting fusion across cultures has birthed new diverse dining categories. It is into one such novel genre that Máquè, the new open for chef Scott Bagshaw, steps.
Like Enoteca, Bagshaw’s River Heights haunt, Máquè features few seats, an open kitchen, and small plates made for sharing. The twist comes in the flavour profiles that populate the carefully considered menu. Inspiration comes from Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisine, translated into carefully balanced plates that blend far east flavours with French derived technique. Plump dumplings, with tacky dough giving way to juicy pork, are paired with a thick smear of almond butter, playing off the warm notes of Chinese five spice powder. A dish of tender crab, lobster, bacon, and caviar is a menu highlight. The delicate jumble of seafood is doused tableside with a fragrant, swoon-inducing blend of red curry and lobster bisque. This revelatory French-Thai mash up is impossibly rich, savoury, and spicy, overset with hints of sweet coconut and a whisper of black truffle.
Multiple orders of steamed buns can be spied on every table. Drawing Momofuku comparisons, the pillowy crescents are stuffed with a mix of crisped pork belly, peanuts, ssäm sauce and a sliver of pickle.
Décor is simple, with drawings of sparrows (the Chinese translation of the restaurant’s name) adorning the window-wrapped room. Though simple wooden chopsticks replace silverware, saucy French-inflected dishes beg diners to lick the plate. 909 Dorchester Ave, 204‑284‑3385, maque.ca.