“Best of” listicle season continues with our guest columnist Carter Chen. We’d wager no one has dined out more in the city this year (seriously, where does this man find the time and energy?), so you know his picks are going to be primetime.
Harth Mozza & Wine Bar - 1-980 St Anne's Road
One of Winnipeg's best restaurants is located in a strip mall in River Park South. At Harth, my guest and I were seated in the centre of the restaurant, which is a great vantage point to take in all the action as this always busy restaurant. Culinary specialist/server Emanuel selected a pinot grigio to start off with and chef Brent Genyk came by to let us know we were in for a dinner journey. We started off with oysters, sourdough bread, cultured butter, house cured meats and smoked olives, a showcase of all the work done in house, and how the kitchen only uses or brings in top ingredients. Next was grilled octopus with fennel, romesco, and tomatoes that was cooked to perfection. The tentacle has that ideal char on the outside, with the middle having that satisfying toothy-yet-tender texture. Next course were the pastas, all which are hand-rolled in house. As far as sauces go, we went buttery with the gnocchi caccio e pepe and the famous tagliatelle duck confit with brown butter and mascarpone. Both dishes are rich, with the fluffy gnocchi complimenting all that cheese and black pepper while the soft duck finds itself on every forkful of those wide, flat noodles. For dessert we had the zeppole (Italian doughnuts) and panna cotta with liqueur. Harth will always have my heart, I love the team here.
Nola 300 - Tache Ave
In the heart of St Boniface, Nola celebrates Chef Emily Butcher's Pacific Northwest upbringing. We started dinner off in the bar enjoying craft cocktails and were seated close to all the action of the open kitchen that provides a great show. First dish was the Reuben gyōzas. These handmade dumplings come with a sauce of wasabi mustard and soy and are filled with that killer brisket you can get from King+Bannatyne (Nola is owned by Burnley Hospitality Group, which also owns K+B). Next was the venison carpaccio and my favourite vegetarian dish ever–the gunpowder roast carrots. The seasoning on the carrots is alone worth the trip, they are simply unreal. Another hit at Nola is the loaded baked potato gnocchi. This dish, which chef Butcher first featured in a win on Top Chef Canada, has bacon bits, sautéed kale, crispy fried potato sauerkraut, and beurre blanc. With all those textures and the layers of flavour in the sauces (rich, umami-y and a tart little funk from the kraut), you know its a winner. Last courses were Japanese chicken kaarage–the tender chicken topped with a slaw made with fermented tea and two sauces, a spicy mayo and sweet soy glaze; along with the pickerel + maple with lapsang sunchokes. Chef Butcher came brought out the best black sesame cheesecake for dessert, a signature item of her’s that has a turnip base. It’s totally unique. Nola is always an amazing entertaining experience.
Sous Sol 22-222 Osborne St.
A staple in Osborne Village, Sous Sol has been a go-to restaurant of mine for many years for both its excellent French food and its fun vibes. The ambience is so intimate, the space is lit up with candles and there’s plenty of kitschy things on the walls. Sous Sol is so cool that they have a whole rum drinks menu, and my friend Brittney, who was serving, guided me to the SS Minnow–a coconut rum cocktail where the lime garnish is lit on fire so you can roast a housemate marshmallows on top of the flame. So dope. Dinner started off with oysters, French bread and whipped garlic butter. Next dish was the fried beets with coconut crème, fried shallots, persillade and citrus vinaigrette. When you fry beets, it adds toasty character to its sweet and earthy flavours, add all these acids from the sauces and each forkful bounces. Love this dish. My main was steak au poivre (pepper steak) featuring a beautifully cooked, rosy Manitoba tenderloin served with duck fat baby potatoes, all covered in a peppery red wine Gastrique. Chef Max Frank came out to say hello and he gifted me his line of Mr Max's hot sauces, which I’ve enjoying ever since. Dessert was an obvious choice as I can’t resist cracking the layer of burnt sugar on a crème brûlée.
Preservation Hall 655 Empress St.
Preservation Hall by chef Tristan and Melanie Foucault is a hidden gem in the Polo Park area, namely because its situated around several chain restaurants. The large dining room is often a lively space, as it was on my last visit when we started off with a Californian pinot grigio paired with oysters and salmon tartare. The salmon tartare is gorgeous–chef Foucault uses king salmon, which is diced with apple, horseradish and caraway crème so it has an overall warming, fall-like flavour while not hiding the quality of the fish. Next dish was beet gnocchi with arugula, crumbled soft Mediterranean cheese, balsamic reduction, horseradish cream, shallots, dill, and walnuts. In my opinion, this is as good as comfort food gets. One thing I love about Preservation Hall is their love for local ingredients. For instance, a standout main course is the bison meatloaf that is ground with house-made bacon and covered with a rich shiitake sauce that is balance by a side of red cabbage. It comes on brown butter mashed potatoes too, making it one of those wintery dishes you crave to bring you warmth. This bistro is my top choice for dinner in that area.
The Restö at Thermëa 775 Crescent Drive
My happy place in Fort Garry, Thermëa is here all year around to relax, reset, and eat! One of the many great things about the Restö is that chef Chicco changes the menu regularly to fit with the seasons, plus you get to dine in your robe! We started off with a boozy coffee and tomato soup, two things I reach for in winter. It's the holidays, so I enjoyed some mulled wine and the Manitoba carpaccio that is made with local tenderloin, topped with Frescolio truffle oil, pickled shallots, crispy shallots, and other fun items. Next we did the cinnamon vanilla pear Old Fashioned and the herb garlic lingonberry chicken sandwich served on an ultra soft brioche bun. This sandwich is a must. Best part about eating here is the nap afterwards in the Relaxa room. Plan your next self care day at Thermëa, but make sure you book ahead as this place gets busy in the winter as they ensure the spa is never too crowded.