Neighbourhood: St. Boniface
Address: 630 Des Meurons
The venerable La Vieille Gare received a facelift this past year when owner Linda Love peeled away 30 years of white tablecloth dining to reveal Resto Gare, a fresh bistro. If La Vieille Gare was like a distinguished grandmère, then Resto Gare is a hip mama. With renovations, the space remains one of Winnipeg’s most stunning dining rooms. Historic elements like dark wood framing, grand lighting fixtures and railcar lounge speak of the building’s train station past. Scarlet drapes and elegant upholstery emanate subtle sexiness. A gigantic lipstick‑red booth now divides the large dining room, and the best seat to snuggle with a date is in front of the industrial-chic fireplace.
There’s a noticeable shift in focus to casual fare. Pasta and sandwiches now mingle with seafood and steak entrées, and it is with these lighter plates that the kitchen excels. Chef Steven Watson does a commendable job of getting to the essence of French bistro cooking. Dishes are no-nonsense, down-to-earth preparations using familiar ingredients.
Coquilles Saint Jacques is treasured comfort food. Digging a fork beneath the gooey layer of gruyère reveals baby ivory and pink scallops swimming in a white wine cream sauce. Soft mushrooms and a bed of buttery mashed potatoes offset the flesh. Mussels are a romantic appetizer for couples to share. Black shells studded with mustard seeds lounge in a honey dijon cream broth. Honey mellows the sharp mustard, creating a sweet bath for the precisely steamed meat.
Swoon over the Alsatian pizza, a decadent option for an appetizer or meal. The thin, crepe-like crust is hidden under a thick layer of rich brie cheese. Slivers of red grapes on top add a sharp hit of sugar compared to the delicate sweetness of caramelized onions.
Savoury crêpes are a highlight, as it’s difficult to find the treat on city menus. Both varieties offered are equally delicious. The Saint Jacques is a spin on the aforementioned appetizer, with the crêpe substituting for starch. The fricassée is cloaked in broiled gruyère, resembling a Mexican enchilada. Cutting into the jacket releases a creamy drizzle of béchamel and exposes a haystack of julienned carrots, peppers and pulled chicken. The chicken is roasted daily in-house and leaves a lasting impression. Soup rounds out the dish, and one visit’s carrot and dill was thick and crunchy, finishing with a note of nutmeg.
Plats principaux include a humble version of beef bourguignon. The French stew is served in a ramekin with pearl onions that slightly overpower the mellow cabernet jus. Halibut is beautifully presented on a long platter, accompanied by grilled peppers, zucchini and buttery baby potatoes. A port reduction with sautéed shallots adds a deep sweetness to the supple white flesh.
The exceptional service culminates when a dessert cart pulls up tableside. Among daily tortes and cheesecakes is the Love family’s signature: maple sugar pie. Topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream, it sparks much joie de vivre.