Neighbourhood: South Osborne
Address: 557 Osborne St
Residential South Osborne, with its walkable strip of storefronts, has always held some gems, but now the neighbourhood may be hitting a trendy tipping point. Recently added to the mix of hip restos and shops is Oxbow. Wine bar vibes and beautiful, elevated small plates have combined to make this new restaurant a can’t-miss destination.
A gorgeous dining room sets the scene. It must be the warmth of the rustic wood, exposed brick walls, pendant lighting and stunning four-paned, floor-to-ceiling windows that feel so inviting. Then again, it may be the impressive list of natural wines – conviviality comes easily with a glass in hand.
Natural and pet-nat (sparkling) wines have gained popularity in recent years as growers harness the surprising, full, and funky flavours that come from embracing the grapes’ inherent qualities. Any night of the week, Oxbow’s bar seats are lined with eager sippers sampling from the globe-spanning selection, by the glass or bottle.
The importance of terroir is carried through to the menu, where “farm-to-table” is literal: one of the restaurant’s owners also runs a small farm, and its bounty makes it to the kitchen. It’s all about seasonal eating, and the ever-changing menu sports local favourites like pickerel, beets, root veggies and Arctic char.
Chef Sean Bernard previously honed his talents for well-edited menus of small plates at Corydon Ave hideaway, The Roost. Despite more room to spread out in The Oxbow’s spacious open kitchen, his menu shows thoughtful restraint. Each dish is an homage to its central ingredient, with preparations and accompaniments selected to draw out new, surprising flavours.
Smoked beets are whipped into a light and airy dip hit with yogurt tang, ready to be slathered on a chewy pillow of flatbread. Thick wedges of pork belly, crisp on the outside and buttery with molten fat on the inside, are set on a tower of gingery slaw and a barbeque sauce touched with apricots’ jammy sweetness.
Typically overlooked, the humble turnip becomes the star of a dish that highlights its candy-like sweetness and earthy undertones. After a char on the grill, it is bathed in nutty browned butter, topped with a cloud of miso-laced sauce, and topped jauntily with gloriously indulgent sheets of aged parm.
Fried chicken is the dish of the moment. Oxbow’s entry is juicy and sports a crackly crisp skin, the bird’s umami flavour taken to new heights with a soy sauce caramel – sweet, salty, and sticky. To bring things back into balance are brightly acidic housemade pickles, on one visit, mild shishito peppers fresh from the garden.
It’s easy to nibble through most of the menu on one sitting, but dessert shouldn’t be skipped. One is an ode to blueberry in a bowl: silky blueberry mousse topped with pomegranate gelee, blueberry panna cotta, and an icy granita made from chevre. Underneath the careful plating and cheffy components, what transmits in each bite is a depth of understanding, of respect, for the dish’s ingredients. That may just be what Oxbow does best.