Neighbourhood: St. Boniface
Address: 101-300 Tache Ave
Those who remember Amici, Le Beaujolais and Dubrovnik as the defining temples of haute cuisine may be surprised by current picks. Today, dining “fine” is still elegant, but in a simpler way. White tablecloths are not the indicator of elegance; instead, menus boasting dehydrated, fermented, smoked, charred and sous vide food are more likely markers.
Nola, the newest eatery at the corner of Tache and Marion in St. Boniface is one such case. A simple bare-tabled space filled with modern furnishings and lively chatter welcomes diners to their culinary adventure. This is the creation of two seasoned restaurant veterans: sandwich shop owner Mike Del Buono of King and Bannatyne and former chef de cuisine of deer and almond, Emily Butcher, notable for her television time on Food Network’s Top Chef Canada (she finished sixth). This creation gets our vote as best new restaurant of 2021.
A menu of small plates has attracted diners like bees to honey, making reservations a tricky dance from opening day. Once a table is secured, Chef Butcher’s skills win over fans quickly. High performance cooking is on show here. This is fusion for the modern era, reflecting knowledgeable combinations of global ingredients now more readily available.
The first bite of smoked goldeye salad hints at what all the fuss is about. The mixture of shredded kale, soy braised mushroom, wild rice, miso mustard vinaigrette, sesame and crispy parsnip reveals the subtlety of the cooking. Japanese karaage fried chicken, a crossover dish on both lunch and dinner menus, is equally fun. Crisp chicken sits atop a messy tangle of fermented slaw, covered with avocado and bonito flakes.
Dinner is also designed for sharing and equally spirited. Cultural and flavour mash ups put a new spin on classics and amp up new dishes. The addition of beet and fresh dill to beef tartare enhances the sweetness of each mouthful. Accompanying wonton crisps freshen this classic. Gunpowder roasted carrots pair honey glazed sweetness with earthy spice, candied pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed butter and whipped feta.
Maple cured arctic char with wild rice perfectly combines Canadian ingredients on a bed of soy braised mixed veggies. Garnishing this satisfying stack with a generous dollop of caramelized onions and butter reveals the know-how of a kitchen unafraid to pay homage to homey classics.
Finish the meal with black sesame miso caramel cheesecake or an Earl Grey rosewater ice cream sandwich for a lasting taste of sweet fusion.