Neighbourhood: South Osborne
Address: 725 Osborne St
Winnipeg’s avid restaurant fans know that the welcoming dining nook at 725 Osborne St has changed hands several times over the last few years. Yet—appropriately for a name meaning ‘clean slate’—Tabula Rasa bares no hint of its former tenants. Upon entering, exposed brick walls, colourful patterned wallpaper and pictures of matadors prepare palates for the Mediterranean tastes coming out of the kitchen. But it’s the air plants peeking out of crevices and hand-crafted plush mushrooms in vases at the front door that reveal a signature quirky humour and attention to detail: this is the latest venture of chef Michael Schafer and his Sous Sol team.
Armed with a seasoned group of hospitality pros, including chef Kurt Kolbe from Sous Sol, Schafer opened with little ado about the panny. An easy going, polished warm welcome seems a far cry from the staffing scramble felt in the restaurant industry today. The engaging service remains attentive and poised throughout a barrage of menu questions.
The menu flexes attention to every small detail too. Chef Kurt’s honed talent for well edited dishes is now applied to his new portfolio of Spanish inspirations, with preparations and accompaniments selected to draw out new surprising flavours.
Pickerel cheek escabeche, a medley of sweet little cheeks bathing in a stewy mix of fine chopped onion, tomato, capers and olives, playfully contrasts the natural sweetness of fish with briny piperade. Slices of yellow fin tuna are fanned over ajo blanco, sharing the plate with chickpeas, potato crisps, beets and pickled grapes. Both dishes nod to Spain while drawing from Manitoba’s ingredients.
Richly flavoured sauces, always a sign of know-how in the kitchen, anchor much of the menu. Wild boar and beef albondigas (Spanish meatballs) sit on a perfectly balanced tomato sauce, under a shower of pistachios and shaved manchego. A red pepper romesco offers the smoky, slow burn of ancho chile heat to its plate-mate, a single perfectly charred octopus tentacle sprinkled with chorizo.
Veggie-centric dishes offer diners the chance to explore new flavours and textures. Sunchoke stars in a trio that highlights it three ways. Za’atar flavours the roasted chokes, set on a bed of mashed root and topped with pickled slices tickled with saffron.
It’s easy to fill up on the steady stream of nibbles coming out of the kitchen, but dessert is worth loosening the belt for. Lemon coffee cake is amped up with a dollop of luxurious dulce de leche and hazelnut ice cream.