- The Oxbow
- Location: 557 Osborne St., Winnipeg
- Phone: 204-691-5373
- Website: oxbowwpg.ca
- Price: $49 base price for prix-fixe menu
- Cuisine: All over the map.
- Atmosphere: Warmly lit and comfortable room with exposed brick and navy-blue walls.
- Drinks on offer: A nice wine list and cocktails available.
- Best bets: Best to stick with a glass of wine.
- Vegetarian friendly? Vegetarian/vegan friendly.
- Additional info: Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, open only for dinner service.
It’s never a good sign if you can’t recall any of the dishes you’ve had at a restaurant a couple of months after visiting it. Sadly, that was exactly the case with the Oxbow as my friend and I scoured its unusual fixed-menu options aiming to recall the dishes we had tried earlier this winter. So many choices … sort of.
Now, a prix-fixe-style menu is not uncommon in Canada. Typically you will find them in restaurants that are close to theatres. Diners are offered a choice between two dishes in appetizer, main and dessert categories to get them in and out in a timely fashion before the curtain rises nearby.
This Winnipeg restaurant from the same owners of popular cocktail spot the Roost takes that idea and runs with it; off to a far, faraway land by offering a prix-fixe menu in four stages with some courses offering up to six dishes for a person to decide among. It’s an extremely unorthodox way to approach a menu in a standard dinner setting and here it lacks the finesse, technique and restraint required to make sense in a progressive manner. Menus like these, ones which appear to have no rhyme or reason, are the mark of either a young or inexperienced chef, and both seem to be the case here.
Now, if a chef is confident enough in helping to form decisions for a diner, he or she should be confident enough to offer a set tasting menu. That way a person won’t sit down and start out with a fairly tasteless phyllo stuffed with ricotta, green onions and chicken with an acidic apricot-bacon chutney, then proceed to a taste-bud annihilating dish of near-raw Brussels sprouts halved, tossed with minced kimchi and accompanied by blue cheese, buttermilk foam and fermented carrots.
An edible choose-your-own-adventure gone wrong, if you will.
As the Brussels sprouts may imply, most dishes here are riddled with a long list of unnecessary – and generally poorly executed – components. “Carrots” arrives as a narrow stack of overcooked carrots topped with smoked carrot chips, thin slices of fermented carrots (yes, the same ones which graced the Brussels sprouts-kimchi creation), an unseasoned parsley purée and a dollop of chunky cashew butter that one would assume was not supposed to have the texture of chunky peanut butter.
One friend remarked that the dish titled “Caramelized Fennel” looked as if the contents of a well-used toaster had been quickly dumped onto a plate. In addition to a small piece of charred fennel it consisted of two burnt pieces of sourdough baguette, three smoked oysters, a thin slice of poorly made terrine, grated egg yolk and olive oil. I’ve never found oysters or terrine in my toaster, but the black, brown and beige colour scheme on the plate was, perhaps, where that visual connection was made.
Overcooking was a common theme throughout the dinner, but was most prevalent in a bowl of overdone fettuccine with mushy Brussels sprouts and mushrooms in a sambal oelek cream sauce where said sambal was undetectable. To top it off was some wilted greens and goopy egg with snotty whites. A shocking interpretation of a carbonara, to say the least.
The best of many sad savoury states of affairs was a pork loin that tasted like a home cook’s recipe discovered in a 1990s Canadian Living magazine, with smooth, buttery potatoes, oversteamed broccoli florets and teeny cubes of squash.
Dessert continued in discombobulated, clunky fashion with dishes like tempura pear fritters. Joining them on the plate were plenty of accoutrements including pear purée, blops of chocolate sauce, fist-sized chunks of maple sponge toffee, something described as chocolate “sand” and plenty of icing sugar to dust it all off. The date cake showed promise, being warm and comforting, especially with the whey caramel accompanying it, but the quenelle of cinnamon ice cream that sat beside them was crystallized and the shard of cocoa nib tuiles stabbed into the tender cake was burnt and bitter.
This is the kind of dinner that you walk away from feeling technically full but regrettably unsatisfied.
The glimmers of hope at this minimally designed but fairly regal-feeling and hospitable restaurant on South Osborne are its earnest service staff (though no one inquired once why almost every single plate was left unfinished), decent cocktails and interesting wine list. I’d recommend stopping by for a glass of wine, but with the fixed menu as it stands, choose your dinner at your own risk.
The menu at the Oxbow can serve as a cautionary tale to any young chefs out there who have grand dreams of being unrestrained in the kitchen. A little mentorship and guidance from the talented industry veterans in your city – and trust me, Winnipeg has many – will go a long way in helping you become the chef you may think you already are.