A work in progress on Waterfront

by TRH on August 29, 2014

in News and Reviews

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For the most part I’ve been a huge fan of the revitalization of the exchange district over the past few years. Even on nights when there are no events at the concert hall or theatres you still see crowds of people enjoying the restaurants walking the streets. A big part of this is of course the increased number of people living in the area whether in converted warehouse lofts or new buildings. While I’ve given up on any possibility of moving into the area (most of the affordable condo buildings are still massively overcharging for the space and do not provide parking, particularly in the new condos – A car is still a must have imo in Winnipeg, especially in an area so far from any grocery store.) I do still enjoy the massive increase in the number of restaurants that has resulted.

CIBO Waterfront Café is one of these new offerings, opening late last year on waterfront drive behind the new Mere boutique hotel. If you haven’t been by you’ve still likely heard about the hotel as its rather different architecture has been a hot topic around town since it opened with its bright vertical stripes of colour. Honestly CIBO couldn’t be more of a contrast as it is built into the worn brick of the old pump house that has stood on the riverfront forever.  The building has been beautifully repurposed, and boasts lovely river views, a small patio and a warm modern ambience inside a character space.

The food is said to be Mediterranean inspired and is reasonably varied despite the small menu. Bruschetta is one of the centerpieces of the menu with seven choices plus a feature generally available ranging from traditional to options like white beans/bacon/arugula and blue cheese/pear/walnut.  Thin crust pizzas and panino also feature prominently

Cibo Waterfront Cafe

Mediterranean inspired cuisine

339 Waterfront Dr.

My first visit was in the depths of winter and I found the Beef Bourginon Poutine special impossible to resist. Beautiful shoe string fries (the likes of which I haven’t seen since the demise of Kelekis) were topped with the thick French stew and smoked cheese.  The beef was incredibly tender and the balance of other flavours in the rich gravy really added to the character of the dish but the cheese, while good, has more or less no smokiness. Sadly I also found the dish oversalted on this occasion, not too bad at first but definitely noticeable by the end of the meal (also annoying as I felt desiccated throughout the entire theatre performance afterwards.) A friend has since had the dish (which has found its way onto the regular menu) and said that he did not find it unnecessarily salty.  Despite this I would definitely have it again, particularly on a cold winter’s night when the wine laced gravy can do the most good.

My dining companion visited the salad part of the menu and had a flat iron beef and beet salad with goat cheese that was quite tasty. The beef was cooked perfectly and had a lot of juice and flavour. In her opinion the mix of flavours in the salad made for a good meal as well. The portion size was quite large as well, though it should be for a $17 salad in Winnipeg.

I sadly can’t say the same for the Cibo pizza (Genoa Salami, Prosciutto, capicola and an egg) I ordered on another visit. At $18 for a thin crust pizza I expect a decent personal size pizza with a reasonable amount of toppings. Instead I received a somewhat shrunken, dry crusted circle with tasty but very sparse meats. When you order a pizza it should be possible to taste a bit of every ingredient in most bites and that simply wasn’t possible without slicing up random bits of pizza and stacking them on a fork. This was particularly disappointing as the reason I had ordered the pizza was how good it had looked on a previous visit. Again perhaps this was a one off problem. My companion on this visit had three varieties of bruchetta and quite enjoyed them.

Sadly the same thing can’t be said about the service. Both of these visits were months ago so I was prepared to chalk my complaints up to growing pains and barely mention them but unfortunately I can’t. Reading another article about the restaurant actually prompted me to finish this review and the focus of her entire article was on the service not matching the food.

On my first visit we had made an early reservation for a pre-RMTC show meal. When I arrived I stood in the vestibule for almost ten minutes before I was seated with waitstaff clearly avoiding eye contact as they passed. We’d asked for a window seat as we’d heard the view was nice but were seated at an interior table and when we inquired were told that everything else was booked (the restaurant was still a third empty when we left.) This was a bitterly cold night in February and several times members of the staff held the front door open for excessive amounts of time for no reason leading to cold gusts running up and down the restaurant. Our server was friendly but ignored us for large sections of the meal. From my vantage point I could see the kitchen staging area and our meals sat for at least five minutes before coming to the table. Neither my poutine nor the beef in the salad was piping hot and had gone cold before we finished as a result.

One my second visit the initial experience was better as we were whisked in and seated immediately for lunch without a reservation. Our server was even worse however as she took our drink orders then disappeared for ten minutes only to return without the drinks. When we asked what the specials were she returned five minutes later with the drinks but still not knowing the specials (or indeed much about the menu in general.)

Note: Since the restaurant essentially serves as the hotel restaurant they do have a breakfast menu as well served until 11 on weekdays and 1pm on the weekend. I do think a nice weekend brunch overlooking the river would make for a nice visit.

Reading over this review again it seems very negative but in all honesty they are very close to being a great option for a meal in the exchange. The ambience is worth experiencing at the food is tasty if not perfect. More consistency in the dishes and a good look at their staff training is all that’s really needed. That said if they don’t take those steps the novelty of the view will wear off and I’m not sure it will last. After all there’s seemingly always a new little bistro opening in the exchange these days.

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