Oliveto Trattoria

500 Riverbend Square (Terwillegar and Rabbit Hill roads)

780 435 6411

http://www.oliveto.ca/about

——

Food: 4 of 5 stars

Ambiance: 4 of 5 stars

Service: 4 of 5 stars

Dinner for two, excluding beverages: Basic, $40; Loaded, $90.

——

Restaurants are not necessarily complicated businesses.

Buy fresh everything, use it quickly, don't overcook, seek out quality at every turn, be generous in portions.

Don't overcharge.

Create an attractive décor with an overall colour scheme. Create a pleasant atmosphere with a maître d’ and servers who genuinely like their customers and want them to be happy.

Which is why, in a nutshell, the long-established Oliveto Trattoria in Riverbend Square continues to be a destination of choice for Riverbend and West End residents.

In addition to the ingredients above, Oliveto is consistent. My friends who took me to Oliveto's had been customers for years. It ain't rocket science. The food is always good and they always feel welcome.

Oliveto falls squarely into the classical school of Italian cuisine.

Nothing avante-garde here, no need for a chef's signature on every dish. Just excellent Italian cooking - fresh, good quality, lively sauces and dressings, generous portions and pleasing presentations.

Everything's Italian, including the brothers and cousins Proano as chefs, managers and owners. The meats are mostly veal and chicken, the seafood is about lobster, prawns, and seasonal fish - halibut was the catch of the day last Saturday, and it was as fresh and big a piece of halibut as you're going to see in this town. Most of the carbs are in the made-from-scratch pastas.

Antipasto (appetizers) are a strong suit. The fresh asparagus wrapped in prosciutto Parma, roasted to crispy perfection on a Dijon vinaigrette bed, is a house specialty. For once, a prosciutto-centred dish that was not over-salted.

You couldn’t ask for a better artichoke salad. At least four of five of them, sliced up, balancing a tender, soft interior and light leafy exterior, with no hint of a brine that too often spoils artichoke dishes. Oliveto’s artichokes went beautifully with goat cheese – a rarely used combo.

The minestrone soup was not about using up yesterday’s vegetables. The broth was light but flavourful, the veggies were the last thing from stewed, given just enough time, I suspect, to cook between the ordering and the serving.

Oliveto has made great veal dishes since opening 10 years ago as part of the Sorrentino Group of restaurants. The Proano clan, involved in the restaurant since the outset, bought it outright in 2010.

Who was I to ignore such a classic? The veal piccata al’limone - sliced, pounded, quickly cooked in a wonderful thickened wine and lemon sauce – was worthy of its many years of compliments.

Oliveto’s reputation for seafood would come from discernment. Outside the crustaceans, there’s no fish on the menu, but there’s usually a catch of the day. Which tells me the chef sticks to fresh, in-season never-frozen fish for his dining room. As mentioned above, the fresh halibut was a treat, tasting as if it were just a few hours out of the west coast ocean.

It’s hard to go wrong with Oliveto’s home-made pastas, 14 selections in all. The angel hair with plump prawns mixed into in a tomato/chicken sauce was refreshing and bright, a light meal unto itself.

When in Rome … we had to finish with tiramisu, as every self-respecting Italian chef has his or her own take on a dessert that can be made a thousand ways, always using marscapone, rum, coffee and chocolate. Oliveto’s is of the layered-cake tradition, the marscapone and whipped cream serving as an icing between cake layers and on top. T'was all quite heavenly.

The only too-traditional aspect to the evening were the entree side veggies. Other than tempura-style battered broccoli decorating our mains, the veggies were as basic as basic can be - potato fingerlings, green beans, zucchini and carrot slices. At least they were fresh and not overcooked.

Consistency, quality, good portions, a welcoming attitude:. It is any wonder that Oliveto’s is usually full on weekends?

*Dish of the week: The beignets for dessert at The Marc - light, sweet, crispy sweet morsels, as if doughnuts have gone to a French pastry heaven.

Graham Hicks

780 707 6379

graham.hicks@hicksbiz.com

www.hicksbiz.com

@hicksonsix