Violina a classical delight: Graham Hicks Weekly Dish column originally published in the Edmonton Sun Aug. 29, 2012
There’s going out for dinner.
Then there’s dining out.
Violino Gastronomica Italiana should be an all-evening affair, best experienced with those whose company one truly enjoys, whose culinary expectations equal one’s own.
The atmosphere in the beautiful old mansion on High Street lends itself to the spirit of dining out. It once housed La Spiga, before Vince and Connie Cultraro uprooted to Palm Springs.
The tables are set for classical dining, with linen tablecloths and napkins, multi-course cutlery, sparkling wine glasses and discreet waiters in suits or tuxedos.
As is so often the case in Edmonton, fine dining at Violino’s is Italian. The menu moves from primi piatti (first plates) to zuppa e insalata (soups and salads), pasta e risotto (pastas and risotto-style rice), manzo e pesce (meat and fish), finishing with dolci (dessert).
Our party of four is at Violino’s to eat well.
And we do.
The beginning is auspicious, with one of the finest antipasto misto platters I have ever sampled. In formal Italian cuisine, antipasto is always the first course, traditionally a collection of whatever cold delicacies the chef might have at hand. Violino emphasize its chilled seafood – jumbo prawns, smoked salmon, scallops, with finer Italian cold cuts, room-temperature eggplant and artichoke hearts, and, of course, olives.
With the antipasto misto arrived two more primi piattis, crab cakes with a sweet citrus and saffron sauce, and quail drumsticks wrapped and grilled in pancetta. All opening dishes were delicious, presented with loving detail, bearing the signature of a chef not content with the mundane.
From antipasto, we skip over the insalata and zuppa to try two pasta dishes shared by the party – linguine al Sambuca and ziti al forno. The Sambuca imparts a pleasing aroma, a hint of the licorice liqueur in the cream sauce ladled over the prawns, olive and tomato sauce. The chicken and mushroom ziti (a tubular pasta) came with a bubbling parmesan/bocconcini cheese crust.
Being in such a classic atmosphere, we went classic with the mains.
Violino’s eight-ounce tenderloin is prepared to perfection – pink in the middle, not bloody – with a wine sauce and mushroom ragu, grilled asparagus and potato gratin accompaniments. Not for Vioino any of this nonsense of an additional surcharge for veggies.
The steak is excellent, but the slow-braised beef short ribs are even better, falling-off-the-bone succulent in a signature sauce, on a heavenly scented bed of risotto, the scent thanks to truffled mushrooms.
Dessert was the chef’s sampler for two – a light espresso tiramisu, a chocolate cake infused with cinnamon, pear and a chocolate ganache. All were made from scratch, in keeping with a kitchen that refuses to compromise on quality.
Violino comes by its classiness honestly. The restaurant is owned by the Howard Pechet family, proprietors of the Mayfield Inn when the Mayfield was the spot in town for sumptuous buffets. The story goes that California-based Howard wanted a really good spot to dine while in town attending to family businesses. General Manager Sergio Re actually started his career at the Mayfield.
If you are thinking Violino is expensive by Edmonton standards, you could be right. But the beauty of Italian restaurants is a primo piatti and a pasta can be had for $25. Violino has lunch-time pizzas from its outdoor pizza oven on the patio, under $20 for two.
Don’t expect fusion, don’t expect waiters in designer t-shirts and jeans. Do expect, at Violino’s, a memorable evening of Old World dining.
*Speaking of good food, chef/owner Shonn Oberowsky promises a fine sampling of what Characters Fine Dining has to offer Wednesday evening (tonight) at Art of Conversation LXXII, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. downtown at 10257 105 St.
Food: 4 of 5 stars
Ambience: 4.5 of 5 stars
Service: 4 of 5 stars
Dinner for two: no frills, $50. All in (excluding beverages), $120