Vivo Ristorante Downtown
4 p.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week
(Pizzeria and Taverna sections, 11 a.m. to late)
Food: 4.5 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 4.5 of 5 stars
Dinner for two (excluding beverages and tip): basic, $45; loaded, $120
The start was rough, but the evening proved enchanting.
An unsmiling, unwelcoming host, as charming as a James Bond villain, led us into the new Vivo Ristorante Downtown, pointed at the table we were to occupy, turned heel and left!
Having settled in, I opened the menu, and just about fell off my chair.
Antipastos were priced at $17 to $54, pastas at $20 to $43, entrees at $54 to $92, and veggie side dishes at $14 to $19! For a moment, we considered moving downstairs to Vivo’s Pizzeria, where a beer and a personal pizza can be had for $12.
The initial “oh dear” moment didn’t last. All was made well by delightful Michelle, who, as our server, swung by all smiles and welcomes, and quickly put us to rights about the menu.
Vivo is family-style. All dishes are meant for sharing. Three “small” primi piatti (pastas) and one “small” rack of lamb with seven generous chops, easily fed five of us.
Add shared smaller dishes – a tuna tartare salad, a beautiful veggie side and dessert — and our party of five was well-filled. Excluding drinks and gratuities, the bill averaged out to a reasonable $35 per person. And the food was top-notch.
The original Vivo, far away in the deep West End, has been with us since 2011. It was one of the first high-end dining rooms to open in the distant suburbs, since joined by the likes of XIX, Workshop Eatery, and Cured, as well as Chartier out in Beaumont.
Expansion was always part of the Vivo plan. When an entire two-floor building with parking became available just north of MacEwan University and only a few hundred metres from Rogers Place, the partners dived in.
The new space was renovated top to bottom and now boasts of the Vivo pizzeria (run by top Edmonton pizza maker Carlo Raillo, formerly of Buco and The Parlour) and Vivo Taverna on the main floor, then elevator/stairs access to the second floor’s formal 100-seat dining room.
The dining room is sleek, spacious, modern and conservative, designed for social interaction over excellent food and wine. Thank god for a dining room where, for once, one need not shout to be heard.
The menu itself is progressive traditional. Each of our three pastas – the four-cheese fettuccini, ricotta gnocchi and prawns linguine – were familiar, yet of the highest quality. Chef Medi Tabtoub makes the basics fantastically well, then quietly adds unusual and unique accents. Keep an eye on the Moroccan-born, French-trained Tabtoub. He’ll be a culinary force in this town.
The gnocchi was enchanting, light, fluffy, quickly pan-fried in brown butter, finished with a walnut butter, feathered with orange zest for sweetness and fine-shredded pecorino.
The red prawns in the marinara linguine were spectacular. The fettuccine was the perfect pasta – all rich and scrumptious with lovely, oily, perfectly melted cheeses. All the pastas were rich and decadent – calories galore – but so tasty as to throw any diet out the window.
The monstrous “small” lamb rack (seven big, succulent individual chops) could not have been better – bountiful, cooked exactly as requested, pink in the middle but not bloody, on a bed of well-paired home-made baked beans, rosemary-infused and sprinkled with the unusual sweet of honey-bee pollen.
The tuna tartare-based insalata di tonno salad, as fresh as the best sushi, was lovely, thanks to an unusual soft grapefruit vinaigrette. And how did Chef Medi know the cherry panna cotta would be the perfect flavour to top off this feast?
It’s obvious that this kitchen exercises extraordinary quality control — all ingredients are fresh, bright and top of class.
Other than the horrendous initial impression of Mr. Rigid, the service was top-quality. Both the room manager and the chef did their rounds, visiting with every table.
I’m sure Vivo does a roaring pre-concert/hockey game business – this is the quality to which the Rogers Place ultra-pricey Curves Restaurant should aspire.
But I’d recommend Vivo Downtown for more leisurely dining – for an evening-long special occasion, with multiple courses of traditional-but-progressive Italian dining, where a family or friends can socialize over a few bottles of wine and fine food without deafening music and clatter, without being crowded and with excellent service.