All Sorrentino’s Restaurants
(Please check website for hours and addresses of individual restaurants)
Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Dinner for two without tip or beverages: Basic, $40; loaded $70
By GRAHAM HICKS
It ‘s a chilly 6C outside and overcast.
Daybreak didn’t peep through the bedroom blinds until 7 a.m The garden tomatoes remain stubbornly green. The Eskimos lost, once again, the Labour Day Classic Much as one mourns the passing of endless sunlight, wasps and evening thunder clouds, it’s time for heartysoul-warming comfort foods.
The greatest of these are mushrooms.
The Rago family’s Sorrentino Italian restaurant chain – Downtown, South-Side, West End, St. Albert, Stony Plain, Little Italy and Bistecca – began its autumn mushroom-based festival menu 24 years ago.
The festival is so established that the Ragos and partners couldn’t kill it if they wanted to.
Were I not obliged to visit/re-visit new or established restaurants for weekly reviews, I would happily tour the Sorrentino group all September, trying a different mushroom-based entrée at each stop.
At a Mushroom Harvest media preview last week, Sorrentino’s offered sample portions of the mushroom-flavoured starters (antipasti), salads (insalata), pasta (primi) and main courses (secondi).
The menu, created by Sorrentino corporate chef Chris Hrynyk with input from all Sorrentino’s/Bistecca executive chefs, has been slightly simplified and shortened compared to past years.
(This is a trend in the city’s better restaurants. A retreat to the familiar – chicken, pork, beef, fish, seafood, pasta and vegetarian – with chefs’ variations on the same. The combination of rising government-imposed costs – minimum wage increases, carbon tax – and cost-conscious, deal-seeking customers is taking its toil. Despite the proliferation of dining options, Edmontonians remain reasonably conservative in their tastes.)
That said, there’s still much choice on the Mushroom Harvest menu.
Sorrentino’s wild mushroom soup has been perfected over the years, the bar raised by the selection and ratio of wild mushrooms. The soup is served steaming hot, paired with beet jam and soft goat-cheese on crunchy crostini.
Hrynyk’s main pasta dish, pappardelle boscaiola or hunter’s pasta, was special. Its smoky bacon and strong porcini/portabello mushroom flavours snuck up on the taste buds, rolling into a flavour explosion that, with a sip of the festival’s Giusti Merlot Veneto wine, re-defined comfort food.
The festival grilled-beef ribs remain, as always, a must-have for mushroom/meat lovers. The texture of the slow-cooked long-stranded ribs is carefully matched to crimini mushrooms added to the broth shortly before serving. A satiny, carefully spiced porcini BBQ sauce knits it together.
The harvest festival risotto, featuring lobster mushrooms and grilled prawns, is a gift from the gods. Sorrentino’s mushroom risottos are always a highlight of the festival. This time, the blending of the ever-so-slight crunch of grilled prawns … with the big booming flavour of lobster fungi … with the ever-so-soft-and-creamy risotto … dusted with fine-grated parmesan cheese … Who needs summer?
Accompanying the month-long festival are mushroom cooking classes, mushroom foraging expeditions, winemakers’ special dinners and the always fabulous Truffle and Wine Dinner in late November presided over by Sorrentino’s Downtown chef Alberto Alboreggia. Sorrentinos.com has all the details.
Who needs summer, when the Sorrentino’s Mushroom Harvest effortlessly transitions us to flavour-fantastic fall!
• • •
Unbeknownst to city-dwellers is the beautiful, two-year-old Sorrentino’s Stony Plain, where the Mushroom Harvest menu is available in all its glory.
Why Stony Plain, and why several kilometres south of Hwy 16A? Because Stony Plain land developer Mike Klein loved Sorrentino’s and basically insisted on a franchise for a small shopping centre he had built at the corner of Stony Plain’s 48 Street and Township Road 524.
“My wife and I had always loved Sorrentino’s West,” recalls Klein. “When I first asked (Sorrentino’s patriarch) Carmelo Rago about a franchise, he hesitated. ‘We like to keep it in the family,’ he said. ‘Carmelo,’ I replied. ‘We are at Sorrentino’s West so often that we are family!’”
As at all Sorrentino’s, Stony Plain executive chef Leo Shijie has leeway in presenting dishes unique to the Stony Plain restaurant.
Rather than using Hwy 16A, try following Township Road 627 from the city’s outskirts. It’s a lovely rural drive.
• Congrats to three fine Edmonton eateries – Bundok, Biera and Kanto 98 – who have been short-listed for inclusion into Air Canada’s enRoute Magazine’s Top 10 new Canadian restaurants.
• To the delight of celiacs and others with low-gluten tolerance, the venerable Continental Treat Restaurant on Whyte Avenue has gone completely gluten-free, to the extent of calling itself Continental Treat Fine Bistro Gluten-Free.
• Striding ahead is Pampas Brazilian Steakhouse founder and owner Oscar Lopez. While others are pulling in their horns, Oscar is opening a fourth Pampas Steakhouse in the West End. Pampas started in the downtown, expanded to Ellerslie and to Calgary.