Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bistro bueno

Generous, old-school Italian plates are piled high; no whining about the wines

  • Print

In restaurants I always read the food menu first. I have a friend (not a wino, honestly) but the first thing she will turn to is the wine list, and if she had been with me at Santa Ana she'd have thought she'd gone to heaven. Not only are the wines well selected, but the prices are mind-boggling bargains. At least they are for Winnipeg where markups of 100 percent are pretty much the minimum, and generally much more than that. And triple markups aren't at all unusual.

There may be only one white and one red by the glass here, but the markup on the bottles more than makes up for that, with several good choices at $15 (an increasingly common price for two glasses of plonk elsewhere) and many interesting ones under $30. Especially since whatever you don't finish can be re-corked to take home. Actually, I thought I was in heaven too, with a delicious Alamos Malbec, for a mere $20, which was significantly less than twice the Liquor Commission's price of $12.03. I have to assume the other wines also have a similarly modest mark-up.

This huge strip mall in St. Vital was the last kind of place in which I would have expected such grace notes. In fact, much about the Santa Ana surprised me. It's a long narrow room -- quite dark, and small, seating only about 44. Spare too, with colour only in the huge prints of wine glasses that line one slate grey wall. Part of the opposite wall, the one that cuts off the view of the open kitchen, is a huge wine rack.

The full title is Santa Ana Pizzeria and Bistro, but more about the pizzas later. For my money the bistro menu is the best part of the operation. It's short -- just a few appetizers, a few pastas and if you want a main course you'll be limited to either salmon or chicken breast. Fortunately though, among those few items there are some delicious choices to accompany those bargain wines.

The Mediterranean shrimp starter, for instance. We counted them, and they came to an unbelievable 15 for the $10 tab -- floured, lightly seasoned, crusted with sea salt and simply delicious. Every bit as good was the Santa Ana salad of sprightly mixed greens, little nubs of asparagus (no heads, though), bits of sun dried tomatoes and shreds of parmesan in a fresh-tasting and perfectly balanced vinaigrette. It cost $6 for a more than generous single, $9 for a double.

There are two appetizers of Italian sausages, each $8. The Neapolitan comes with tomato sauce and is topped by asiago cheese. We chose the Sicilian -- a dense, spicy sausage served with roasted red peppers, parmesan and La Bomba sauce (a zippy eggplant-plus concoction usually served as antipasto). The portion was as big as some entrees, and more than enough for two as a starter.

In fact, generosity is one of the hallmarks here. Forget that current "small plate" fad -- this is old school Italian and the plates come piled high. Our sweet-fleshed salmon entree, for instance -- two thick slices that were wood-fired (like most of the food here) and turned out moist and flavourful, paired with a huge heap of linguine mixed with a variety of vegetables.

Linguine with veggies sounded as though it might be boring but it, too, was excellent, perfectly al dente and beautifully seasoned. The only other a la carte pastas are tortellini, lasagna and manicotti, with a choice of meat, tomato or roasted red pepper-mushroom-pesto sauce ($14 each). However our ravioli wasn't in the same class as the linguine, with a mere smidgen of tasteless meat enveloped in thickish pasta.

Santa Ana is under the same ownership as the Calabria Market and Wine Store, popular for, among other things, its pizzas, and in this venue there are two kinds to choose from -- wood-fired, with a thin, crisp crust (11 inches for $12) or stone-baked with a choice of thick, thin or classic widths (15 inches for $22) with multiple toppings. Basic cheese-only toppings are $12 for the stone-baked, $8 for the wood-fired.

Had the pizzas lived up to the meals there might have been an extra half-star above, but the stone-baked pies were merely passable. Our Sicilian topping (Italian sausage, capicola, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives and tomato sauce) was generous but the dryish crusts lacked both taste and texture. And the wood-fired margherita was a total disappointment, with no discernible tomato sauce, just a juiceless topping of anemic tomato slices, a skimpy few shreds of bocconcini, a dusty-dry sprinkling of oregano and a few basil leaves.

For dessert we opted for one of the gelati -- from Eva's Gelato, and wonderful ($6). The only other choice is a dessert pizza topped with cinnamon sugar, marshmallow, chocolate and graham wafers, and it may well be delicious, but, I confess, I just couldn't face it (11 inches for $10). The service, on the other hand, was charming, knowledgeable, attentive and endlessly helpful.

The place bustles. I was turned down twice while trying for a Saturday night reservation several days in advance, and I'd suggest reserving your table even on a week night.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca 

To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 30, 2011 D3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

The greening of Elphaba the Wicked Witch in Wicked

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • STDUP ‚Äì Beautiful West End  begins it's summer of bloom with boulevard s, front yards  and even back lane gardens ,  coming alive with flowers , daisies and poppies  dress up a backyard lane on Camden St near Wolseley Ave  KEN GIGLIOTTI  / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  /  June 26 2012
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Standup- Morning Fog. Horse prances in field by McPhillips Road, north of Winnipeg. 060605.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Did you suffer any damages from Thursday's storm?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google