It's a long, narrow space lined with exposed brick walls, softly lit by flickering candelight on each table and culminating in a cosy library at the far end, with a few regular tables and low coffee tables with sofas and easy chairs. This sweet, secluded little den is distinguished by a lovely wall hanging of a blurred, silk-screened photograph of Buenos Aires' fabled Avenida Corrientes, a street that, apparently, is home to a multitude of pizzerias, the result, apparently, of the massive influx of Italian immigrants in the 19th century.
Hardly surprising, then, that pizzas are Corrientes' raison d'etre.
It's a cadet branch of Hermanos, which is just down the street -- a full-scale, upscale restaurant with a wide-ranging menu of mostly Brazilian fare. Corrientes' menu is much more limited, devoted primarily to Argentine pizzas and empa±adas, and not all that many of either.
I'm not sure what makes a pizza Argentine, but these seem to be heavier on the cheese and lighter on the sauce than most local pizzas. They come on either thin (de lujo) or thick (tradicionales) crusts, and cost from $15 for a 12-inch classic margarita (mozzarella, tomato, basil and Parmesan), which I didn't try, to $30 for 15 inches of the generously topped Chivito Canadiense -- mozzarella and provolone with shaved rib-eye, hard-boiled egg, bacon, ham, onion and banana peppers. Which I did try, and loved. What I loved even more were the distinctive flavours of the more restrained Crudo, an elegant combination of prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes, on a wonderfully crisp, flavourful thin crust.
The pizza I didn't love was the Manitoba, an assortment of ingredients -- pesto, bacon, pickerel cheeks, goat cheese, arugula and sun-dried tomatoes -- that tasted OK individually but seemed unco-ordinated. But what really clinched my disappointment was the phyllo-like pastry base that was brittle, tasteless and totally dry. Other possibilities include the Corrientes (chicken with pesto and provolone), the Porteno (ham, mozzarella and tomato), the Humita (mozzarella with corn, bacon and onions) and Los Immortales (mozzarella with hearts of palm, ham and pineapple).
The empa±adas are small, just enough for a snack or starter -- even two might not be enough for lunch ($3.75 to $4.75). The classic Carne was delicious -- a crisp, thin crust folded around juicy ground beef mixed with onions, raisins, green olives and hard-boiled egg. A ham and cheese empa±ada was less impressive, filled mostly with a big blob of cheese and only a few wee bits of ham.
Actually, though, the highlight for me was neither the pizzas nor the empa±adas. It was the Picada which, for $14, buys a plate of six tiny appetizers -- no more than a few bites each, not much bigger than your average amuse bouche, in fact -- but so delicious I could happily have ordered another, and still have room for pizza. They are selected by the chef, depending on his whim of the day, so I can't predict what might be served on other days. What I can tell you is, ours were wonderful, tops among them a terrific salad of smoked chicken, a citrusy ceviche of pickerel with a bit of a nip, and little strips of eggplant rolled around a purée of sun-dried tomatoes and feta. Also good, if not quite in the same class as the above, were the slightly tangy beef escabeche, beef carpaccio and mozzarella rolls with pesto.
I've been hoping some enterprising restaurateur would introduce the city to those grilled-pressed Cuban sandwiches, which are so popular everywhere but here. Now Corrientes has come up with three versions, accompanied by a huge portion of a really nice vinaigrette-dressed potato salad ($12 each). There's a vegetarian version, with grilled eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, tomato, tahini and provolone, and another of roast beef with spicy mayo, ham, caramelized onions and provolone. I opted for the one I was most familiar with -- slices of moist roast pork shoulder layered with ham, spicy mayo, melted provolone and pickles -- and it was great.
You can have a delicious, if slightly, cloying dessert empa±ada filled with bananas and chocolate -- dulce de leche with banana is an alternative ($3.75 each). Or, if you don't mind shelling out a whopping $12, you can have the superb Gianduia, which has been described by some as a cake, by others as a mousse, but is neither -- at least ours wasn't. What we got was a wedge of dense, velvety chocolate studded with bits of hazelnuts, that most resembled a chocolate p¢té in texture -- an absolute, irresistible glory.
The staff are knowledgeable and charming. The lengthy wine list is hard to read in the dim light -- bringing a flashlight is a good idea. (Seriously.) A few are available by the glass, in two sizes, but our usually reliable Argentine Malbec tasted harsh. There was no music early in the evening; possibly there is later on. But (and I never thought I'd ever say this) for once I wished there had been. Tangos, that is, por favor.
To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.
Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.