This Tre Visi spinoff is a boon to fans of the original restaurant who don't want to battle downtown traffic or face the daunting hunt for a parking space. Not that there's a lot of parking on this increasingly interesting corner (with the Grove Pub just across the street), but there's usually some space within an easy walk.
One catch though: they don't accept reservations. If there was any doubt about what kind of eatery this part of River Heights wanted, just try getting in at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night, at which time, on my visits at least, every table was taken, with hopefuls waiting at the entrance. To be safe get there when the doors open at 5 p.m.
There's good reason for that kind of popularity. In a part of the city primed for good little neighbourhood restaurants, this one offers a cosy room with a mellow vibe, an understated but sophisticated decor of muted taupe, brightened by the occasional splash of bright raspberry red and a rare civilized noise level.
Also (and without which none of the above would matter), it offers solid renditions of Italian basics that are delicious and moderately priced, with pastas from $16 to $19 (gluten free for an extra $3.50) and main courses from $21 to $23.
There are no surprises on the menu, which steers clear of trends. This is fine with me -- I'm fond of the familiar. It is also significantly shorter than its parent's menu -- seven pastas, and seven main courses only -- and I was disappointed to find some of my downtown favourites were missing, such as the locally rare panzanella bread salad, or the seafood risotto (although, come to think of it, that's no longer on the downtown menu either). Actually I did have a risotto here, but it was as a main course garnish. More on that later.
Still, it seems churlish to complain about what I couldn't have when everything I did have was so good. You'd be off to a fine start with the marvellous mussels, for instance -- plump, brimming with briny juices and perfectly prepared, in our case, in a simple white wine reduction. Spicy tomato is an alternative ($13). Or with a fritto misto of barely breaded calamari, a few shrimp and zucchini slices, with a dip of marinara sauce ($12). Or even just the perfect, on-the-house and still-warm-from-the-oven focaccia (a second serving is $2.50 for four more pieces).
I can't decide which pasta is my favourite. On one visit it was a toss-up between superb, silken gnocchi slathered in a luscious creamy pesto, and the heartier bowtie farfalle strewn with crumbled bits of slightly spicy pork sausage and red peppers. But on another visit I was impressed by the linguine adriatica, which was packed with more of those excellent mussels, a few big shrimp, the occasional scallop and little strips of squid.
Most of the main courses are garnished with a pasta. One of the exceptions is the succulent braised lamb shank, although it was hard to judge the flavour of the risotto it was perched on since it was completely drenched by the shank's rich dark sauce. Another exception was the top-notch salsiccia casalinga -- three big, fat sausages with beans (but not quite enough of them for me), their porky richness balanced by the slightly bitter streaks of rapini and some grape tomatoes.
There's also tender veal scallopini with mushrooms, napped with a well-balanced marsala sauce. The fettuccine alfredo it came with was rich but not very flavourful, and if I have a nit to pick it's that I'd like to see some vegetables offered as alternatives to the fettuccine -- especially if one wants to start dinner with a pasta, before the main course.
Every night features a different seafood special. Our's was big, butterflied shrimp with capers and bits of cocktail tomatoes showered with, but not overwhelmed by, garlic. The only other possibilities are bone-in chicken cacciatore with pappardelle or alla parmigiana with fettuccine alfredo, a seafood stew, and three pizzas at $12. to $14.
The lunch menu is almost identical, but a few pastas are offered in half portions paired with a salad, and there are three panini at $14 each, including soup or salad.
Apart from house-made gelati and sorbets there are only three desserts, but the two I tried were stellar: the stunning torta di polenta -- a lemon-scented cake of cornmeal and crushed almonds; and the melodia tre visi -- a trio that varies from day to day but, in our case, was composed of creme brulee, panna cotta with berries and a raspberry mousse in a chocolate cone, all luscious ($7 each).
Service was impeccable by a staff that is thoroughly knowledgeable about the menu, attentive and friendly. The wine list is interesting, with several available by the glass, and there are alternatives in such classic Italian cocktails as negronis, americanos and bellinis.
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.