Whenever I walk by Monticchio Ristorante Italiano, I do a double take, retrace my steps and gaze inside.
I have never been sure of what goes on inside because the banners of the other businesses are displayed more prominently, and the restaurant name across the building awnings has faded in the sun. On this day, with a light snowfall that the wind had not yet dispersed, the letters were completely camouflaged. But, now that I have been inside and know the delights within, I will never forget their location.
I was hosting a dinner party that evening and had decided to pull out some of my Italian vegetarian recipes, so I let my lunch companion make the decisions as to what we would share.
Had I tried to avoid duplicating tastes, who knows what we would have ended up eating?
We started with their house salad, which was dotted with shavings of cheese and Italian ham.
The tomatoes were meaty and the dressing was a perfect complement to all ingredients, with a pungent, acidic taste of vinegar, a fine olive oil and what I always assumed was my secret ingredient: a pinch of sugar.
Our "main" was selected with the help of our server, who is a part of the Di Fonte family, who have owned the restaurant for the past eight years. She recommended that we share a pizza that is not listed on the lunch menu. As my lunch mate picked up a slice, I grabbed my knife and fork. When she commented, I had to admit that I was afraid that if I ate the amazing-smelling pizza without utensils, my share would be completely gone before she finished her next sentence. It was so tasty, I had to muster a great deal of restraint. The crust was wafer-thin and yet flaky and buttery.
Our server described it simply as "pesto" on our bill and this is how it appears on their dinner menu. In addition to the sauce of basil, pine nuts and parmesan, the pie was topped with sun-dried tomato, feta and chicken. I often select a version similar to this and even make it often at home, but this rendition was truly stellar and expertly prepared.
There was another ingredient that I just could not name but discovered what it was later in our conversation with our server. She told us that her brother-in-law was recruited to be the chef. They had tried to teach other staff to fulfil this role but they could not find a person who understood what it meant to "cook with love."
Kathryne Grisim’s foodmusings.ca blog was named best local blog in Uptown Magazine’s Best of Winnipeg readers’ poll.