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Opinion

Popular Italian restaurant dishes up perfect pastas, excellent entrées and super specials

Lemon veal scallopini.

BORIS MINKEVICH/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Lemon veal scallopini.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/4/2015 (1367 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Seven years ago I was greeted at Bellissimo with an icy and downright rude reception, followed by an attempt to seat us in the cramped, tiny cubicle that was walled off from the dining room. Under other circumstances I would have walked out, but I was there to work, so I persisted, and was finally, grudgingly, granted a table in the dining room. Which, by the way, was totally empty. Some of the food that followed was good enough to almost compensate for the unpleasantness, but not nearly enough of it.

Thankfully, my recent visits were infinitely more pleasant in every way. We were greeted with smiles, given the table we asked for and, more to the point, the food had become consistently good enough to earn an additional half-star.

It's an understated, softly lit place that would be more comfortable if the sprung springs of some of the chairs (ours) were replaced, and if the tables were less tightly packed. For a less hemmed-in feeling, reserve a table along the wall. And you should reserve; this place is very popular.

The menu seems shorter than I remember. The starters are few, but dinners begin with good house-made rolls and a nice olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip. The mussels were too big for my taste, and there weren't many of them for $14, but they were plump and sweet in a slightly spicy marinara sauce (an alternate is a beer and bacon sauce). Lightly breaded calamari were excellent, although (some things haven't changed) the basil aioli with them still tasted like the oddly sweet mayonnaise of yesteryear ($12).

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/4/2015 (1367 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Seven years ago I was greeted at Bellissimo with an icy and downright rude reception, followed by an attempt to seat us in the cramped, tiny cubicle that was walled off from the dining room. Under other circumstances I would have walked out, but I was there to work, so I persisted, and was finally, grudgingly, granted a table in the dining room. Which, by the way, was totally empty. Some of the food that followed was good enough to almost compensate for the unpleasantness, but not nearly enough of it.

Thankfully, my recent visits were infinitely more pleasant in every way. We were greeted with smiles, given the table we asked for and, more to the point, the food had become consistently good enough to earn an additional half-star.

It's an understated, softly lit place that would be more comfortable if the sprung springs of some of the chairs (ours) were replaced, and if the tables were less tightly packed. For a less hemmed-in feeling, reserve a table along the wall. And you should reserve; this place is very popular.

The menu seems shorter than I remember. The starters are few, but dinners begin with good house-made rolls and a nice olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip. The mussels were too big for my taste, and there weren't many of them for $14, but they were plump and sweet in a slightly spicy marinara sauce (an alternate is a beer and bacon sauce). Lightly breaded calamari were excellent, although (some things haven't changed) the basil aioli with them still tasted like the oddly sweet mayonnaise of yesteryear ($12).

Bellissimo owner  Greg Gagliardi and  chef Jessica Cuthbert.

Bellissimo owner Greg Gagliardi and chef Jessica Cuthbert.

My favourite pasta here is the homey spaghetti with three huge prosciutto-and asiago-stuffed veal balls in a sturdy but tasty tomato sauce. I also liked the cannelloni, packed almost to bursting with a mixture of beef, veal and pork, and baked with mozzarella and tomato sauce ($18 each). We asked for extra cheese but, sadly, all we could have was a shaker of the powdery stuff.

The linguini with shrimp sounded better than it tasted. The shrimp were big and beautiful, but I couldn't taste much wine in the sauce, and I didn't think the final additions of feta, halved, cold grape tomatoes and raw onions made for a happy marriage ($21).

There are only seven main courses, and all I sampled were excellent ($24 to $32). Thin slices of pale, tender veal scallopini and mushrooms were blanketed in a rich lemony cream sauce and partnered with mashed potatoes. A massive slow-roasted lamb shank with lamb jus and wild mushrooms was wonderfully full-flavoured and juicy, garnished with tasty of somewhat chewy gnocchi ($28). With most dishes there were nicely grilled zucchini, an assortment of peppers and broccolini; with some, little roasted potatoes.

The only remaining choices are eggplant or veal parmigiana ($24 each), cioppino seafood stew ($32) and grilled salmon in a lemon herb crusting ($36), but there is usually a daily special and the two I tried were absolutely top-notch. A Cornish hen, stuffed with the spicy (very spicy) house sausage was moist, flavourful perfection; so was the sweet-fleshed Arctic char in a light buttery glaze and a scattering of diced grape tomatoes, partnered with interesting, albeit under-seasoned, polenta fries.

Unlike the permanent entrées, the specials don't include salad, which is just as well, since ours were a house salad of soggy, wilted greens and a tasteless caesar of the white parts of romaine with tooth-defying croutons.

Desserts are described as house-made, and the Chocolate Oblivion — gluten-free, flourless layers of chocolate cake, white chocolate and chocolate ganache — was irresistibly luscious ($8). Hard to believe that the dreadful caramel apple pie had come from the same kitchen — a slice of soft, tasteless white cake instead of the promised "buttery shortbread crust," with a sludgy caramel apple filling and a mushy streusel topping ($7).

The wine list is unremarkable but decent, and they mix a generous cocktail. Not only was the staff friendly and attentive, but one night's server was exceptionally helpful and knowledgeable about the food and the wines.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 9:24 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline

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