December 16, 2017

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Opinion

Now that's Italian!

New south-end restaurant beautifully designed

The exterior may be part of a nondescript strip mall in St. Vital, but walk inside and, wow. This new south-end Italian restaurant and wine bar is a beautifully designed space with a dark, sexy, cosmopolitan vibe. A sleek central area with tables and a counter is flanked by intimate cork- and wood-lined alcoves. There are covetable light fixtures and cool, but comfortable, Bauhaus-style chairs.

The food, a considered and contemporary take on traditional Italian fare, lives up to its gorgeous setting (with a few small letdowns). Harth is a boon to people living in the St. Vital neighbourhood and will probably become a destination spot for food fans living farther afield.

You could certainly have a very nice evening with just wine and small plates. The wine lineup, much of it from Italy but with lots of other old- and new-world options, is extensive, with a deep selection in the mid-range price category. The bottles are stored in high open shelves that ring the central dining room and are accessed by a sliding ladder.

Cocktails include twists on the classics, a sampled elderflower sour having a kind of effervescent kick.

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The exterior may be part of a nondescript strip mall in St. Vital, but walk inside and, wow. This new south-end Italian restaurant and wine bar is a beautifully designed space with a dark, sexy, cosmopolitan vibe. A sleek central area with tables and a counter is flanked by intimate cork- and wood-lined alcoves. There are covetable light fixtures and cool, but comfortable, Bauhaus-style chairs.

The food, a considered and contemporary take on traditional Italian fare, lives up to its gorgeous setting (with a few small letdowns). Harth is a boon to people living in the St. Vital neighbourhood and will probably become a destination spot for food fans living farther afield.

You could certainly have a very nice evening with just wine and small plates. The wine lineup, much of it from Italy but with lots of other old- and new-world options, is extensive, with a deep selection in the mid-range price category. The bottles are stored in high open shelves that ring the central dining room and are accessed by a sliding ladder.

Cocktails include twists on the classics, a sampled elderflower sour having a kind of effervescent kick.

The Chef's Selection Cheese plate with gorgonzola, pistachio pecorino and walnuts.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Chef's Selection Cheese plate with gorgonzola, pistachio pecorino and walnuts.

The chef’s selections of cheese and meat are pricey, but deliver a thoughtful, well-presented mix of the good stuff. One sampled salumi plate included buttery prosciutto and hotsy-totsy coppa, both house-cured and fresh-cut — very fresh-cut: if you’re sitting at the counter you can watch — as well as a smooth and lovely chicken liver mousse, all paired with homemade bread sticks, mustard and crisp pickled veg.

The cheese plate, on one night, rounded up a quenelle of fresh ricotta, chunks of Parmesan, pungent gorgonzola and a pistachio pecorino with a real barnyard-y undertone — and I mean that in the good way — served with walnuts, dusky purple grapes and homemade crackers.

There are olives marinated in citrusy olive oil. The beautiful beef tartare is finished with a little bottarga, cured and salted fish roe that adds some briny edge, and good sourdough that’s been lightly grilled in the pizza oven.

Meatballs, made for sharing, are flecked with fennel seed and smothered in bright, fresh, spicy San Marzano tomato sauce and a big spoonful of that good ricotta. The kale salad gets a lift with a creamy dressing, anchovy and lemon zest, but the preserved egg and prosciutto could have been more pronounced.

Pastas, pizzas and entrées, our server told us, can be shared, though most of the portions seem geared, more or less, to an individual serving. Vegetables, served family-style, are very simple but not at all dull: roasted whole carrots with pumpkin seeds and ricotta; Brussel sprouts with chili and lemon.

A platter of house-cured meats and preserves.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A platter of house-cured meats and preserves.

The Neapolitan pizza includes traditional combos like the Margherita and Siciliana, as well as some rarer topping options (smoky eggplant, charred broccolini and lemon, crème fraîche). Gnocchi with braised rabbit is very good, though what was billed as traditional "Sunday sauce" felt more like a quicker tomato sauce. The slow-cooked lamb shank was tender and rich.

For after, tiramisu is nicely boozy but not sodden, and the panna cotta, rather intriguingly flavoured with bay and peppercorn, is a subtle surprise. Chocolate tart with olive oil and sea salt is deep, dark and not too sweet in flavour, but could have been creamier in texture.

Service is both warm and professional, and the restaurant does well with small, but telling, details, like thick cloth napkins, nicely balanced glasses, and water bottles for the table, quickly replenished when need be.

With a ranging wine list, carefully considered food and a very handsome space, Harth feels buzzy even on weeknights, so reservations are recommended.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Alison Gillmor.

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