Recently I met up with a few friends at La Vita e Bella for supper, and although we had a grand time, it wasn’t because the food was amazing. That’s okay – they’ll fit right in to Calgary’s average food scene. Their location is not too bad – right beside the Stampede casino, in a rather nice wooden historical building, with a quietly private patio. The parking is a bit of an adventure – IF you’re driving on the opposite side of the road, and catch the attendant on the block BEFORE the restaurant, you might get a spot without having to circle one way streets.
Since my ability to follow directions virtually guaranteed block circling, I arrived fashionably late and we proceeded to order drinks. Given the warm evening, my friends ordered beer and mineral water, while I got a martini. There was problems with the keg that night, and my friends beer came out totally flat, and she was promptly offered a substitute. Overall the service was nice, if uninspired, but nothing to complain about. Once our drinks arrived we were given a basket of pretty great bread and a dish of olive oil and balsamic to dip it in.
For appetizers we all shared meatballs stuffed with buffalo mozzarella, served in tomato sauce and topped with basil ricotta, and the bruschetta with roma tomato, garlic and fresh basil on a toasted prosciutto and ricotta crostini. Sounds good, don’t it? But it wasn’t, really. The bruschetta didn’t work on several levels – first it was so soggy by the time it arrived, that the crostini was falling apart. Secondly, the prosciutto was one large piece, and people have you ever tried to bite through a piece of that stuff? It’s hard, right? So as you tried to take a dainty bite the prosciutto simply pulled all the topping along with it, and the soggy bread collapsed, and you had a mess on your hands. Finally, see that big piece of while in the middle of the bruschetta? That’s garlic. An entire half clove of raw garlic.
Now, I love garlic with a devotion typically reserved for newborns, but to have a mouthful of that much raw garlic kills not only your breath, but all the other flavors in your mouth. All you taste is garlic, and the nuances of tomatoes, prosciutto, cheese, never mind herbs are lost forever. The drizzle of brown stuff around the plate tasted strongly of maple syrup which didn’t really go with the flavors of ham, cheese and basil, but maybe that’s just me. It didn’t detract from the dish, but didn’t do anything for it either.
How were the meatballs? Pretty good. The sauce they were in was very fresh and sweet tasting, a simple but delicious plain tomato sauce that offset the meatballs rather well. They were big, juicy and browned, a little mild flavored and the buffalo mozza made for an interesting filling. The ricotta was about as bland as ricotta normally is, basil or no, so to me it was a strictly decorative item.
For the main course, two of us could not resist the sound of the risotto cooked with prawns, brandy, oregano, grana padano cheese in a rose sauce, while me and my equally gluttonous friend shared the lasagna layered with a bison, prosciutto and bacon bolognese, ricotta cheese, fresh basil and roma tomatoes, and the aaa alberta striploin thinly sliced served with arugula, cherry tomatoes and lemon vinaigrette.
I couldn’t resist asking for a bite of the risotto, and it had a very mild flavor, something I’d need to add way more salt, cheese and oregano to, so as to bring out the flavors of rice and prawns. My dining companion mentioned that she’d rather have the prawns in larger chunks, rather than tiny pieces, so that she could tell when she was biting into a prawn.
The aaa striploin was a huge disappointment. It was not thinly sliced, but shaved paper thin, and fully cooked. Picture a plate of well done, unseasoned sandwich meat, and you have this dish. Except sandwich meat has more flavor. This had NO salt, NO seasoning, small chunks of fat hanging off some of the meat, and it was as bland and disappointing as could be. After we requested some lemon wedges from the server, and doused the beef with it and salted heavily, it was edible. Was it worth 25 bux? Not even remotely. The menu description led us to believe a thin steak would be cooked however we wanted and thinly sliced over some greens, but this was a mixed plate of flavorless boiled tasting beef. I don’t get it.
The lasagna however, was wonderful. Just awesome. All the flavors were comforting, warm and mixed so well together, that you couldn’t identify the individual spices – the hallmark of a good dish. The filling was awesome, the sauce was the same goodness as the meatball sauce, and the melted cheese around the plate added layer of awesome. Overall it was our favorite dish, and the one thing truly worth eating again.
We wrapped up with a panna cotta and a coffee, and it must have been late, cause I don’t remember any details about the dessert, but I do remember it was a solid dish. Nothing bad about it, and the coffee was awesome – rich and strong. They also get points for great patio music, I clearly remember Air being played as the evening wound down. So here’s the deal – if you go – park kitty corner from the restaurant, on the block before. Skip the bruschetta for the appetizer, but definitely get a slice of that awesome lasagna. I assume other desserts are good too, so that and a good coffee will ensure you get a very solid meal.
La Vita e Bella
401 – 12th Avenue SE