It’s all about communal dining at Vivo Ristorante. The open kitchen can be seen from any spot in the restaurant and there is one long table that runs along the perimeter of the kitchen, allowing diners to sit and watch. Dishes come in small (for two or three) or large (for four or more) servings.
The best choice is to share a bunch of delectable small dishes. Start off with polpette ($18), meatballs stuffed with zucchini and parmigiano reggiano on top of a simple yet tangy sauce of crushed plum tomatoes.
The risotto Aragosta ($24 for two) is delicate rice made bold with a generous serving of lobster, chewy mushrooms and a Pinot Grigio deglaze. The saltiness of the risotto is a fine counterpoint to the sweetness of the lobster.
For a big table, pollo di mattone – literally “chicken under a brick” ($29 for half a chicken/$55 for full) – is chicken marinated in citrus juices and herbs, grilled with a brick on it and then finished in a traditional Italian stone oven. It’s moist inside, and comes with a grilled half orange, offering sweet nectar to spray on top. Served on a large wood platter, it’s like the centrepiece of a great Sunday dinner.
Finish it off with an order of cannoli ($7), chocolate and vanilla buttercream wrapped in crispy, sweet pastry. But the star of the dish is the berry compote, for dipping. Blackberries, raspberries and cherries are reduced in lemon juice, and the acidity adds a perfect note to the cream fillings. (18352 Lessard Rd.) –Steven Sandor
While driving to Zaika, there was a fleeting moment where I thought I’d gone too far, but then our turnoff came into view and within a minute we were inside the Indian restaurant, where chandeliers above each booth cast a romantic glow. At the centre of it all, a large circular buffet table featured an array of dishes.
The buffet ($14 for lunch/$19 for dinner)varies daily, but you can always expect staples like butter chicken and goat or lamb curry.
For a fine and flaky starter, get a plate of fish pakoras ($12). The lightly crisped exterior easily breaks apart to reveal a delicate basa that leaves behind a spicy aftertaste.
The bhindi (okra) masala ($15), while only found seasonally in the buffet, can always be ordered from the menu. It’s a fiery vegetarian dish with okra and garlic that’s made for naan ($2 to $4). Another dish worth ordering from the menu is the coconut basa curry ($16), a creamy and slightly sweet stew.
For a heartier entree, try Zaika’s palak paneer ($15), which is a plate of cheese curds in a fresh spinach sauce, providing balance between the rich cheese and the savoury cumin and paprika. (2303 Ellwood Dr. S.W.) –Caroline Barlott
At Edmonton’s toes, where everything – especially the houses – is bigger, there’s an enclave of small businesses amongst the chain stores in the Market at Summerside. Cuddled inside the plaza, the littlest bistro, Mini Mango, is a mix of Vietnamese and Thai-inspired fast food in a playful setting that puts forks before chopsticks.
Mini Mango puts twists on bánh mì, the Vietnamese sub adopted from that country’s French colonial period. The baguette is wedged open with cilantro, shredded pickled carrots and sliced dry peppers. Its signature varieties include coconut chicken, beef or pork satay ($6.19). The fresh, fluffy bread is lightly filled and spread with an egg-based aioli. Try the grilled lemongrass for a wholesome alternative – same meats, same price, but less salty.
Bypass the traditional soups and order the peanut satay bowl ($8.95), which blends Vietnamese phở and Thai garnishes in a strong beef or vegetarian broth with chili, dried shrimp and your choice of protein. I recommend tofu because the soft texture collaborates with the rice noodles and soaks up the flavours of the broth.
The mango salad ($9.45), sweet enough to be a dessert, comes with four split spawns on a big bed of shredded mango for a ceviche-like taste. It’s sprinkled with crushed peanuts lightly dressed in vinaigrette. But, for a really sweet finish, get the banana and jackfruit spring rolls ($4.95), which come out of the deep fryer piping hot and are served with a coconut rum sauce. (1056 91 St.) -Omar Mouallem
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