The food is “every bit as delicious as it looks”
Review by Connor Biegler, student writer in the University of Alberta WRITE 297 program.
By: Connor Biegler
As soon as you enter the cozy, yet open seating area of Luisa Ristorante on Perron Street in St. Albert, you’re automatically greeted with a calm and pleasant ambience. Individual light bulbs dangle from wires attached to the ceiling, illuminating the small yet well utilized space of the dining area, with a bench that runs along one wall with small tables before it and smaller two person tables on the other side. A column of small tables fill-out the space in between.
Luisa’s wasn’t always like this though; a recent management change greatly altered the physical landscape of the restaurant. Out went the cozy home dining room feel and in came a more sophisticated styling.
The menu presents many of the traditional Italian options: bruschetta and calamari are among the options for appetizers (or antipasti in Italian) and the main course section of the menu is populated with such classics as gnocchi, cannelloni and pollo (Italian for chicken breast).
However, my lovely – and half Italian – lady Justine and I didn’t select any of these more well-known dishes. For our appetizer, we selected the rapini. Delicately boiled leafy broccoli served with fine slices of Italian sausage and a healthy dose of olive oil and sea salt, the bitter flavour contrasts fantastically with our wine selections. For her a Viognie Chardonnay from Argentina; a wonderful white with the perfect balance of dryness and sweetness, and for myself a Garnacha from Spain; a full-bodied red that would compliment my main course even better than my antipasti, but more on that later.
Throughout the course of our time there, Justine and I could easily pick up on the core tenets of the restaurant’s platform: fast, knowledgeable and kind servers; authentic Italian cuisine (something my Germanic heritage granted me little knowledge of, so her experience was most valuable here); and an atmosphere that seems to invite and encourage conversation. However, it should be noted that these conversations must be held at a more subdued volume as one often sits very close to the neighboring table. The room’s small footprint helps carry your voice well over the soft Italian pop music playing over the not-so-loud-loudspeakers. Adding a uniquely Italian air to the place are four black-and-white minimalist prints on the wall opposite the bench. They all feature minimalist depictions of various forms of pasta. Oh, how very Italian.
Approximately 20 minutes after we complete our rapini, our main courses arrive. I opt for the day’s specialty entrée: wild boar ragu. It has become so popular with the customer base, our server tells us, that they receive near daily calls on when it will make its return to the menu. At first glance, the presentation of the dish whets the appetite immediately; wild boar centred perfectly and piled on top of a nest of linguini. Slices of parmigiana adorn the meat, melting into a disappointingly small spot on the surface of the dish.
Upon tasting it, it becomes apparent that there is no disconnect between presentation and flavour; it is every bit as delicious as it looks (apart from the scarcity of the cheese which I could live with). The meat is rather like beef in terms of flavour, only far more tender and far softer than any beef I’ve ever had. But make no mistake, this meat was not flaky; it required just the right amount of work from your jaw before delicately splitting apart in your mouth. The ragu sauce is the perfect consistency, bathing the slices of wild boar in all kinds of tomatoey goodness.
This dish is what gives my wine selection – the Garnacha – its chance to shine; the whole bodied, slightly nutty red contrasting perfectly with the sauce and wild boar to make me perfectly content with my meal. However, it is worth noting the serving size leaves a fair bit to be desired, especially considering the steep $30 price tag for the dish. In summary, while the dish is extraordinary, it is not one that I can see myself buying every week as a result of the high price and small size.
Justine opts for more standard fare: polpette (veal meatballs and linguini). That’s right, she got veal; the soft and tender flesh of a calf, slaughtered for our gastronomic gratification. Meat of this kind has long been contraband in the Biegler household, so I savour my bite of the tender meat, a most appreciated offering from Justine’s plate. This brings me to a separate point: vegetarian/vegan options are few and far between on this menu, but neither of us are complaining.
To her experience, the linguini was prepared with care and the sauce was, as it was with my dish, the perfect consistency and provided a potent extra punch of flavour. Also rather like my dish, is the tenderness of the meat; not so tender that it falls apart with no effort, but certainly not the sort of chewy, “boot leather” beef your mother may cook up, forcing you into uncomfortably nodding your approval of the dish all the while looking off the other way so as not to make eye contact. After all, these animals were killed so we may eat, the least we can do is honour these creatures by preparing them in such fantastic and flavourful fashions. Justine’s family has never been one to shy away from veal and the veal here met her high standards.
The rest of the dining experience is complimented well by decent amenities; the bathrooms are clean and well organized, parking is plentiful and for those more inclined to take transit, the restaurant is in St. Albert’s humble, if not miniscule downtown, so it is well connected to the rest of the city. The front door is accessed via a slight ramp that leads off the sidewalk, enabling those with mobility issues or concerns to easy access. The staff are incredibly friendly and clearly dedicated to their craft; our waiter (who’s name I did not get, regrettably) could have recited to you the precise ingredients and preparation method of any dish on the menu. Luisa’s is open 11-2 Monday to Friday for Lunch and 4-10 for dinner. It is open strictly for the 4-10 dinner period on Saturday and is closed on Sundays.