Chianti Cafe & Restaurant has been a fixture on Whyte Avenue since slightly after the last ice age ended. Or was it since the Oilers were a good team? I don’t really remember. I do know the last time I was there was sometime in the early naughts (2001 perhaps). At that time, we went because I’d been given a gift certificate by the Edmonton Celiac Association in appreciation for work I’d done on the Cycling for Celiacs website. That year, Chianti was a sponsor of the ride and they had donated some gift certificates.
Almost 10 years is a long time in the restaurant business, so prior to arriving, I checked the Chianti website to verify they were still offering gluten free options and they are:
Casual, bustling, Italian, we’re a “from scratch” restaurant so all our dishes are made fresh to order. Thus, we’re happy to accommodate dietary concerns. For example, we have gluten free brown rice pasta for customers on gluten free diets and half portions are available on most menu items.
One thing on the website that had me mildly concerned was the references to past awards, without dates. I tried to look up the references but didn’t find anything. Perhaps they were pre-internet? This kind of thing always worries me. What have you done -lately- is what I want to know.
We arrived at about 5:30 on Wednesday and were immediately seated. The restaurant was about 1/4 full. While I’m not sure how a place can be a restaurant -and- cafe at the same time, the first thing we noticed about the place is that it is very much more Cafe than Restaurant. The place is showing its age; the ambiance is, well, clunky. The wine glasses sum up the atmosphere of the place. Short, faux cut crystal, thick with mould lines visible. You know. The kind you buy at Canadian Tire. That you can drop and they usually just bounce. Those ones.
Our very young server was at our table quickly and took our drink order; a 1/2 litre of the House Red, which according to the menu is “Specially bottled for Chianti Cafe by one of Italy’s best known producers.” It was a passable chianti, a bit thin, but we’re shiraz drinkers so all chiantis seem a bit thin.
As usual, I let our server know I needed gluten free and it was obvious from the server’s reaction that this is something they get asked a fair amount. No look of “huh?” Good start.
Kim is an artichoke junkie so for antipasti, we ordered the Asparagi & Carcofi Salad which is “Asparagus and Artichokes in our Homemade Italian Dressing”. For our mains, Kim ordered Pollo Boscaiola (Chicken with Mushrooms, Onions, Parsley, Wine, Olive Oil and Garlic. Served with Fettuccini Solario) and I ordered Fettuccine Chianti (Prosciutto Ham, Mushrooms and Cheese Sauce). Kim ordered hers GF even though she doesn’t have to so I could taste (she’s very sweet ;))
While we waited for our order, we watched the restaurant rapidly fill up. A few minutes later, our server came out to inform us that the antipasti we ordered was not GF as there was gluten in the dressing. I thought this was a bit odd as Italian dressing (especially “home made”) is usually GF. Oil, vinegar and spices right? Apparently not. It was a bit disappointing but I commend the staff for knowing. As we were a bit pressed for time, we decided not to try and order anything else.
Our mains arrived within 15 minutes. The first thing I noticed was that both the dishes which were supposed to be fettuccine were penne. I suppose as a GF customer in a pasta restaurant, you can’t be too picky but how hard is it to carry a couple of different varieties of GF pasta? They all cost the same. On the plus side, the pasta on both dishes was cooked nicely and was not in the least bit mushy. Given my experience with GF pastas, I’d guess they were using Tinkyada brown rice pasta. It’s the best out there for not turning to paste. My dish was creamy, with a smoky flavour. (hmm that was prosciutto and not bacon, right Chianti?) In any case, it was very tasty.
Kim’s main was a mixed bag. The pasta Solario was very good. Light and full of flavour although we both agreed it could have had a bit more garlic. Kim was a bit disappointed with the chicken part of the dish. She thought it was a bit bland and that the chicken should have been grilled. It had the pale, unappetizing look of steamed bird. Since we’ve not seen how the dish is prepared normally, it’s possible that it was steamed to keep the chicken off a contaminated grill. In that case, all is forgiven 🙂 Despite the look, the chicken was moist and had a nice flavour. Kim didn’t finish it all, so I used it to mop up the rest of my cream sauce (no bread on -our- table)
We didn’t have time or room for dessert and I didn’t look too closely at the dessert menu but there were a few things that looked like I could have.
By the time we left at about 6:40, there was a line up of about 20 people waiting to be seated. I don’t know if they accept reservations, as it doesn’t say on their website. If they do and you plan on visiting after 6pm (even on a Wednesday), I’d recommend a reservation. There’s $2 for 2 hour parking in a lot behind the restaurant.
This has been a bit of a strange review to write as I seem to have been doing a lot of complaining and yet, the thing is, we really quite enjoyed ourselves. The service was quick and competent, if not very friendly and the food was plentiful, tasty and safe, if not very “pretty”. To be able to eat GF at a pasta restaurant is a treat. And then there was the price. We don’t usually pay much attention to the price of things when we order. If we’re out, we get what we want. But when the bill arrived, I actually did a double take. Less than $50 for dinner for two – with wine? Granted, it would have been a bit more if we’d been able to eat the appetizer we ordered but still. $50! I’ve eaten a lot worse meals for $50 a -person- at some unnamed -restaurants- here in town.
Chianti -Cafe- is just fine by us. We’ll be back. And it won’t take us 10 years this time.