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Voyages: Café Chianti

Voyages: Café Chianti

Café Chianti has a reputation for serving up exquisite regional Italian cuisine, respecting the old country with traditional ingredients, and sourcing only the highest quality local meats and produce. This respect for tradition combined with both modern and localized influences have enabled Café Chianti to remain a powerful force in the Halifax dining scene for many years.

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As I am currently studying the history of Italian cuisine through Dalhousie University, I’ve come equipped with new expectations and knowledge about traditional Italian cooking. After a quick scan of the menu, I can see that Chef Terry Vassallo has put together a comprehensive selection of regional classics. From antipasti, insalata and zuppas, to classic pastas, mouth watering secondis (mains), and an assortment of tempting pizzas, it is clear that no stone has been left unturned. I’m excited for what the chef has prepared for me and to be taken on a journey to the Italy of my memories.

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As a beautiful and full-bodied red is poured into my glass, I give the bottle a quick scan for some indicators that I’ve learned about in class and see a little DOC label – amazing! This means that this wine has been produced with a Denominazione di origine controllata (controlled designation of origin), and has been crafted following time-honoured practices and customs.

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Out comes the first course – calamari that has been flash-fried and tossed in an incredibly pure tasting pomodoro sauce, topped with ever-so-sour pickled onions, warm Italian olives, and chillies ($12.95). The pomodoro is so fresh that you feel as if the tomatoes could have been handpicked from the Italian countryside just minutes ago. The dish is very well balanced – acid from the lemon, slight heat from the chilli, fresh sweetness from the pomodoro, saltiness from the olives, and most importantly, perfectly crispy calamari.

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After quickly devouring the calamari, Chef Vassallo brings the second course of Aglio Olio, a classic pasta dish that translates to ‘Garlic and Oil’ ($8.95). Expecting a simple classic, out comes a beautiful version that the chef has spun into his own, adding fresh country sausage, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, and rapini – the delectably bitter cousin of broccoli. After a light dusting of Grano Padano is showered over the dish, its perfect smoothness and equilibrium has my mouth watering. Besides being able to taste every ingredient in the dish individually, each bites works in perfect harmony with each other.

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With suspense reaching a highpoint and my taste buds crying out for more, out comes the secondi – brick chicken with an unbelievably tasty marsala sauce and local mushroom demiglace on a bed of crushed potatoes ($28.95). By sealing the game hen and weighing it under bricks, the meat retains all of the juices that are normally lost in the cooking process, making this some of the juiciest and most tender chicken that I’ve ever had.

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While catching my breath with another few sips of wine after such a great meal, I’m brought the cherry on top – Tiramisú (made the real way with mascarpone cheese) and topped with fresh blueberries, strawberries, and Cape gooseberries from South Africa ($9). This delectably light and sweet dessert is the picture-perfect end to a flawless meal.

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Tonight I have been taken back to Italy. Sitting at the table, I am hypnotized by the atmosphere around me – I feel as if I could be anywhere on the Italian Peninsula. With no questions asked, I am confident in saying that this little diamond on Barrington St. is worthy of your time, money, and attention. Whether you want a simple bowl of pasta or a traditional 4-course meal, you’ll find nothing here but the very best Italy has to offer.

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