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Voyages: La Frasca Cibi & Vini

Voyages: La Frasca Cibi & Vini

Down on Spring Garden Road in the heart of Halifax’s downtown shopping district sits La Frasca Cibi & Vini, an authentic Italian eatery serving up the type of rustic fare native to the north-eastern region of Friuli. By hanging a branch over the door to inform travellers of excellent food and vino, a “frasca” signifies a testament to tradition. As one of the four current establishments started under Stephanie and Maurizio Bertossi’s group of restaurants (The Bicycle Thief, il Mercato Trattoria, Ristorante a Mano), La Frasca truly lives up to its namesake through its emphasis on high quality seasonal ingredients and a deep selection of Italian wines.

When I arrive at the restaurant, I am treated to a sincere and warm welcome from our host Sandra Larson, The Bertossi Group’s Operations Manager and overall wonderful person. The first thing I notice upon entering is the stunning décor and intimate atmosphere. With bottles of wine, copper cookware and vintage photography from former owner Maurizio’s camera lining the walls, I feel as if I have been transported to a simpler place and time. After further conversation with Sandra, I find out that pretty much everything in the place from the full-length marble bar to the style of dining chairs, and even the linens are imported from Italy. It’s been five minutes since I got here and I’m already beginning to understand why the company’s motto is “we care about every detail.”

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With Culinary Institute of Canada graduate and battle-hardened Chef Keith Bungay at the helm, La Frasca’s food program is a force to be reckoned with (he even has his knives tattooed on his forearm). In sticking with the Italian tradition, foods are prepared in-house whenever possible and if not, they are flown in from Italy or sourced from local purveyors based on whatever is fresh at the time. Keith and his team work year-round to take Friulano food and re-invent it for the modern palette.

Before I start eating, Keith shows me their in-house salumeria and hand-powered Nella meat slicer with a glimmer in his eye. I can tell by the way he only uses imported Italian cured meats and stores them just so, that he has a deep respect for the ingredients, and I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into some of the good stuff. But first things first, I must choose the four meats and two cheeses that I want to be included on my salumi board ($17). Since I am starting to feel like I can trust Keith with my life, I let him take the reigns.

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Next thing I know, I am digging into an assortment of spicy Calabrese salami, tender mortadella, prosciutto di San Daniele, and air-dried bresaolo drizzled generously with extra virgin Italian olive oil. Paired perfectly with the meats are a house-smoked provolone, creamy cambozola, spiced olives, house marmalade and homemade crostini tossed in a light coating of parmigiano. The highlight of this dish for me is the cambozola – it is creamy and earthy but subtler on the taste buds than a typical French blue. Hearty portions make this a great appetizer to share with two or three friends, but it is totally customizable so you can always add more or less, and according to Keith, “no board is too big.”

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Next up comes one of their most beloved pasta dishes, the linguine with pan-seared local scallops, crispy pancetta and arugula. Seasoned lightly with house garlic butter, fresh lemon juice and black pepper, it is topped with parmigiano and served with homemade focaccia. Overall, the dish has a nice depth of flavour to it but is kept relatively simple to allow the brilliance of the Nova Scotia scallops to shine through. For $22, you get an impressive portion of pasta adorned with five scallops that is certain to satisfy your hunger.

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After my dish is taken away and my water glass is refilled, my entrée arrives. The Costata di Maiale ($25) consists of a juicy Oulton’s pork chop that is brined for 24 hours in a pear-infused solution, chargrilled, and stuffed with a pancetta and apple sautée. The meat is served tagliata style (sliced) and comes alongside a bed of sweet brown butter smashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables – beets, carrots and greens beans. The pork has a nice caramelized bark but is quite fatty, so the sourness from the apples works well to counterbalance the flavours with some much needed acidity. The vegetables are crisp and fresh and add some colour to help round out the aesthetics. Overall, the dish is very hearty and truly conveys the rough and rustic type of cuisine you expect from northern Italy.

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For dessert, I decide to finish the meal off with something sweet and something boozy. The pistachio sundae ($10) is interspersed with dark chocolate sauce, whipped cream, candied crushed pistachios, and sweet wafers. The stunningly green gelato is creamy and the nutty and chocolaty elements come together to form an almost Disaronno-esque flavour. Head bartender Andrew Rosar’s sangria imperiale ($12) is also quite sweet but the freshly muddled ginger offers a peppery and citrusy blast to finish the meal off with a bang.

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For anyone who keeps up to tabs with developments in the culinary industry, it’s common knowledge that ideas like the local food movement and seasonal sourcing have come to revolutionize the way we think about ingredients in the last 10 years. For establishments like La Frasca, those concepts have been deeply rooted in their culture for generations. By going above and beyond expectations like growing their own produce on their green roof, brewing their own beer (Birra Bombetta) and celebrating the unique terroir of Nova Scotia with annual pumpkin festivals, they live and breathe their motto. No nonsense, no arrogance – just simple, delicious food made with passion and served with style. Come to La Frasca Cibi & Vini today and join the tradition!

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