Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.
Vittoria in the Village is chapter three for the ‘Vittoria’ chain. It’s a partnership, we read on the website, between Vittoria’s Dominic Santaguida and Geoff Vivian of Lapointe Fish. Opened in the spot where Lapointe’s Westboro Fish House used to be, the space is narrow, done over in greys and blacks, with a long red banquette. A garage door lets in light at the front and an open kitchen adds interest in the back.
The original Vittoria Trattoria has been a feature on William Street for just shy of twenty years. Before that, Vittoria started life as a deli in the Glebe. In 2003 a second location was opened in Ottawa South, just off Riverside, a modern room with an open kitchen and a commanding glassed-in wine cellar. Indeed, the Vittoria restaurants are both highly respected for their award winning wine lists and for the Santaguida family’s contribution to wine education in the city.
You won’t find that same thick wine list in the Village location. It’s a one-pager of mostly crowd-pleasers, though there’s a bit of choice for the big spender too. The food menu is a two-pager, and though smaller than the Market’s VT, it is much the same document, with fewer main dishes and with flatbreads in place of pizza.
I wouldn’t call it ‘Modern Italian’ fare, as the sign says. But if you’ve a hankering (and so many do for some strange reason) for an unchanging menu of standard Italian-Canadian fare (bruschetta, deli meats, fried calamari, penne Arrabiata, veal Marsala, chicken Parmigiano, New York cheesecake…) along with a few oddities (quinoa salad, curried mussels), you’ll find these largely unexciting dishes, fairly well executed here. Though there have been some duds too.
Shrimp in Sambuca cream on puff pastry wasn’t one of those. It was a blast from the past, and a pretty compelling one. The shrimp were snappy, bathed in a white sauce that was rich, sweet and boozy, scented with tarragon. They covered a square of browned puff pastry, the edges crisped, the middle soggy. We liked the octopus salad well enough, with rounds of chorizo, soft cannellini beans and grape tomatoes united in a chipotle mayo.
You won’t find fresh pasta here. The section is long and all but one from a box. (Only the cheese tortellini in Gorgonzola cream sauce is made here.) There are options for whole-wheat spaghetti and for two bucks more, gluten free pasta can be substituted. I’ve tried one pasta dish and I don’t think I’ll try another. The fettuccine with seafood and red peppers was thoroughly disappointing, the mussel shells either missing meat or the meat shriveled, the scallops rubbery and salty, the shrimp tainted with iodine, the pasta overcooked.
The special one evening was wild salmon. We’re asked how we’d like our salmon cooked. (That’s a first.) We reply that we’d like it lightly cooked. Our server looks a bit confused. ‘Not too much’ we add, helpfully. Medium then? Or medium rare? she asks. Sure we say. It arrives grill hatched and cooked as we figure we’d ordered it, the flesh still moist and wobbly. I wish she had asked how we’d like our risotto. Cooked with beets, it was prettily pink-stained and of good flavour, though well past al dente.
One night pounded veal was cooked to tender, spotted with capers and served with roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables. It was fine. Another night, another veal (Marsala) and the meat was wildly salty, the vegetables unseasoned and soggy.
Desserts are mostly brought in – New York cheesecake, tartufo, zuccotto. Made in house were an apple crumble, a crème brulée flavoured with white chocolate (my teeth ached thinking about it) and good old tiramisu, which wasn’t bad at all.
Mostly ‘not bad at all’ summed up Vittoria in the Village for me. It specializes in a set menu of recognizable dishes. It plates up abundance. Service is far from professional, but friendly and kind. The wine list isn’t up to Vittoria standards – nor does it come with service that can explain it – but it’s passable. If you’re in the village looking for ‘wow’, it’s not here. But for plates of North Americanized Italian dishes (updated with quinoa, whole wheat and gluten-free options), adequately executed (for the most part), this new place will do.
309 Richmond Rd., 613-680-7575 vittoriainthevillage.com