While Michelin skipped over most of Canada last year when it released guides to both Toronto and Vancouver, you can still taste dishes that helped garner a Michelin-star in Italy, right here in Winnipeg.
These dishes can be found at the brand-new Vida Cucina Italia in The Fort Garry Hotel, Spa and Conference Centre, and come courtesy of executive chef Rosanna Marziale who earned a coveted star with dishes like palla di mozzarella (a ball of mozzarella that is stuffed with tagliolini pasta and basil cream, then breaded and fried), and her signature pizza al contrario (“inside-out pizza,” using a torched slab of mozzarella that is stretched out as the base) in Italy.
Marizale won a Michelin star in 2013 and has since become a household name in Italy. Viewers across the country have seen her on popular programs like Borgo dei Borghi, La Vita in Diretta, and Masterchef Italia, along with the Italian versions of Chopped and Iron Chef on Italia Food Network. She is often referred to as “The Queen of Mozzarella,” for her ability to deliciously employ this seemingly simple ingredient in almost anything.
During these years she’d also become friends with Ida Albo, the owner of Fort Garry Hotel. Their bond began 25 years ago during Marziale's visit to Winnipeg for the inauguration of the Italian Chamber of Commerce.
Fast forward to autumn 2023, and Marziale and Albo have opened Vida Cucina Italia, a striking 50-seat upscale Italian eatery located just to the left of the Fort Garry’s lobby.
The menu at Vida Cucina Italia showcases why Marziale is the World Ambassador of Campania Buffalo Mozzarella DOP, as you’ll find fine Italian cheeses (along with Wisconsin burrata) utilized almost across the board. There are plenty of DOP products used throughout (that’s Denominazione d' Origine Protetta, “Protected Designation of Origin,” which designates the product as coming directly from certain regions in Italy at the peak of freshness) like the San Marzano tomatoes and the pecorino, Parmigiana, mozzarella and gorgonzola cheeses. You’ll also find a number of cured Italian meats and a list of the award-winning Italian olive oils and balsamic vinegars that bring Italia to the city’s castle.
That holy trinity of San Marzano tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella synonymous with Napoli comes together in many of the dishes including the local bison meatballs in the antipasti section where they are accompanied by fried spaghetti. (You’ll also find a market price bison ribeye for two in the secondi section.) The antipasti section itself is also rich in vegetables (there’s one dish called l’orto, the “vegetable garden”) and there’s two choices of bread for the table – a focaccia and sourdough.
Pastas run from linguine with Atlantic lobster, shellfish bisque and orange essence; to a simple cacio e pepe; paccheri with three kinds of tomato and mozzarella milk; and rigatoni with braised beef and fried carrot wisps for texture. (You can find a parade of some of these dishes in the above video).
Along with that rigatoni, other wintery dishes include an impressive hunk of glazed beef shoulder that’s been braised for 16 hours astride a piece of grilled polenta with rapini, red cabbage and a red wine reduction splashed across the plate in Jackson Pollock fashion. As well, there is chicken braised with porcini mushrooms and a rich spinach tart for a vegetarian option. Lighter dishes include almond-crusted wild chinook salmon with zucchini two ways, and tomato braised European sea bass.
Desserts include an Italian flag-coloured zuccotto (think of it as a stuffed, domed cake), that has been turned inside out to surround a white chocolate and pistachio semifreddo; a dazzling domed lemon cake (delizia al limone di sorrento); and a classic flourless chocolate cake.
The menu will be executed by Marziale’s local team, which serendipitously also includes plenty of Italian cooking chops.
First off, there’s chef de cuisine Fabrizio Rossi, who hails from Rome and is a well-known chef throughout Winnipeg since moving here in 2009.
Then there’s sous chef Oleksandr (Sasha) Bohdan, a Ukrainian who was sous chef in the Michelin-starred kitchen Veritas Restaurant in Napoli (right up to 2022 when it retained its star).
And finally, there’s the Fort Garry Hotel’s baker-in-chief Angela Tambiloc, who lived in Italy and has family there. She's been using her Italian language skills to work with Marziale’s team on developing the recipes for fresh breads, focaccia, breadsticks, and desserts for Vida.
This being the Fort Garry Hotel, you can also expect a carefully curated wine list from hotel wine director Christopher Sprague, while Vida sommelier Daniel King will also be on hand to recommend wine pairings.
The Vida Cucina Italia space itself is a lavish addition to downtown’s iconic hotel. You enter via a black tiled hallway featuring yellow bird print wallpaper on the right and two private dining rooms on the left. These rooms, available for groups larger than six, lead into the main dining room. All of the spaces feature accents of black marble with white veins, which really pops in the central dining room where walls feature an icy white textured tree print wallpaper. This main dining room also features an eye-catching grappa bar stationed at its centre, illuminated by a Swarovski crystal chandelier, with two and four-seat tables arranged against the walls.
Vida Cucina Italia at The Fort Garry Hotel is officially open. Regular hours are Tuesday to Saturday, from 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations can be made at vidacucinaitalia.com. Additionally, the hotel’s mezzanine now houses four private dining rooms, perfect for private parties or dinners. To inquire, go to www.fortgarryhotel.com/privatedining/