The affable manager of Bonterra Trattoria, John, delights in telling the story of how Brad Pitt dined at his Italian restaurant, then returned a few days later with Angelina Jolie — “Ang” as she introduced herself — and their entourage in the summer of 2005.
(Pitt was in the area filming the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.)
The sweet justice of Bonterra is that you and I can walk in there and get that same menu, and the same down-to-earth treatment as certain rich, ridiculously good-looking, globe-trotting celebrities.
OK, so you and I may never get named to People magazine’s world’s most beautiful people or world’s most beautiful family, but superstars eat their carbonara one forkful at a time too, just like the rest of us, damn it.
Bonterra’s front door on 8th Street, facing Mountain Equipment Co-op and next to an Edo franchise, is nothing to look at. That’s why you should enter via the back that takes you through Bonterra’s stunning, tranquil, garden patio.
I was looking forward to dining al fresco, but alas summer thunderstorms dashed any hopes of that. We ate instead in Bonterra’s airy, high-ceilinged dining room.
Bonterra has been around for several years. Online reviews I found from 2006 suggest it opened strong, and then food quality dipped, but it appears to have undergone a renaissance in the past few years with chef Glen Manzer, formerly of the River Café.
John told us the menu has recently been updated. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of wine and picked the bottles we drank that night.
After he found out my favourite wine is amarone, he chose a 2004 5 Stelle Sfursat produced by Nino Negri. He kindly explained it’s from the Lombardy region of Italy and how the Nebbiolo grapes used to make it are air-dried, so it’s similar to amarone.
I mention this because he wasn’t condescending about it; he obviously loves wine and what he does and it certainly elevated our experience. And damn, the 5 Stelle Sfursat was a fine, fine wine.
For appetizers, my beef carpaccio ($15) filled an enormous dinner plate, sprinkled with fried capers and shaved pecorino (I think), drizzled with horseradish mustard and extra virgin olive oil. Chef adds a wink with a salty anchovy atop some greens, and a handful of crispy thin potato chips.
Jason’s calamari ($13) was interesting. I loved the curry-type pesto sauce against some greens, currants, almonds, sundried tomatoes and olives; he liked it but wasn’t swooning like me.
Jane had one of the day’s appetizer specials, which was a kind of head cheese made from the extra parts of the roasted pig and lamb Bonterra cooked for its annual patio party a few days before.
But it was Martin’s Tuscan chicken liver ($10) pate that was by far the star of this round. Silky smooth and with an incredible depth of flavour, it came with cipollini onion, cranberry mustard, ciabatta crisps and sea salt on the side. In such a generous portion in a ramekin, it was definitely a sharing app.
I am an unabashed carbonara lover — and not the cream-laden Anglo version. Bonterra makes arguably my favourite carbonara ever. Ever. Mm-hm.
Theirs ($16) is made with linguine, wild boar bacon, chilies, grana padano, and egg. That’s it. Pure perfection in a plate. I’m usually all about the meats, but on this night, I only had eyes for my pasta.
But that’s not to say the meats weren’t sensational. Jane’s braised lamb shank ($26) tenderly fell off the bone, accompanied by pumpkin polenta, braised greens, beets and chestnut gremolata.
Martin’s venison ribeye ($39) — one of the day’s specials — was divine. But with seasonal asparagus and truffle polenta, how can you go wrong? Mmm… truffles.
Jason’s bistecca ($28) was a large piece of grilled prime top sirloin, atop cauliflower purée, gorgonzola cheese, and a surprisingly lip-smacking cherry sauce.
And yes, he would like to point out that he was extremely happy with the size of his steak, something apparently measured by his fist.
Us ladies were stuffed at this point (as I’m sure Angelina would have been), but the guys soldiered on with dessert. A peach cobbler had the right amount of comfort, with extra blueberries, a sprig of mint and a big ole scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The panna cotta blew me away. A creamy and sweet — but not too creamy or too sweet — concoction flecked with the seeds of vanilla beans, with some light strawberry sauce.
The night ended with a round of cappuccinos and many contented sighs (and no paparazzi buzzing around outside).
Bonterra Trattoria, 1016-8th St. SW, Calgary, (403) 262-8480. Reservations recommended.
Open for lunch on weekdays 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner Monday-Thursday 5-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m., Sunday 5-9 p.m.