Taste of Florence in Bridgeland

Crazy about cannelloni and manic about mushrooms

It’s easy to miss the little house that serves up great Italian fare. Tucked between shops and offices on First Avenue N.E. Villa Firenze (or the House of Florence) has been catering to the appetites of Calgarians for over 21 years. And they do it well.

Visiting with a friend on a bustling Saturday night I’m surprised by the interior — I don’t know why but I was expecting old school décor. The intimate space is quite contemporary with warm tan walls and wood floors an original exposed brick column and chocolate-hued wood shutters.

Once seated our friendly server Jennifer greets us and lets us know the evening’s wine and food features. Deciding on a lovely bottle of Pinot Grigio (Le Rime Castello Banfi Tuscany $36) we set our sights on the food.

One thing I’d heard about prior to visiting Villa Firenze is a recommended appetizer called the Portobello Mushroom ($16.95). Not seeing it on the menu I thought they may have removed it but once our server highlighted it as the night’s appetizer feature we jumped at the chance to try it.

If I was ever invited to appear on the show The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Fungus Edition this would be the dish I would talk about.

Arriving at our table with a platter our server slices a large portobello cap (the size of a burger patty) into two pieces. Doling out the slices to our plates she then scoops a creamy mushroom sauce onto the cap and gives us a basket of warm homemade focaccia.

Baked and crusted with a layer of heavenly parmesan the meaty portobello and velvety mushroom cream sauce are nothing short of a savoury masterpiece. The accompanying focaccia is sumptuous and the perfect tool for mopping up every last drop of the remarkable sauce. This dish earns a capital D for delectable folks.

For her main my friend gets the cannelloni ($21.95) a massive plate of fresh pasta featuring two extra large cannelloni tubes stuffed with ground veal mozzarella and spinach. Topped with a mild tomato sauce the dish has a nice smooth flavour with subtle pops of herbs and spices. This entrée is so filling that my friend only finishes half of it. The portions are definitely on the generous side at this Villa.

I decide on the scampi risotto (piatto de mare con verdue e risotto $34.95). It may be one of the highest priced items on the menu but the opportunity to eat scampi occurs so rarely that I can’t pass it up.

When it arrives. the plate astounds me. It features a mind-blowing 10 scampi tails surrounding a tomato-basil risotto with fresh vegetables. My mouth is watering as I dig into the white wine buttered scampi. The shellfish is fresh and perfectly prepared. The risotto is also nicely prepared — not crunchy or too firm but not mush either. The tomato and basil risotto is great with the buttery white wine scampi. When the two mingle a spectacular flavour combination is born.

Similar to my friend’s entrée I don’t finish everything on my plate; except for those awesome scampi tails but I do pass four to my girlfriend (they are too good to not share).

Needless to say by the time the dessert menu arrives we are stuffed but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t save room. Original Villa Firenze owner Teresa Tudda (mother of Dominic Tudda owner of Pulchinella and Dolce Sapori) still makes the desserts including tiramisu cheesecake and truffles. All desserts are $8.25.

If you’ve never been to Villa Firenze I would recommend visiting to get a taste of Italian tradition in Bridgeland. With warm hospitality and service great wine and food (at an incredible value) this is a great bet for any date night or family get-together. And be sure to order the fantastic portobello mushroom I know I’m still thinking about it.