Alena Rustic Italian
Address: 3670 Roblin Blvd
Having a chance to repeat a revelatory restaurant experience always breeds a jolt of excitement when a much-loved chef or restaurateur returns with a new concept—and if the old band’s getting back together? Hold on to your hat.
The iconic duo returning to Winnipeg’s stage this year is Doug Stephen, of WOW! Hospitality, and chef Michael Dacquisto, who reunited to launch Alena Rustic Italian. From the much-loved Pasta La Vista to Carne Italian Chophouse, Stephen and Dacquisto have created some of Winnipeg’s finest dining experiences, and Alena is no exception, serving up homestyle Italian cooking with a contemporary twist and giving suburban Charleswood’s culinary scene a major boost.
Opening a new spot in 2020 is an uphill climb, but despite unprecedented challenges the dining room hummed through opening week with a safely distanced crowd, seated at tables divided by plexiglass. The restaurant’s focal point is an open kitchen centered around a large wood-fired oven. Spotless square tiles glimmer under bright working lights as pizzas and entrees get the wood-fired treatment.
The menu of Italian dishes is an invitation to share plates. Perfectly proportioned starters are seafood and meat centric, but include a handful of vegetarian options. Breaded and fried cerignola olives stuffed with beef and chicken are savoury and unexpected. Wild boar and beef meatballs are melt-in-your mouth tender, with a piquant San Marzano tomato sauce providing the perfect foil for the rich meat and fresh basil brightening each bite.
House made spaghetti tossed with bacon, tomatoes and basil is rich and simple, classic Italian comfort food. Entrees, accompanied by grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes, are hearty enough to share, and include two rotisserie options, “spun” chicken and porchetta. The grilled fish is a delicate branzino stuffed with lemon and herbs, and presented whole on a bed of arugula. Perfectly roasted potatoes, tender fennel, succulent eggplant, and juicy zucchini are dressed simply with olive oil, allowing their smoke-enhanced flavour to shine.
Dessert is Tia Maria torte, a towering, multilayered confection filled with whipped cream, studded with chocolate chunks, and soaked in coffee flavoured rum. Topped with a salted chocolate chip cookie, it’s decadent but not overly sweet.
Alena Rustic Italian’s down-home yet sophisticated style of Italian cooking combined with a roaring fire on a frosty Winnipeg night is an unbeatable pairing.