How have I never been to Cucina before!?
Cucina, the little sister of Teatro (my favourite place to grab a pre-play drink if I want to feel terribly classy), was on Living Life to a “T”’s list of the top dinners of Big Taste Calgary and, after taking a peek at the menu, it was immediately top of my list too. Sweet potato gnocchi? Wine pairings? Tiramisu? I’m in! However, I had also already booked four Big Taste events at that point and was quickly running out of friends to bully into foodie fun with me.
Social media to the rescue! I put out a couple of cute tweets and facebook posts about how I was left to go on a self-date (which is actually something I love so don’t feel sad for me) and up popped a message from a lovely friend, Malina, who I had been meaning to catch up with. This is a girl who has been to a 3-Michelin star restaurant before and would be more than willing to put up with my weirdo picture taking… I knew she would be the perfect company for this dinner!
We booked an early reservation so that we would be able to head downtown straight from work (reservations are highly recommended as the adorable bistro-inspired space only sits 50 guests), though we still pulled into the Holt Renfrew parking lot almost an hour before our set time.
Oh well! It just gave us more time to wander around Holt and The Bay, ogling all the beautiful designer shoes and bags. (I snapped up some way too fun Taylor Swift Glitter Dot Keds after Malina’s enthusiastic review of her own Kate Spade keds. Online shopping is the best.) We easily filled the extra hour up, chatting and browsing, before making the incredibly short trek across the street from Holt Renfrew to Cucina. Such a wonderful location!
I was so busy chatting and marveling over the space that I forgot to take a picture of our adorable table for two, tucked just around the corner of the open concept kitchen and with a great view of the entire restaurant. Cucina is tiny but open and perfect for a relaxed dinner of catching up. I did manage to snap a quick – albeit blurry – pic of the menu, though!
Malina and I elected to order the complete opposite of each other, by chance, but it meant that we were able to sample the full range of the Big Taste offerings as well the wine pairings, all from Tinhorn Creek. (Note that Cucina was awesome when Malina revealed that she couldn’t do red wine and they had no problem subbing in a white to go along with her second course.)
First course was an elevated version of the standard – choice of soup or salad.
I enjoyed a simple but satisfying cherry tomato insalata, using the tomatoes to scoop up every bit of the tangy goat cheese capricco. Malina had the leek and zucchini bisque, which went un-photographed, but was an absolutely incredible size portion and, according to her, was equally tasty. This course was paired with the Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris.
For the second course, I naturally went for the sweet potato gnocchi with oyster mushrooms, kale… and more goat cheese! When I make gnocchi at home, I’m never patient enough to pan fry the little pastas to the perfect level of fluffy inside, crispy outside that a good restaurant manages to consistently put out. This gnocchi absolutely checked all my boxes. My gnocchi was paired with a delicious Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir.
After the first forkful of this braised lamb shank, Malina just closed her eyes and said “Oh, that’s good lamb”. That seems like a ringing endorsement to me! (Note: I’m a bad blogger and don’t know which white wine Malina received with her lamb… I was too busy digging into my gnocchi as soon as it hit the table.)
Malina selected the chocolate coconut budino, a light but rich molton cake. I tried to google specifically what a budino is so I could share that here but it seems that it is a quite mysterious and variable dessert. Either way, Malina had nothing but positive things to say about it.
Saving the best for last, an absolutely perfectly sized tiramisu with a sweet little honey dessert wine. Tiramisu is rarely the dessert I pick from a full dessert menu, but I’m not sure why – this nuanced and light dessert was the perfect ending to the dinner I was so excited about.
If you can snag a reservation at Cucina during Big Taste, I definitely recommend taking it even if you have to dine early or late. It is an incredible venue, meal and dining experience.