Ristorante Dona Onesta
Neighbourhood: The Exchange
Address: 177 Lombard Ave
Italian cooking is inherently at odds with the current hashtag heavy chef culture, with individual flourishes and ideas submissive to the overarching rules of the cuisine. Talent comes to bear by perfectly creating dishes that have been eaten for generations, consistently replicating what are deceptively simple foods.
There is a right way to make Italian food. And Dona Onesta knows how, with everything from perfectly al dente pasta to portion sizes that Nonna would heartily approve.
The restaurant hails from the canals of Venice, where owner Safwat (Adriano) Bakhit first set up shop. After making the move to Winnipeg, Dona Onesta was reincarnated within a marble-sheathed heritage building on the edge of the East Exchange. The setting, as much as the food, exudes old world charm.
The menu favours simple cuts of meat and classic pastas that get their lively punch from a variety of well made sauces. The scalloppina, tender cutlets of pork pounded thin, are succulent beneath a pool of bracingly zingy lemon sauce.
Regional specialties less often served outside of Italy’s borders also dot the menu. One such dish consists of glossy, jet black cubes of cuttlefish cooked in its own ink. The meat is tender and dense, with unctuous sauce imparting mild flavour that finishes with lingering minerality.
In fact, all seafood is deftly handled here, incorporated into antipasti, pastas, and entrées. A salad of squid and shaved celery is fresh and lemony, slick with fruity olive oil. Flaky, perfectly cooked salmon is topped with a classic red sauce, singing with the unexpected acidic sweetness of fresh tomatoes and briny notes from puréed green olives.
Downtown proximity makes the dining room ideal for filling lunches, and plans are in the works for daytime offerings like pizzas and paninis fresh from the wood fired oven.
Food fads reward novelty, but spots like Dona Onesta show the benefits of fidelity to tradition. A satisfying slab of light-as-air, coffee-soaked tiramisu is proof enough of that.
Ristorante Dona Onesta is open for lunch Mon-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm, for dinner Mon-Sat 5 pm-10 pm.