Home Cookin’

Three converted-home restaurants going way beyond mom’s Monday-night meat loaf.

Far From Home

Violino Gastronomia Italia is spread out on two floors of an Edwardian-era home with dark wood banisters and ceiling beams and, yes, carpeted flooring. But despite the layout and touch of kitsch on the mantle, it feels nothing like grandma’s house.

Here, culinary maestros offer meticulously prepared and presented Italian dishes for lunch and dinner. Chef Dustin Shafer likes to keep the menus changing, but regardless of the season, almost everything is house-made, including the involtini San Marco ($14), a meat roll of beef tenderloin scaloppini rolled in – and infused with – scallop mousse. After it’s baked, the mousse becomes a skin on a buttery, tart filling.

Schafer shows equal fastidiousness with a cup of soup ($8), which, at the time, was a Campagnola balancing the varied flavours of potato, leek, smoked cheddar and maple-smoked bacon. Violino’s signature entrees display his creativity further. The tender chicken cutlets in the pollo fior D’ Arancia ($23) are stuffed with fig compote and served on rivulets of orange-infused cream.

On the pasta menu, the tiger-striped agnolotti with lobster, scallops and shrimp ($28) packs a savoury blend of artichokes, goat cheese and spinach.

Clinch the dinner with a three-layer Dolce Vita chocolate cake finished with a cinnamon poached pear ($7). It’s nearly the size of the entree plate. (10133 125 St., 780-757-8701) –Omar Mouallem

Warm Welcomes

Strands of gold lights along the edges of this restored century home’s cream exterior give it an inviting glow. Inside, Bistro India serves dishes based on the cuisine of India’s four southern states. The southern dishes are spicier (and “rice-ier”) than northern Indian fare because of chilies specific to the region.

The server suggested I start with the tender, cinnamon-laced chettinadu lamb chop ($15.95) and the masala dosa ($10.95), a dense potato-filled rice-and-lentil crepe.

The dosa’s flavour changes according to which of the three side sauces it is dipped in last. For dinner, try the palak paneer ($13.95), a nod to Northern India. Creamed almost until it’s spreadable, the spiced spinach is a smooth, subtly spicy complement to the cubes of cheese curd.

For a slightly sweeter entree, try the Allapey fish curry ($17.95). The layering of coconut milk and ginger makes any remnants coveted gems to be quickly mopped up with warm garlic naan, $3.95 each. (10203 116 St, 780-482-1700) –Jessica Hainstock

Szechuan and Only

Chinese cuisine is very regional. You wouldn’t find the same fare in a Hong Kong street market that you’d find in Szechuan province. But, in Canada, we tend to lump Chinese cuisine into one giant pot, and put fried rice on the same numbered lists as spicy hotpots.

That’s not the case at Old Szechuan, a converted home on 107th Avenue painted in many colours. The menu, while filled with over 150 items, is actually quite narrow in focus. So if you’re looking for western imitations of Chinese cuisine like ginger beef, go somewhere else.

I recommend the sliced pork in double-cooked style ($9.50), which is bacon in a black bean and chili sauce, with green onions and pepper. For an item with a one-chili designation, it has serious kick. Boiler lamb in hot pot ($14.95) has a great ginger-and-chili broth. For those not wanting to deal with the chilies, the fried beef short rib in black pepper sauce ($14.95) gives you plenty to gnaw on.

And, if you dare (I didn’t), find out what’s behind the “boneless duck’s web with strange flavour” ($9.95), which is supposedly sweet, salty and spicy all at once. (10703 103 St., 780-428-5468) –Steven Sandor

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