Feb. 23, 2011 - Issue #801 : Amy Goodman
Corso 32 succeeds without bells and whistles
Corso 32 derives its name from Chef Daniel Costa's father's former address in the tiny Campagnian village of San Pietro Al Tanagro. Its signage is appropriately subtle—white letters on a glass door. This door opens onto a narrow, stone-floored room with stark white walls and dangling light fixtures that mimic bare incandescent light bulbs. Visual artwork is palpably absent from the walls, though a mural-sized black and white photo of Costa's Italian progenitors occupies one wall. The tables are wooden and small, and are spaced remarkably close together. It is not a room for the claustrophobic and imparts the feeling of communal dining, whether or not one wants it.
Corso's menu changes frequently and is not strictly Italian, though pasta and insalati are nods to Costa's ethnic roots. The menu, like the décor, includes nothing superfluous and is a brief collection of starters, mains and dessert. We select arancini ($10)—deep-fried rice balls from Sicily—as an appetizer. Corso 32 reinvents these steaming, crisp spheres by stuffing them with slices of earthy shitake mushroom, nips of speck, and a molten centre of caccia cheese. These flavours imbue the rice with flavour both meaty and rich, accentuated by the delicately crisp, bread crumb exterior. Five arancini are arranged on a simple white plate, their auburn coating emulating the warm-hued wooden tables against the white walls.
Locally produced meat features heavily on Corso 32's menu, and we order porcini-crusted 48-hour chuck flat steak with shaved celery root and arugula salad ($26) and spicy game hen "under a brick" with pickled zucchini, radish and pine nut salad ($27). My steak, which is long, narrow and impossibly thick, is sliced into medallions and crowned with ivory-coloured, paper-thin sections of celery root and pine-green arugula leaves. A judicious dribble of balsamic vinegar adorns the plate's perimeter. A delicate crust of finely minced porcini mushrooms imparts a deep, dark and divine essence to the meat. The steak itself scarcely requires a knife to cut it, much less teeth to chew it. I am hesitant to use hyperbole, but it would not be hyperbolic to state that this is the finest piece of beef I have tasted in Alberta. A hearty glass of Batasiolo Barolo ($12) is a pleasing companion; its deep, robust notes of plum, leather and rose are enhanced, rather than overpowered, by the beef.
My fellow gourmand tucks into her game hen, which has been halved longitudinally and flattened to ensure even cooking. The fowl's delicate skin crunches with every mouthful, each bite a naughty intersection of cracklings and spice. Long ribbons of pickled zucchini caress coins of sharp radish, and provide a cool contrast to the tender hen, which is hot in both temperature and spice level. San Gregorio Primitivo ($8) is the recommended wine. This red is light, with hints of berries and flowers, and thumbs its nose at the worn-out "reds with red meat and whites with white meat" rule.
We select a wedge of sticky toffee cake with pears ($9) for dessert. Wafts of cinnamon and spice emanate from the warm wedge before us. The cake is slightly crisp on top but impossibly tender underneath, tasting of rich toffee, brown sugar and luxurious hints of butter. Cold cubes of poached pear add a watery but firm chill, much like a brisk autumn evening surrounds a warm campfire.
Minimalism is a risk: when one pares away all aspects of embellishment, what remains must approach perfection otherwise shortcomings are glaring without the benefit of other distractions. Corso 32 fills such a tall order with ease. V
10345 Jasper Ave
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