Pity the humble, dependable, unostentatious restaurant. While it’s easy to crank out a few hundred words on a great, terrible or merely weird dining experience, the task of describing an eatery that consistently delivers good quality and value in an unobtrusively pleasant setting is more challenging, which makes it easy to overlook or understate such a venue’s merits.
I submit for your consideration Tasty Tomato, a reliable, family-friendly, go-to Italian restaurant that’s been knocking out great meals in a clean, orderly dining room on Stony Plain Road for nigh on two decades, without putting on the airs that might be due to them for surviving so long in a notoriously tough racket. The brick-lined dining room, dominated by a big service counter with a pass-through window on the kitchen, is less ambient than functional, the lighting a little too bright and even to be considered romantic. The service is prompt, attentive and friendly, never fussy. And the menu, while not stocked with surprises, offers plenty of selection within the realm of pastas and Italian-style appetizers (eggplant parm, calamari, etc) and entrées (veal, chicken).
Sitting down in such an unpretentious place, where the server addresses your table as “you guys” and the most conspicuous ornamental touch is a cola-branded cooler behind the bar, I instantly felt reassured that the food would be delicious (and most likely copious). The tough part was choosing which Italian staple I would sample, though I’ve found that waiting until the last moment to choose and blurting something out can achieve positive results. In this case, I blurted out that my co-diner and I would share the insalata Caprese ($11.95), and that I would have the linguine alle vongole ($16.95). My co-diner was much cooler and opted for the linguine Monte Carlo ($18.95) before I blurted out that we would also like to take advantage of the Monday-Thursday half-price deal on bottles of wine.
Moments after our order was placed (or, in my case, blurted), we were presented with a hunger-offsetting basket of fresh, warm focaccia bread and its complementary dish of olive oil swirled with balsamic vinegar. There was little delay in the arrival of the Caprese salad, a generous portion of tomato slices topped with discs of creamy bocconcini cheese, drizzled with the same oil and vinegar and a few capers. It was pretty much exactly what you expect, provided you expect good-quality ingredients, and the co-diner and I made short work of the serving.
Our salad plates were dutifully collected to make way for the big dishes of pasta that were imminent. And what dishes of pasta they were. Most people would opt for a traditional white wine sauce on a plate of linguine with baby clams, but to them I say, not so fast. The house tomato sauce is rich and tangy, sure, but it pairs beautifully with the tender-chewy orts of seafood and with the value-priced valpolicella. Like Tasty Tomato itself, a well-structured tomato sauce that integrates all its components, especially garlic, into a seamless flavour sensation is a commendable culinary feat that shouldn’t go unremarked but too often does.
My co-diner’s linguine featured a generous quantity of chicken, mushrooms and sundried tomatoes in white-wine rosé sauce that exquisitely amped up the richness of the house tomato sauce. Where I found my food too appetizing to keep from slurping most of it back, her restraint was rewarded with a sizeable portion of pasta to enjoy for the next day’s lunch.
Just because I was full didn’t mean I was about to stop eating, so I persuaded the co-diner we needed to share dessert, specifically the bacio nero ($6.55)—a globe of dark chocolate gelato with a heart of tart-sweet raspberry ice. Despite her protestations, she held up her end when it came to finishing it off.
Let the fancy gourmet joints bask in their high-falutin’ superlatives. All you need to know is that Tasty Tomato serves great Italian food at reasonable prices, and they deserve your patronage.
14233 Stony Plain Rd