I was so delighted to be invited to Cardinale for a complimentary lunch and a chance to check out their new spring cocktail list along with a few of their tantalizing menu items. From the moment we stepped inside and smelled the garlicky aroma coming from the kitchen, Matt and I were kicking ourselves for not coming by sooner. It’s an adorable newish place in our neighbourhood (replacing La Vita é Bella – RIP) and they are hot, hot, hot right now after just being named by Avenue as one of Calgary’s 25 Best Restaurants. (This should honestly be your summer dining list – bookmark that link, friends!)
Neither of us had put on any sunscreen (#palepeopleproblems) so the adorable patio was out, but we were instead seated at a lovely, naturally-lit table inside the small dining room. The entire cocktail list was dazzling. At $12 per drink, it was packed with fun Italian ingredients and many of the names seemed to be themed around films! It’s always tough to choose, especially on a hot day, but two crave-able drinks immediately jumped out at us.
Matt ordered the Il Bidone named after a 50’s Italian crime film), made with Poli Miele, Amaro Montenegro, Cocchi Vermouth Amaro, lemon, citrus syrup, angostura bitters and soda. It reminded me of a boozy Arnold Palmer with a sweet, citrusy tang that brightened the drink while mellowing the naturally harsh angostura bitters and leaving it at more of a brewed tea level of bitterness.
My drink was the Suspiria (an Italian horror movie being rebooted in 2018!), made with a lovely mixture of Aperol, Amaro Lucano, Marsala wine, strawberries, basil, lemon, balsamic reduction and strawberry leaf bitters. The citrus and strawberry both came through nicely with an overall sweet result that satisfied my insatiable and simultaneous cravings for both sangria and margaritas. We agreed this was our favourite of the two we tried!
For food, we went entirely with items recommended by our server. We started with the Gamberi ($17), or salt-baked prawns with jalapeno, pickled fennel, basil and garlic aioli. I couldn’t tell that the fennel was pickled as it was dried out via baking, but even when baked it provided a fresh flavour along with the basil leaves and the five juicy prawns. There weren’t any jalapenos that we could see, but that didn’t bother either of us. The aioli was nice, simple and slightly acidic – perfect for dunking with our expertly prepared prawns. The shells had been split for us, making them very easy to eat!
For our lunch-sized mains, we had the Tortiglione ($16) with pork sausage, prosciutto and pancetta. This was a super salty answer to bolognese. I would have preferred this with some other flavours to compensate for all those cured meats, but our server did warn us about the saltiness and I see how a dish like this would help incentivize patrons to order more refreshing wine and cocktails. It was still delicious, but I don’t think I would order it again. Perhaps that isn’t fair though, as it was being compared to the next dish, my new favourite:
The star of the show was the gorgeous Mafalda ($14) with ricotta cream, broccolini and pistachio pesto. This was super creamy, luxurious, garlicky and 100% addictive. The curly mafalda noodles were shaped like the crimped edges of lasagna, which provided a lot of surface area for the clingy cream sauce. The broccolini added value as well and brought to mind the freshness of peas or asparagus in a lovely, springy dish. This was a big winner and we’re already talking about what else we’d order alongside this dish on our next trip back!
Cardinale (401 12 Ave SE) has a great atmosphere inside with a cute patio tucked away from the main street. They take OpenTable reservations and are so close to the Stampede grounds that they kind of seem like a no-brainer option before a big event. The lunch portions felt like a decent value for such high quality ingredients and I’d be curious to try one of their protein-focused mains (up to $30 each) for dinner sometime. This would be a really nice spot for a work lunch if it’s not too much of a commute from your office. Luckily for us, it’s just a few minutes away from home. Combine that factor with the delicious drinks, cute patio and addictive pasta dishes – we’ll definitely be back!