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Vivo Ristorante serves up casual, quality Italian food in Windermere

Located in the Currents of Windermere shopping centre across from the Cineplex Odeon, the latest addition to Vivo Ristorante’s small chain of high-quality, locally sourced Italian
eateries has brought new life to a former Chili’s location.

Chef Medi Tabtoub greets me warmly, dressed in chef ’s whites that clearly show he’s already encountered a tomato or two. Today, the restaurant has just opened for Friday lunch service and is still awaiting its first customers as the clatter of work can be heard from the kitchen.

Vivo Ristorante first started in 2011 with its flagship location in West Edmonton on Lessard Road. Tabtoub says managing partners Gregg Kenney and Wilbur Randall, along with silent partners like Grace De Rose, whose “vivacious family meals” growing up inspired the restaurant’s family-style dining, wanted to create something different.

“When I say different, I mean an open kitchen,” says the chef. “Back then, there were not many open kitchens in Edmonton.”

Guests at the Lessard Road restaurant could sit at the chef ’s counter and watch their food being prepared from scratch.

“The cooks start from the beginning — taking the pan, adding the oil, butter, garlic, onion — and start cooking your meal,” Tabtoub explains.

Vivo also focuses on using local Alberta ingredients, including tomatoes from Gull Valley Greenhouses in Blackfalds, and vegetables like peppers and eggplants from Doef ’s Greenhouses in Lacombe. “You know, whatever we can get locally, that was the mentality since they opened,” Tabtoub says. “Same with some of the cheeses.” Although things like limes and lemons aren’t grown in Canada, they strive to use as much from local farmers as possible.

The chef originally started with Vivo at the West Edmonton location in 2016. When Kenney, Randall and a number of silent partners opened a location in downtown in early 2017, Tabtoub moved there. Sadly after only 10 months, the location had fallen on hard times and filed for bankruptcy, but not because of the concept. The two-level restaurant offered not only Vivo’s signature
family-style fine dining, where guests order dishes to share, but a more casual dining experience with a pizzeria and taverna as well.

Convinced they had something special despite the closure, Vivo opened once again, offering more casual fare at their Currents of Windermere location.

“We still have the same quality of food as the other locations, but because we’re close to the Cineplex, a lot of people come for a quick bite at night and they don’t [always] have time to stay for a one-hour dinner,” Tabtoub says. “That’s why the menu at this location focuses more on … appetizers, for just [something] quick or just a drink.”

The antipasti at Vivo in Currents of Windermere includes a lot of the things you’d expect — like meatballs and bruschetta — and some more on-trend dishes, like deep fried Brussels sprouts and deep fried cauliflower in BBQ sauce.

The menu also features a selection of pizzas and pastas, and, according to one of the bartenders, the Ravioli Funghi is one of the most popular items. The dish features wild mushroom-stuffed pasta served with spinach, fresh Parmesan and even more mushrooms in a white wine sauce. Everything on the plate is fresh and vibrant, and the portion is not so large as to prevent guests from taking a peek at Vivo’s small but decadent dessert menu, which includes fresh baked cookies and a creamy, rich tiramisu.

To accompany the repast, Vivo also offers a selection of wines, beers — both on tap and by the bottle — and some signature cocktails.

So far, Tabtoub says that the restaurant’s busiest times are between 4 and 8 p.m., with a few moviegoers trickling in later. He and his team are still working on building up the lunch
clientele. Because the restaurant that previously operated out of the location wasn’t open for lunch, “[not] many people know we are open.” Luckily, though, the chef is no stranger to building up business in the area.

“I opened Buco Windermere in February 2018,” he says, “It was the same thing — the lunch service is a business that we have to build there.” Tabtoub says it took about eight months before
that location started to see good lunch traffic.

As to why he and his partners chose Currents of Windermere for the new location, Randall says, “That area of Edmonton is one of the fastest growing areas in the city, [with] lots of people,
and just a great opportunity to expose our brand to more people.”

Tabtoub is also a big fan of the area: he lives in Ambleside, the neighbourhood just south of the shopping centre.

Born in Morocco, and raised and educated in France, Tabtoub met his Canadian wife when she came to study in Paris. When she moved back to Vancouver, he started coming to visit her in Canada.

“I will never forget when I came as a visitor to Edmonton for the first time — I came to meet her parents here — I think it was minus 25 or 27, and I thought, ‘Never, never ever will I come and live here.”

Despite the cold, Tabtoub’s life and career are now firmly established here, having moved to Edmonton officially in 2016. And with the new location to promote, he is trying his hand at cooking competitions. In October, he will compete against eight other local chefs in the Edmonton qualifier for Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, having placed fourth at the event in 2018.

The chef invites you to join him at Vivo Windermere for lunch or to try the restaurant’s new brunch menu.

By Chelsea Novak