I wanted to take my brother Five Stars (formerly known as Jacuzzi) out for Italian food. I picked Rea’s Italian Cucina, a restaurant I’ve heard from acquaintances who swear the food at Rea’s reminds their nonna’s cooking. Let’s listen to the “Pasta Song” La Famiglia for this post.
When we arrived, I noticed most of the customers appeared to be of Italian heritage, which I considered an excellent indicator of what was to come. L commented he liked the old-school vibe, dark furniture, prominent paintings, and curtained windows. Five Stars said he was surprised every table was filled by 6:35 pm. L informed him that Calgarians prefer to eat early.
Our server, Dante, greeted L as he recognized him. It turns out that Dante is the owners’ son and a Haskayne School of Business student. What a small world.
For drinks, I ordered a glass of Ripassa (9 oz, $19), L picked a glass of Peroni ($8.50), while Five Stars chose an Orangina ($4.50). For food, I ordered the Calamari ($17), Salsiccia Casa Sausage ($17), Linguine Mare ($31), Fusilli Ferraro ($23), and a medium pizza, the Sandro Special ($24).
I recommend ordering appetizers, as the two we tried kicked some serious ass. The sausage had a spicy kick with a generous fat-lean ratio. What stood out for me was the chewy texture and unique seasoning. The tomato basil sauce was just beautiful, robust with a vibrant tomato flavour. All sausages should aspire to be Rea’s sausage. L and Five Stars said this was their favourite appetizer.
Five Stars noticed that I handed my phone to L to take pictures of the food and asked him if he usually took photos. With a long-suffering sigh, L rolled his eyes and confided that he had always taken the pictures but never received any credit. I retorted that L has a better eye for photography than I do, and I also make Five Stars take photos for me. I thought but did not say it was lovely they could bond over a common complaint.
I preferred the calamari wasn’t deep-fried because you could enjoy the satiny texture, and L mentioned it was cooked perfectly. The ringlets were silky smooth, and tender. We both loved the tangy sauce. L pointed out the big difference between the sausage’s tomato sauce and the calamari. I tried the two side-by-side and thought the tomato sauce in the calamari tasted more like olive oil. I would get the calamari again.
After a suitable amount of time, our mains arrived. The pizza dough was homemade and in between a Greek-style and Neapolitan crust. Covered in molten cheese, I could detect a pleasingly strong smoky flavour. The olives, prosciutto and cheese tasted extra good to me.
The fusilli was my favourite because of the pure decadence of the rose sauce. The creamy sauce was so smooth and luscious that I cleaned the plate. Five Stars mentioned he liked the texture of the fusilli. Slick with a slippery sauce, the surface still had a slight chew.
The linguine mare is one of Rea’s signature dishes. There was almost as much sauce as noodles, which I loved because the tomato sauce was so thick, fresh and balanced. L and Five Stars were surprised there was so much seafood. The ratio of clams, mussels, scallops, shrimp and calamari to noodles was even. The flavour of all the shellfish was prominent, though the brightness of the tomato sauce cut through some of it. I dig the cheeses Rea uses in the pasta and pizza – it’s more flavourful and tastes better than the one I use at home.
I would come back. I’d order everything again, but I want to try the veal tortellini for variation, and L said he wants to try the chicken parmesan. We shared everything, so the amount of food we ordered was perfect. We only had half a pizza left over. Five Stars declared this was his favourite meal in Calgary. He asked how we found it. L gestured to me, and I explained I’d heard about this restaurant for over a decade now, as it has a reputation for homestyle Italian food. Hitting the Sauce gives Rea’s two phat thumbs up.