Having our hearts set on Italian, we turned to commercial drive and the well known “Marcello’s”. I have never had a meal here that I didn’t like. I always leave full with plenty of leftovers for the following day. Plus with their larger dining area I was almost certain we could get a table without reservations on a Saturday night.
Not only were we seated right away, but our server approached us within minutes and our food came shortly after. Maybe it was because of their efficient team, or maybe it was because we had expressed our immediate hunger. Either way we were thrilled to be eating after searching for a place like this a good 45 minutes before.
It was a large open space that narrowed towards the back, tapering into a thin hall. And it was within this thin hallway that we were seated. Had we been willing to wait, maybe we wouldn’t have to settle on table all the way in the back, right by the restrooms. Though depending on the person, this area wasn’t all that bad. It was a more secluded and therefore more quite. Away from the clanging of the opening kitchen and the chattering from the crowd eating. I just thought it was a shame that we didn’t get a dining view of the handsome stone faced oven; and the steaming pizzas as they came up to pass. A large oven that stood prominently as you entered. With vacant eyes, protruding nose, and a gaping mouth which pizza on a board slid easily into. Once baked golden the pizzas sat steaming under heat lamps until ready to be served.
The tables were taller than the chairs surrounding them. Maybe I am just too short, but I felt like I had to hunch up and forward to accommodate their lowered level. These bleach wooden tables came with rod iron accents. The same black iron that was used on the gates that flanked the surrounding door sized windows, and that were crafted into balconies for the shelves secured high up on the wall. On these, sat potted plants that gave the room a breath of fresh air. The vaulted ceilings and regally framed mirrors gave the illusion of depth of space. And the lighting fixtures that centred the room were hung in a row casting a romantic orange glow. It was not until half the restaurant cleared out by 8:30pm did I realize there was upbeat music playing. I guess the echo of voices conversing hid this well. My only real gripe over decor is the irregularly spaced stalls in the woman’s washroom. A woman of more girth would have found issues with a set up like this. Though the terra cotta tiles and stone Roman bust were an elegant touch.
Since we were having Italian, we thought we would keep it within the country and enjoy things with Italian beer by the bottle and a large glass of red wine from Italy.
“Pasticiatti” gnocchi. Traditional Italian home made potato and egg dumplings sautéed in a cream and meat sauce. I was surprised that I didn’t get sick of the taste, usually mid way through a heavy pasta dish you feel the need to take a break. Though this dish was good all he way through. The gnocchi was light and each round, a great chewy bite covered in a savory thick sauce. The sauce was your classic meaty tomato sauce, boiled to an enjoyable thickness and lumpy consistency. I wished I had a side of garlic toast to sop up the excess.
“Lasagna” layers of spinach noodles an meat sauce topped with bechamel. Prepared from scratch in their kitchen and baked to an oozy perfection. Hot and bubbly with layers of gooey cheese and thick ground beef, all wrapped up in a velvety sauce. It is a great balance between hearty meat and airy cheese. The green noodles were a new twist, and one that added a new flavour element to the traditional baked lasagna. Creamy texture, el dente noodles, and a thick sauce. Everything was so tender that it was easily cut into with a knife. Still hot on the last bites, my guest had to do the thing where you take a bite and attempt to balance it on your tongue while blowing to cool the morsel down.
With a majestic oven like theirs you have to try one of their thin crust pizzas. It is not often you get to watch your pizza baked in a fiery wood burning oven. You begin by choosing your pie in either a medium or large size. Select from a listing of predetermined ingredients or customize things as you see fit. I was delighted to be given the possibility for a half half for ours, when my guest and I couldn’t agree on toppings. He chose the “Prosciutto E. Funghi” made with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, and mushrooms. And I the “Capricciosa” made with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, salame, artichokes, black olives, and mushrooms. I added eggplant for the novelty, as the option of it on a pizza intrigued me. The eggplant was moist, soften without being soggy. I actually removed it from atop the pizza and enjoyed it as is. They didn’t add anything to its visual appeal, nor were they needed for the over all taste. Plus the chefs mistakenly placed the three grilled slices on my guest’s half, who does not like the taste or scent of eggplant. As an avid olive enthusiast I was delighted to have as much as I did per slice. Both pizzas tasted similar with the very distinct flavouring of prosciutto. The only difference was the addition of more vegetables on my half.
The pizza crust was heavy with loaded ingredients, and therefore soft and doughy in the middle. Though it’s edges retained an enjoyable crunchy and airy texture. The baking process with smoked wood gave things a noticeable earthy flavour. Both halves were definitely fresh, and you could tell it was all made by hand. Though for my taste, things could have use more cheese. And that is exactly what I added when I reinvented them as leftovers. Luckily I was able to get what I couldn’t finish, packaged up in a box to go.
Our server was friendly and attentive, she made it a point to never be too far away for too long. As was the case of the other server who also worked the narrow stretch of hall we were seated in. We were checked on regularly, our order was brought out quickly, and she even apologized for not noting which side of the pizza we wanted the eggplant on. We couldn’t ask for more from a casual Italian restaurant like this. Only once did I have to get up to track her down, this was after failing to capture her attention with a few loud “excuse me’s”. She gave us space and allowed us to sit and nurse our drinks, there was no rush to leave, but some pressure came with the premature bill drop off. This move was despite 3/4 of the restaurant being emptied. Though the complementary after dinner candies helped to win me over once more.
The following are pictures of plates I have enjoyed in the past, during precious visits.
A mix of marinade and grilled vegetables of the day. Olives, mushrooms, artichoke, eggplant, and peppers in red and green. This collection of soft charred vegetables came with warm grilled pita as the perfect eating platform.
“Affettato Misto”. Sliced salame, prosciutto crudo, spiced pancetta. The addition of grilled focaccia and olives helped to break up the otherwise overwhelming nature of salty meat. Thankfully we had also ordered the grilled vegetable platter, these two dishes coupled well together.
“Fornarnina”, not to be mistaken for pizza, despite its look. This thin and crispy flat bread was baked up before it was topped up with fresh ingredients. This was the “Ortolana” prepared with fresh tomato slices, arugula, and bocconcini cheese.
When sharing a pizza with a vegetarian, it is best to order something that everyone can enjoy. The “Vegetariana” is made with tomato sauce, mozzarella, artichoke, mushroom, green pepper, and onions.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
The food was as expected, it did not disappoint in quantity or price. It all came quickly and all pipping hot. A collection of stunning colours from fresh grilled vegetables and home made sauces. It was the perfect comfort meal on a cold and wet Vancouver night. We left well fed, with plenty leftover for the days to come. Italian food always taste good the second day, when flavours are allowed to soak and marinade. Don’t deny your cravings.