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Category: Italian Page 1 of 9

CinCin, $30 prix fixe menu

Got my hair done, and when it is short and your stylist curls it, so it is the only time it will look this good, you need to go out to showcase it. And coincidentally @pickydiner had the same idea and mind set. Individually we got primped and together we met up at CinCin for their $30 three course menu. (He starting before me.) Coincidentally running every including today (Wednesday), Thursday, and Saturday, on from now until February 4th. So you only have one week left to take advantage of this deal before they switch into their Dine Out 2021 menu.

Once a restaurant I deemed only for special occasions, now offering everyday dining prices, which was ideal for an impromptu meal as such.

We sat at the bar, because that is the best place to post up when you want to drink, and have the bar managers adjacent to suggest and craft the perfect cocktail for you. Plus great lighting.

The meal began with a complimentary serving of focaccia and potato bread, served with an olive tapenade swimming in quality olive oil. Delicately brined, delicious olives that would make an appearance in my meal again, and just as good then.

The amuse bouche was a shot’s worth of butternut squash soup. Four sips of rich cream, done in all the right ways. A great treat to set the tone of service and caliber to continue.

The following are the cocktails we enjoyed. Keep in mind, we did order them and had them spaced out throughout our multiple course meal.

The Luna Ross’s was a warming cocktail with red wine qualities. Made with Jim Beam bourbon, and Campari, Elisir Gambrinus, lemon, and orange.

The Yamabushi caught my eye as a spicy margarita with Japanese influences. Yuzu, cazadores blanco tequila, grand marnier, and a sprinkle of togarashi over top. It was a refreshing citrus cooler, but didn’t have the savoury umami flavour of the togarashi, as I had hoped.

And taking advantage of our seating, we then begin requesting cocktails not on the menu. Drinks from the vast repertoire of our skilled bartenders. This one was once on CinCin’s bar menu, but has since been retired. They couldn’t recall the name, but did regale us with a story. This was a mix bag: sweet from the egg whites, noteworthy for the liquorice notes, finished off with floral tendencies. It basically tasted as pretty as it looks with lemon juice, gin, egg whites, pineapple, and Liquore Strega. The latter is an Italian spirit with a fun story. The tale goes that a man finds a witch caught in a trap in a forest , he sets her free, and this spirit’s recipe is her gift to him.

We followed that up with a similar cocktail in look. This was the “In Bloom”, the most popular cocktail in the now shuttered West Restaurant. A gin sour with elderflower and cardamom. The pronounced ginger flavour in this made it a great digestive.

And then came the night cap with the popular combination of espresso and Kaluha. A towering glass poured to have a gradient of whites to grey, then brown. Though be sure to drink it quick as the colours do end up merging.

As for food, here is what I ordered, and I want to note how quickly it came out. My first course was the squid, chosen over the Caesar salad, meatballs, and beef carpaccio. A grilled humboldt flying squid with arugula, chili, lemon, and olive oil. This was a beautiful piece of seafood, grill fire forward, but not much flavour otherwise. I would have liked a dipping sauce, some tang to help highlight, even the olive mix over the steak would have been nice here.

When faced between the choices of salmon, veal osso bucco, saffron risotto, or handmade rigatoni pasta; I went for the wood grilled sirloin of beef. It came highly recommend by @pickydiner who only just finished his portion mere minutes before I had arrived. It was a beautiful thick cut, the perfect portion size to satiate you, but also leaving you wanting more. It was prepared the ideal medium rare, a clean slice with a little sawing motion necessary. Similarly it was tender with substantial chewing needed, furthered along by the jelly-like fat that coated it and a smear in the buttery smooth polenta.

For dessert @pickydiner waited for me so we could try both the tiramisu and their doughnuts together. The zeppole is an Italian doughnut with a chocolate caramel sauce for dipping. The dough practically melts in your mouth with how airy and light it is. The dip, a liquid coating that drips, so dig in aplenty.

Truth be told, I am not a fan of tiramisu for its texture or unanimous lack of crunch and chew. But the flavour from the espresso and rum-soaked ladyfingers with coffee mascarpone cream was delicious. I wanted it as a cocktail. Or for this type of texture I rather have panda cotta.

Lastly, our meal ended with another little surprise: a one bit of their made in house guava jelly and lemon madeleine. The cakey madeleine refreshed with citrus and was the texture I wanted from a cake. But the guava was the highlight. A perfect chewy and fragrant drop, that I wish I had a whole bag of, to take home with me.

In short, I highly recommend this prix fixe menu. It is only available for the next week: Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Just before they switch into their Dine Out Vancouver 2021 menu. But if this is any indication of what they will be offering from their choose your own, three course meal they are certainly worth checking out then as well.

CinCin Ristorante + Bar
1154 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6E 1B2
(604) 688-7338
cincin.net

21 Days of 1/2 Priced Pasta at Water St. Café

With all that is happening concerning Covid, business closures, and the struggling hospitality industry; the world’s pandemic has been overpowering all the good that usually comes out of the season. The season of giving and the need to help those less fortunate isn’t front and centre, as it has been in the past. So in comes Water Street Cafe, Gastown’s long term staple, determined to do some good, and kick 2021 off on a positive note.

If you visit Water Street Cafe or their second floor dining room and music lounge: 2nd Floor Gastown; they are giving to those willing to give back. Visit between January 1st and the 21st, 2021 with a non-perishable food donation for the Vancouver Food Bank, and you get 50% off any of their pasta dishes. Or buy one get one free if you bring a friend and contribute 2 cans.

There are six pasta options to choose from, and this excludes their 4 gnocchis, unfortunately. However with some pastas around $10 after the discount, it is certainly worth visiting multiple times before the 21st. The following is our top 3 choices that we tried during this visit.

The Spaghetti Alle Vongole was a lightly dressed pasta tossed with a generous amount of manila clams; along side garlic, shallots, white wine, heirloom tomato, and fresh herbs. Be sure to mix up as the sauce does pool. The bare dressing allowed for much of the clam flavour to shine through. But I personally could have used more butteriness to it, and additional cherry tomatoes for their added freshness. At $13.50 half off, this is the time to try it, if you have been eyeing it.

The Pappardelle Bolognese was a classic with its beef, veal and pork sauce made with roma tomato and fresh herbs. When I think of pasta, I think sweet and tangy, so this one hit the mark for me. This was a clean dish that you can make out the quality of ingredients within. And at $9.88 after the promotion, you can’t loose, and might as well order another to go.

The Orecchiette Pesto was our server’s favourite and I can see why. This dish was well balanced with plenty of broccoli florets, alongside the broccoli-basil pesto, roasted garlic, pistachios, and asiago cheese. It wasn’t heavy or rich, but ate more like a pasta salad. It had great flavour and longevity for $10.25, after the donation deal. This one I would order again out of the three, after trying the other 3 available options, of course.

And if you are like me, you aren’t just going to come in to Water Street Cafe for pasta. With their stunning location and breezy, yet sophisticated dining room; you are probably going to want to make a night of it, and order drinks and appetizers to start. Here is what we had.

I ordered the Vancouver Martini made with Odd Society East Van vodka, dry vermouth, and olives. I definitely grew into martinis as my palette evolved and I discovered the art of holding spirits in specific parts of your tongue. Then chasing it with sharp flavours, like the olives, to leave the best lasting impression in your mouth. This cocktail is a winner in those regards.

My guest had the Earl Grey Old Fashion. A twist on the classic with Jim Beam bourbon, earl grey syrup, bitters, orange peel, and a cherry. It was a lovely spirit, but it kept me looking for the nuance of the black tea, and left me missing the smokiness of an Old Fashion completely.

We followed our cocktails with 9oz of the house red blend each. Red, to best pair with our pastas above. This was a red that grew on you, a medium body that ran well with the salty cheeses of our pasta specials above.

As for appetizers, before we even made our selection, the chef sent over a lovely amuse bouche, as a thoughtful gesture. A dollop of their Salmon Tartar over a cucumber slice, which so happened to be one of the starters we were considering. This was smoked and raw BC salmon, cucumber, dill, shallot, sesame, and avocado; in a ponzu reduction. The perfect fragrant bite to wet our appetites with, and allow us to try something else.

Like the Bison Carpaccio. This is the dish I like to order for those who have yet to visit Water Street Cafe. It is a sumptuous offering that really showcases the restaurant’s fine yet approachable style. It is Albertan Bison, pink peppercorn, shaved parmesan, truffle aioli, greens, and crispy capers. Despite the list of bold flavours, was a completely balanced dish with the cheesy cream sauce, hint of truffle, the tangy capers, and the peppery salad.

It is best paired with additional freshness from the Burrata Caprese. Heirloom and Roma tomatoes, basil, salsa verde, white balsamic glaze, sun dried tomato pesto, and himalayan pink salt. I love the delicate yet bold flavours of this starter, whereas my guest didn’t find it salty enough. I definitely suggest catering the perfect bite by layering all the above mentioned ingredients together for a harmonious mouthful.

In the heart of Gastown, with the best seat in the house, I definitely recommend a visit to Water Street Cafe if you haven’t been in, in while; or have never gotten a chance to. Where else can you better people watch and take in the hourly chimes and steam of Gastown’s favourite monument? Plus you have until January 21st, 2021 to do good and eat well for less. Half off pasta are worth travelling for.

Water St. Café
300 Water St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1B6
(604) 689-2832
waterstreetcafe.ca

Olive Garden, cheap eats

I have never been to Olive Garden prior to today. My own knowledge of the North American chain is based on what I have heard from others. So when my friend suggested that we check out their only BC location, in Langley; and that she is willing to drive us there, I had no reason not to give them a try.

Walking in, they are your generic Italian themed restaurant, mocked up to look like a house and home with curtains over windows, a mock balcony railing, creep greenery, and wood accents.

Their menu is pretty hefty, with a selection that promises to offer at least one thing your most pickiest diner would like. But we didn’t look through any of it. We were here on a mission, here to take advantage of the unlimited soup and breadsticks combo.

Having been before, my guest knew what to inquire over, when she didn’t see the $7.99 offer for unlimited bowls of any of their four varieties of in house made soups, and baked to order breadsticks. Although sadly the server had not known and mistakenly said that only the $14.99 combo of unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks exist now. And that we were probably referencing a promotion that only exists in the States, where “everything is cheaper”. So not knowing any better I order a soup, the salad, and a basket of breadsticks to share to start. Only to not like the salad (or any leafy salad for that matter), to not finish it and then be charged for it. Whereas my dining companion knew that she does not like their salad, so refrained from ordering it and stuck to a bowl of soup and our shared breadsticks. And lucky her, because advertised or not, any bowl of soup is $7.99, it comes with as many refills as you like. Or you can try any of the other three varieties of soup instead. And all the breadsticks are complimentary. So to summarize, she basically got what she wanted, despite the restaurant cleverly not recommending or advertising it on the menu.

The above made me upset, I only ordered the salad because I thought only the $14.99 deal existed, and I figured that I might as well maximize my order. One, to try it for the very first time. Two, to review it for this blog. And three, to maximize my monies worth. Although after a forkful, I felt like I did not. Here is the math: If $7.99 gets you as much soup as you want, and breadsticks are free, it means you are paying $7.00 for all the salad you want. And without any other options, you are only getting a giant bowl of shredded lettuce with a couple of tomato slices, a lot more red onion segments, a few olives, and a small handful of crouton cubes. The saving grace was the unlimited amount of mozzarella cheese you can have your server shred over your salad or soup. Basically your own personal shame is the only thing stopping you from enjoying a whole brick of cheese over top your otherwise unremarkable salad. In summary, the salad isn’t worth it and just go for the soup instead.

From my least to most enjoyed soup. The “Zuppa Toscana” was good, but compared to the others, it ended up being the one I liked the least. However, this spicy Italian sausage, kale and potato in a cream broth was my guest’s favourites soup. Enough so that she had it customized with more and larger leaves of kale, and stuck with only it throughout our dinner. Ending in 2 bowls cleared.

Once again, the second soup I liked the least is only in comparison to the flavours of all the other soups. I found the “Minestrone” with fresh vegetable, beans, and pasta in a light tomato sauce on the blander side. It drank thin and watery whereas I wanted a more rich soup, ideal for dipping the chewy breadsticks in.

Richness was what I got from the “Chicken and Gnocchi”. This was a creamy soup made from roasted chicken, Italian dumplings and spinach. It ate somewhat like a meal with the starch and amount of meat present. This was a great one to dip the warm and toasty breadsticks into.

However, my favourite soup was the “Pasta e Fagioli”, ironically only after I removed all the red and white beans from my servicing. Ironic, because the word Fagioli means, “bean”. Only then did the soup eat more like a runnier lasagna with quality ground beef, tender pasta rounds, and plenty of cheese I added on top.

The total of this meal came to under $30. A great deal of savings if you are only looking to drink yourself full. And as a bonus you get a lovely mint chocolate to end on, and can pack up any of the soup or breadsticks before you, that you don’t finish.

Olive Garden Italian Restaurant
20080 Langley Bypass, Langley City, BC V3A 9J7
(604) 514-3499
olivegarden.com

Water St. Café, take out

With the need to distance yourself socially, given the viral landscape we are currently living in, local restaurants are doing what they can to stay a float during these uncertain times. Many of them, such as “Water St. Cafe” are offering customers promotional pricing and deals. Like if you purchase a $50 “Water St. Cafe” gift card you get a second one at $15. It doesn’t need to be gifted. If you are planning on purchasing take out from them, you might as well buy a gift card to use as payment. The two together covers a full meal including appetizer, entree, and desert.

You can’t dine in, but you can still have the perfect romantic date night date by setting the mood for yourself, at home. And I can speak from experience, their food taste just as good out of biodegradable, cardboard take out boxes as it does from off of their dish ware served on their white clothed tables. Albeit, you don’t get their stunning view of the Gastown clock, but as a whole it can be whatever you make out of it.

Their full menu is available for take out or delivery via “Skip The Dishes” and “Uber Eats”. The following is what we ordered to celebrate the first day of spring. It is all about the little things right now, simple joys and any reason to be jovial. I suggest taking them all. Plus, indulging like this also supports local businesses like “Water St.” who have been serving Gastown for the last 32 years.

The “Water St. Salad” is a popular appetizer to share. A dressed bowl of Tuscan greens topped with heirloom tomatoes, goat cheese, half an avocado, pumpkin seeds, and cucumber; all coated in a honey lemon olive oil vinaigrette. A light start, better served as a side to accompany all the food before us.

The “West Coast crab cakes” are declared a “Water Street Cafe tradition” by the menu. A battered and deep fried round that includes Pacific rock crab and baby shrimp, served with preserve citrus, fennel, arugula, and a saffron aioli. Another light plate to wet the appetite with. A little bland as is, but ideal with the aioli that helps to brighten the serving up; along with a side of fennel for some crunch.

The “Short rib pappardelle” is one that never disappoints. It features 72 hour braised short rib raguet, confit garlic, fresh basil, and Asiago cheese. A comforting serving that fully satisfies with its sheets of thick el dente noodles, evenly coated in the sweeter tomato sauce and tender pulled meat. This is one I recommend.

The “Grilled wild bc salmon” was a great one to kick off spring with. Made with balsamic and honey pickled blueberries, and served with pan roasted potatoes. A flavourful main that I would have liked best if the salmon was left a little more raw, for a more silken texture. Something with a lot more moisture to offer in contrast to the soften potatoes, crisp veggies, and juicy berries.

The “Braised beef short rib” was a stunning plate. Two generous pieces of sous vide Prince Edward Island beef topped one over the other, on a bed of herb crushed potato, crispy onions, and a pool of hoisin jus. Another comfortable main that gave you the flair of fine dining with the familiarity of a causal, non pretentious plate. Tender meat and fresh vegetables, tried and true.

And for dessert we had the “Lemon tart” with housemade lemon crude, apricot glaze, and berry coulis. This, my guest raved about.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
For delicious, classic staples that are dressy yet comfortable and familiar, look to “Water St. Cafe” for a meal that doesn’t disappoint. And doing so now with their spend $50 get $15 back giftcard promo adds great value to your take out. Don’t deny your cravings.

Water St. Café
300 Water St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1B6
(604) 689-2832
http://www.waterstreetcafe.ca/menus/

Farina a Legna, brunch

With all that is going on with COVID-19 restaurants and the hospitality industry are doing their best in these times to stay a float. Remaining open and making money, without being able to pay their staff or serve a gathering of customers in their physical restaurants. Social distancing and staying at home is encouraged, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy good food from your favourite establishments. An initiative to serve local business by serving customers from the comfort of their own homes. Spearheaded by local marketing company SMC, meant to support local businesses through an initiative called “breaking bread now”.

What started off as a noble attempt to continue to reassure the community with the highest of cleaning and hygiene standards, has now transformed into take out menus. And “Farina” is offering their food to go from Wednesday to Sunday, between 4-9pm. Wherein you are able to place your order via phone at 604-980-3300.

Here is their full messaging on the situation, as taken from their website.

IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO OUR VALUED GUESTS:

Due to the uncertain conditions in our community, we are taking measures above the requirements mandated by the government and have made the decision to close the dining rooms of all of our restaurants. The health and safety of our staff, customers and people in our community is our top priority.

IN THE MEANTIME – We are doing our best to help those who can’t get groceries, or want to avoid the crowds, by offering takeout friendly menus. We will keep you informed over social media as things progress and more details are available.

Please know that we are listening intently to the advice from government and health authorities and are taking all extra precautions in sanitation and cleanliness to ensure everything and everyone is safe. As things change we will keep you informed.

We thank you all for your patronage – friends, guests and staff, and we look forward to having you dine with us in person again on the other side of this.

I have yet to try this abbreviated take out menu, but I can speak to the skill of their chef and the quality of food through the limited run they had of their new brunch. Naturally, the following won’t be available, but I am choosing to still cover the full experience, as hope of things to return.

A couple of weeks back we were the first ones in for the launch of their new brunch menu, at their North Vancouver location. This would be the last restaurant I dined at for a while.

This Italian cafe has a causal charm to it. Checkered floors, wooden tables and chairs, green booths and furniture, and colourful posters set a modern tone. The menu takes inspiration from their wood oven, which is the heart of their kitchen. All dishes were designed to be shared family-style, with a selection of antipasti, risotto, pasta, and pizza.

The following is what we had on that day that now feels so long, long ago.

They have a bar/pastry counter right up front, when you enter. It tempts and teases for those who find themselves waiting on one of the benches in the foyer, across from it. From behind a glass showcase you can pick and chose your sweet treat. All great on their own, but better paired with any of their speciality coffees.

We sampled from a platter that included a chocolate and nut brownie, a blueberry cake, a flaky croissant, and a jam tart. The chocolate brownie was dense, not too sweet, with a surprise crunch from the bits of nuts that you find hidden within. The blueberry was your typical coffee cake. A mild flavour with a dryer texture, ideal for nibbling on with a side of coffee that you can use to moisten the slice. I liked the butteriness of the tart, along with its maple accented filling and shortbread crust. It was extra cute with the pastry stars on top of thin jam layer. But out of the four, the croissant was my favourite. Its shell was crispy layers that flaked off to reveal a soft cakey centre. A centre that was spongy with a sweet orange and almond flavour, punctuated by the sweetness of cinnamon and sugar. I would come back just to take this out.

I am not a coffee drinker, but I appreciate the way they present theirs. Fluffy foam tops, dainty espressos with perfect milk drawn hearts, and even a dessert option that offers a shot of espresso with custard cream.

The latter was just as much a dessert as it was a pick me up. One that I recommend, even as a non-avid coffee drinker. This one isn’t on regular menu, you only get it with a special secret menu request. You fold whipped custard into thick coffee, and gobble it all up with a spoon. It has a similar sensation to tiramisu.

For something a lot more boozier, order one of their mimosas made with fresh squeezed orange juice, or the classic citrus diced aperol spritz. Both a served in glasses with an additional bottle on the side, for an at the table refill.

Even during brunch their wood fire pizza is fully utilized. One of their thin crust pizza becomes more breakfast friendly with the addition of a sunny side up egg at its centre. This is aptly named the “breakfast pizza” with white sauce, pancetta and a soft egg. The crust had a great stone baked crunch to it. It was delightful as is, and given more panache with the a sprinkle of either their own chilli or oregano infused olive oil.

For the vegetarians you can get it without the pork, and instead plenty of mushrooms for an earthy mouthful. Both are equally delicious and worth trying.

One of my favourite dishes was their “Italian Benny” featuring house made focaccia. It is topped with a pomodoro sauce, two perfectly poached eggs, and parmigiano reggiano. And served with a evenly dressed side salad of arugula and crispy polenta. The tang of the saucy tomato was best exemplified by the herbaceous, spongy bread. This was a great take on a classic that I found myself preferring to the English muffin Benny; it is all in the bread. And its side of polenta was no slough either, it was light and almost eggy with a delicious mix of Italian seasonings. For a bit of freshness look to bites of peppery greens in between. The gluten free polenta is a great substitution that didn’t have me missing the typical breakfast accompaniment of hash browns.

And what is Italian food without pasta? At “Farina” there are 2 options available for breakfast, both are worth exploring. Featuring perfectly done noodles that is not only fun to chew through, but overall highly satisfying as well. The “pesto genovese” was a vegan option that doesn’t leave you missing meat. Basil pesto, roasted garlic, pine nuts, and parmigiano reggiano. Fragrant and herbaceous with a most enjoyable, springy chew. Writing about it now makes me wish I had a bowl before me.

This was only second to the “carbonara” pasta with guanciale, egg yolk, pecorino Romano, and black pepper. A sumptuous serving of el dente noodles that are made decadently luscious with thick cream and runny yolk. Silken, creamy, and peppery; beautifully done. So good you keep wanting to wrap your mouth around it. Fun to slurp and toss between your tongue and teeth.

Another vegan and gluten free option is the “mushroom frittata” topped with pesto and parmigiano reggiano. Served with crispy polenta and fresh arugula. It is basically a mushroom omelette. It had a light egginess to it, with the great texture of squishy mushrooms to gnaw through. Good, but bland by comparison to everything else before and after.

For a little more of anything, there are sides you can add to perk up any serving. We sampled the thick cut, salty guanciale bacon and their red wine fennel sausage. Both salty as is, but added a nice heartiness to our meal over all.

Moving on to sweet breakfast offerings, everyone was enamoured by the “Nutella toast”. It featured their own house made chocolate and hazelnut chocolate spread, topped with roasted banana jam, vanilla whipped ricotta, fresh berries, and toasted hazelnut. This was a gourmet, grown up version of Nutella that wasn’t too sweet, it allowed all the other toppings to have their moment on the spongy, cake-like bread. The bread was also slightly salty, well highlighting the tart fruit, and airy creams. I am not a fan of sweet things, but did appreciate this.

It was recommend that we end with the pannettone as the sweetest of all the plates. Not enough as a solo serving, but great as a dessert you don’t want to share. “Zabaglione”, an airy and sweet pannettone with sweet custard to dip into and fresh fruit to enjoy with.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I was floored by the consistency and quality of everything we had at brunch. There was nothing major that I didn’t like or anything that I would want to change. When they reopen, I highly suggest making them one of our first brunch destinations, as you will not regret it. I can still remember the flavours of everything we had clearly, which made me want to try each menu during all their seatings, and now their take out. Don’t deny your cravings.

Artusi Restaurant, #LasagnaChallengeYVR

Today I was trying yet another Vancouver Foodster best lasagna contestant. This time traveling to New Westminster, and staying for a full 10 course dinner. I went in with no expectations and came out fully delighted.

If you are expecting what you know to be “classic Italian” cuisine, you won’t get it here. Like their restaurant name suggests, what they offer is a collection of recipes compiled and catalogued by Pellegrino Artusi. He gathered traditional Italian recipes from Northern Italy, Southern Italy, and the islands. Recipes that are now over 100’s of years old, well cataloged in the highly regarded cook book “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well” (published in 1891). To this day it is still regarded as the original Italian cookbook. This is the framework that their menu is built on. That, and well composed and complimentary flavours using only 3-4 ingredients. And today we would get to experience it all first hand with a tasting of all the chef’s favourite dishes.

Walking into the restaurant we were caught of guard. I wasn’t expecting something this elevated in New Westminster, that isn’t located at the hub of the city. White cloth napkins and white table cloths on every table, soft candle light and dim lights. The decor was demur with playful pops of colour across watercolour paintings and green accents. A more intimate setting, ideal for a first date. Dressy enough to impress, but not over the top to intimate. Like the decor, the staff was just as approachable and warm. Friendly faces with regular check-ins and light hearted banter. You immediately felt welcomed and could tell that they cared. An important point I am always looking out for when I recommend a restaurant. And for this alone I would refer them, it is just a bonus that the food measures up.

Given the vibe we started off with a couple of drinks to ease into our meal. I went with a fruity rose that was recommend to pair with the seafood heavy first course. My guest opted for something more punchy in the “Quadrifolio” cocktail. A mix of Grey goose vodka, pear, lime, melon, and falanghina.

For food we began with some complimentary bread. Named after its knot pattern, this was a sweet bun flavoured with light rosemary and garlic, served with a dish of olive oil for dipping. It had a cake-like quality to it. Although the oil was unnecessary, as there was plenty of flavour in the adorable button loaf as is.

Then, we were spoiled with to a dish that hasn’t even made it on to the menu yet. Scallops served in shell with a spreadable andouille sausage and a saffron reduction. A stunning dish with presentation points through the roof and flavour that pops just as much. It wasn’t overly fishy, a great option for those who don’t particularly like seafood, like my guest today. He was happy to have the zesty sausage paste overpower the firm scallop in a pool of jus.

Similar in presentation and awe is the “Applewood-smoked Bacon-wrapped Prawns”. Although they looked a little burnt and tasted it. But nothing you couldn’t get past to enjoy a large juicy prawn and thick salty bacon. A great hands on appetizer, but try as I might I was unable get any meat from the heads of the shrimp; left on more for show than flavour.

I found the “Thinly Sliced Veal with Tuna & Caper Sauce” one of a kind. Even the chef referenced not often seeing a meat and a fish together in a dish like this. There are few such Italian dishes, but this one is still a stand alone. The still pink, meaty slices of roast beef were served cold, as to not have any warmth wilt the evenly dressed salad greens underneath. You get the unmistakable flavour of the tuna in the creamy dressing that was poured over each slice of beef. When trying it without context you are caught off guard, so spend subsequent bites figuring out what it is you are tasting and how you feel about it. I didn’t mind and thought it was a new taste pairing I have yet to try. My guest on the other hand couldn’t wrap his head around it. You just don’t expect tuna fish with another protein.

I really liked the next dish for the balance it provided for our entire meal. This was a refreshing salad of tomato and cheese, perfect with and in between everything to follow. There were three different kinds of tomatoes: confit, sun dried, and raw; all surrounding a bed of cheese, best described as the “Stuffing of burrata” by the Chef. He was proud to follow up that it is made in house, much like everything else. It was like a denser burrata, but just as mild and refreshing. A milky quality given some sweetness with the olive oil dressed tomato salad.

This was a nice transition into our pasta course. We started with the lasagna, and the reason for my visit in the first place. This isn’t your typical red sauce pasta, but instead one with three kinds of mushroom and a thick gloopy gravy. More slices of porcini, cremini, portobello mushroom than noodles, this ate heavy. My guests loved it declaring it “amazing umami” quality and earthy feel, whereas I wanted a little more of the cheese topping for its saltines.

The “Caramelized Sweet Onion, Guangiale, Balsamic Reduction, and Rosemary gnocchi” has a history extending back 400 years. It was sweet and salty, which reminded me of Korean gojuchung. We toyed with the idea of enjoying this with some brie given the standout balsamic reduction. But the highlight was when you hit salty pork, and it adding a variation on the flavour.

In contrast was their spicy gnocchi, this too gave me Korean vibes with hints of a picklin like kimchi. Good on its own, but I especially enjoyed pairing the two gnocchi dishes together for a nice sweet and spicy contrast.

We followed our pasta course with some meat. The “Pan-seared Beef Tenderloin & Fingerling Potato’s” were seasoned with plenty of garlic and fresh herbs, along side butter and roasted tomato. The beef was served sliced up for easy sharing, and its increased surface area allowed for more jus to get absorbed by the tender, medium rare beef. The fingerling potatoes also sat in a pool of balsamic reduction for some added sweetness. But the butter and salt were what came through on the palette. Overall it was a tad on the salty side for me, but my guest loved it just fine. I was just missing more freshness to it, but our tomato and cheese salad served well here. I would have also liked a nice rice pilaf to eat with it, or a nice crusty loaf to soak up some excess oil with.

And you want to save room for dessert, because they make for a great palette fresher and way to end on something light and sweet. Especially the lemon tiramisu with ladyfingers, limoncello sauce, and a lemon mascarpone cream. So fresh and zesty, it makes for a great dessert for those who don’t necessarily want something sweet. I liked the mousse topping the best, but wanted a crispier, graham cracker base to go with it instead, (The mousse reminded me of cheesecake with its salted cheese). Not to mention, I am not a fan of tiramisu because everything tends to be soggy, and I like some texture and crunch in my desserts.

For that reason I liked the panna cotta with its caramel coated almonds, on top of chocolate ganache and a rich cream more. The panna cotta was a cooked cream made with potato starch, instead of gelatine so it stayed creamier. The result, a light and luscious dessert.

The next dessert is mascarpone cheese, eggs, sugar, and amaretti cookies baked and served in another mason jar. It was almond forward thanks to the cookie crumble, a nice contrast to the more pudding-like cream underneath. This is a dessert that grows on you the more you wrap your mouth around it.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
In summary, a great spot for traditional grass roots Italian. Rustic yet dressy, with flavours and combinations that we have never had before, using recipes and flavours much older than what we know Italian food to be in North America. You don’t expect to go to an Italian restaurant and have anything like this, served by a genuinely enthusiastic team and chef at the hem makes all the difference. I highly recommend “Artusi” for Vancouver quality food and service at New Westminster prices, at “20% less” (according to the Chef). They definitely check off all the boxes to be considered a hidden gem. Don’t deny your cravings.

ARTUSI
412 6th St, New Westminster, BC V3L 3B2
(604) 553-9922
artusirestaurant.com

Ragazzi Pizza Co., #LasagnaChallengeYVR

My duties as one of Vancouver Fooster’s Best Lasagna judges has brought me down to “Ragazzi” in East Vancouver. I am actually familiar with the corner pizza shop, having my parent’s house located in the area. But it has been forever since I have laid eyes on “Ragazzi”, so it was so great to catch up and watch how they have flourish over the years, during this visit.

They serve a community with the likes of a public library, community centre, fire hall, and retirement centre; all surrounding it. Many of the visitors today were kids coming in after school or after their extra curriculars. Parents, groups of teen, and single folk looking for an easy dinner solution, with leftovers to serve as another meal.

It was a smaller space with order by the slice options by the window, to take to-go or quickly dine in. As well as a full menu with pizza and pasta that is baked to order. We grabbed a booth seat at the back and casually conversed as we waited for our meal. The flat screen televisions provided something to look at.

Seeing it, I was immediately impressed by the size of the serving of the vegetarian lasagna. I found my mouth watering up, looking at the even layers of tender noodle, gooey cheese, and melty spinach. It smelled and tasted exactly like what I envisioned when I anticipated lasagna for dinner. A classically done casserole that hits all the comfort bites with its salty and tangy notes, without the need for any ground meat. This is one you would crave again.

I was here to judge their lasagna, but couldn’t walk away not trying their pizza. This is their classic margarita with a thick, yet airy crust, and a sweet tomato sauce. It is seasoned a little on the mild side between the mozzarella cheese and basil leaves. However, you can easily reach for any of their table top condiments. A squeeze bottle of hot sauce or ranch dressing and/or a shaker of chilli flakes or Parmesan cheese to customize each slice to your preference.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The whole neighbourhood can’t be wrong. A great spot to pick up a slice to snack on, but worth checking out for local hole in the wall charm. When you crave pizza and lasagna this is what hits that spot. Don’t deny your cravings.

RAGAZZI
2996 E 22nd Ave E, Vancouver, BC V5M 2Y4
(604) 433-2235
ragazzipizza.com

Sprezzatura Restaurant, #LasagnaChallengeYVR

Vancouver Foodster is back this month with another one of his food challenges. These challenges pit participating restaurants against one another, for best dish in a chosen category. This month it was lasagna, and as a lover of pasta and carbs in general, my skills and palette were called upon to be one of the three judges. The goal, visit all participating restaurants, try their entries, and declare a winner based on an accumulation of points between presentation, originality, and taste.

And for those not judging, you can get into the competition by visiting all participating restaurants yourself, trying each, and voting for your favourite online. The winner will be crowned the “people’s choice best lasagna”.

So today I was doing my duties, here at “Sprezzatura”, glad that I got a chance to visit for the first time. I don’t think I would have ever thought to come down otherwise, and would definitely be missing out as a result. Despite the size of the space, it is off the beaten path. Therefore you don’t often drive past it, opting to take the larger streets at either ends, instead.

It is a beautiful space in its industrial simplicity. There is plenty of breathing room between the vaulted ceilings and seating arrangement. Exposed ceilings overhead, concrete floors with checkered patterns underfoot, and glossy black and white tiles around. There was a collection of seating across the space. Like the more lounge-y area that also doubled as a cafe bar with high tops and a pantry-esque vibe.

In front of the open kitchen you can grab a seat with a view. Sit down on one of their marble table tops, paired with a metal and wooden chair that you would find at an outdoor cafe. Here, you can see their whole kitchen operation. Everything is made from scratch, in house, and cooked up within either of their two ovens. The first an individual cooker, the second a wood stone pizza oven. Therefore nothing on the menu is deep fried, grilled, or sautéed. And this lack of cooking options available doesn’t hinder them, but instead it gives them a very unique angle; furthering their brand of a local, unpretentious bistro.

We ended up grabbing a seat by the window with fun decals of pizza, cocktails, wine and cutlery. A nice nod to the food and whimsy that the space holds. It was in the corner, by yet another unique seating area. A nook with wooden benches and matching tables, soften with throw pillows. On the wall hung a collection of sketches and photos depicting historic sporting moments and wins. Here, I was able to chat with the general manager Gino, who described the setting as a “London gastro pub with an Italian summer menu”. He then walked us through the menu highlighting popular items and must tries from their 7 month old bistro. Which was helpful considering the menu doesn’t include photos or a way to underline the highlights.

Our visit coincided with their daily happy hour between 3-6pm, so we were sure to take advantage by ordering a couple of their specials. Like the meatballs at 50% off. They were also stressed as a must try by Gino. They were steamed with tomatoes, parmigiano, and basil. Bobbing in a cast iron pan with classic marinara sauce, the flavours were all familiar. A tasty bite, but I couldn’t help but long for the crispy edges that a cast iron would normally give.

During happy hour all pizzas are $5 off so we had to try one of those. They prepare traditional Neapolitan-style pizza that is commonly soft in middle with a nice chew all around. We were originally eyeing the roasted pork belly or sausage pizza. However Gino warned that it does get heavy with the meat, literally and figuratively, and what you actually want from a Neapolitan pizza is something that is light, not soft and soggy. So we ended up going for the mushroom pizza with Fior di latte, cremini, porcini, parmigiano, and truffle oil.

I watched the pizza come fresh out of the oven and get topped with cheese, and cut into slices with ease. It is served to you on a rack for space saving measures, or if you order multiple pies. The dough was beautifully blistered, light and chewy as promised with plenty of fragrant mushroom, but we didn’t get much truffle flavour come though. Either way deliciously done and just as tasty the day after as leftovers. Although during my return visit I would gravitate towards a more meatier pizza for more kick.

We thought about getting our pork belly fix as a roast, but we urged to get the roast chicken instead. That this boneless half chicken with only its wings attached, it is a favourite amongst the regulars and staff alike. It is cryovac-ed and marinated for 25 hours, before it is baked skin side down on a pan. The result, a unique display of balance of juicy chicken with extra crispy skin. It was good with the roasted herbed wedge potatoes on the side, as they added additional salt and zest to the dish. Tasty, but not as memorable as it was hyped up to be. Instead, it left me curious over how much more flavourful the pork belly or even their beer braised wagyu would be.

Walking in and smelling it in the air, I had to get an order of their vegetable side special of the day: the garlic and Parmesan Brussels sprouts. A side serving was the freshness we needed to balance everything out. But it wasn’t as crispy as I wanted them from the baking, and it only got wilted once it cooled down. So eat this first and fast. Ideal with the roasted chicken above. However, if you are looking for crispier vegetables, apparently the dressed twice arugula salad, with honey as the second coating is the one to get.

And now for their lasagna, and the reason why I was here in the first place. Given their cooking method, this Italian bistro is only able to offer two types of pasta dishes. A Mac and cheese casserole, or this, their “Porcini lasagna” with Fior di latte, cream, and rapini mushrooms. This isn’t your typical lasagna, it isn’t the type you think of when you consider layers of noodles in a pan with meat and cheese. I could deem this more of a gourmet rendition, built up for an adult palette. Not your typical tomato base, so you don’t get that tang. Instead it is a rich and earthy bite with decadent salty cheese. A lot on its own, you definitely want a side with it, to be able to change the taste in between bites. Very different. Not one you would crave, but one you would want to try.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
A great spot to host larger parties, I will definitely be suggesting this one to my family the next time they want to get together. Everything was familiar, yet different with slight twists and variations, to make the dining more interesting. I left full, but feeling healthier because everything was baked. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

SPREZZATURA
265 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5T 3J5
(604) 876-6333
sprezzatura.ca

Campagnolo, Dine Out 2020

Looking for a place to eat, my guest and I walked Main Street in search of anything that stroked our fancy. And tonight that would be the Dine Out Vancouver sign advertising Campagnolo’s $35, 3 course meal.

We came in and the restaurant was just as I remembered it to be. A refined vibe, with a golden glow and simple furnishings. The only difference today was the new blue separator, built to mimicked glass windows on a cottage. We were seated at a booth across from it, so I was able to admire it all night.

Their Dine Out Vancouver menu doesn’t really feature anything out side of their regular menu. It simply has you ordering one or two more courses than you normally would, and saving some money on it.

To start with we shared the “Bitter Royal” cocktail with bourbon, mery melrose cognac, and 3 amari: sibilla, nonimo, nardini. It was as strong and as it looked, but still gave you some softness at the end.

For appetizers we had our choice between soup or two salads. We skipped on the “Crispy Ceci”, after taking our server’s suggestion. This was chickpeas seasoned with lemon, chili, mint, evoo, and scallion.

I am going to preemptively set the expectation of this meal and state that we came in drinking before so were searching for something more richer to coat our bellies with. A point I didn’t realize, until we got to dessert. As leftovers without the drunk appetite everything was fantastic. The flavours well paired with one another and satisfying in its’ distinctiveness.

In hindsight, with my drunk appetite, vinaigrette soaked greens weren’t as satisfying as the crispy chickpeas would have been. But the next day the “Winter Radicchio Salad” was a lively and bright mix, slightly bitter from tart greens, but with just the right amount of salt from the castelvetrano olives. The herbed croutons offered crunch, the meyer lemon’s zest helped to brighten up the dish, and the clothbound cheddar rounded out the textures with some chew. If you got everything on one spoon you are in for a treat. Good, but best as a side to some protein.

But in our state we both preferred the “Wild Mushroom Veloute” made with locally foraged mushrooms, and a sourdough crouton with rouille. I enjoyed the creamy soup with its thick cuts of chunky mushroom, but the cracker got soggy fast. A side of bread for dipping would have been nice, and helpful in sobering up.

For entrees you had a choice between two pastas or a risotto. Given my guest’s dietary restriction, we skipped on the “Strozzapreti Bolognese whole wheat pasta, pork & beef”. And instead had the “Spaghetti Pomodoro” with tomato sauce, garlic, evoo, and basil. It came with the option to add homemade meatballs for $8, but it didn’t need it, it was already plenty flavourful and rich. The sumptuous cheesiness of this, and its well sauced and chewy noodles were the comfort we wanted to end our night of drinking on. But when eating it normally, and at moments where you will find the spaghetti too overwhelming in one tone, I suggest switching to the risotto dish below for a nice contrast.

The “Red Wine Risotto” had raw local apples and root vegetables, with black garlic. This was a new take on the chewy rice dish, and I found it interesting. I got a sharpness from the wine, and a sweetness from the beets, and found freshness from the julienned apple. Once again not quite what my body wanted to sober up with, starch and comforting chew aside. But especially delicious warmed up the next day, and taken in conjunction with the sweeter pasta above.

For dessert, we got one of each of the available options. The “BC Blueberry & Polenta Cake vanilla crema” was vegan friendly. The cake had that micro grainy texture you get from the use of polenta; something I am more familiar with as corn bread, and so it added some savouriness to this cake. I liked the look the kernels of popcorn gave, but didn’t think they added anything to the flavour. And the sharp kernel skins gave an undesirable rough texture to the cake. The fruit brought it back to dessert territory with its natural sweetness that played off the light cream wonderfully.

The “Dark Chocolate Torte” was also vegan friendly and gluten free, and as a result this too had a crumbly texture, but here punctuated with crushed nuts. The flavours were nice, bitter chocolate and tart cherries with a little cream for a Black Forest Cake feel. Although I wanted a spongy cake base to enjoy it all with. Something soft and sumptuous to melt on to my tongue, and I didn’t get it with either desserts. Therefore we didn’t end up finishing either, nor did we pack it to go. It didn’t satisfy like any dessert, I was hoping for. But I recognize that they are absolutely a great solution for those with such dietary restrictions.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Great as a normal meal, but not ideal as drunk food. And exciting as leftovers, when I could taste my way through the experience more alert and observant.
Don’t deny your cravings.

CAMPAGNOLO
1020 Main Street, Vancouver BC
604-484-6018
campagnolorestaurant.ca

Mangia Cucina & Bar

Our regular food blogger meet-up brought us to “Mangia”, which came highly recommended by David of @pickydiner fame. He had recently met the owner at an event, and found himself impressed with his pedigree from Sicily. So we assembled for what we hoped would be an authentic Italian meal.

I have actually been to this refurbished house turned restaurant once before. But only briefly, as part of a Vancouver Foodster tasting tour. I was impressed enough to want to come back, and today was as good of a day as any. Especially with 4 other food enthusiasts in tow.

You walk up the front steps and enter through the door on the porch. Inside, the restaurant is warm literally and figuratively. The bar faces the entrance, and the dining area follows it, wrapping around the corner. Brick walls painted white, framed family photos, and as many narrow tables as the single floor allowed.

Our boisterous group (mostly because of me) were seated intimately at the very back. Where, our night began with a welcome glass of bubbles, which myself and David followed with two more cocktails.

 

The “Sicilian mocha” was a lovely spiked coffee, which would have also served as a nice aperitif. Vodka, averna, espresso, and chocolate. Light on the coffee, for those who like the flavour, but not its bitterness or caffeine.

The “Gin botanico” in contrast was a delicate cocktail with lemon and floral notes. A mix of pomegranate tea infused gin, tonic, and spices.

As for food, we ran through the menu as a group, ordering an item from each of the categories. Antipasti, L’Insalata, La Pasta, Il Risotto, and La Pizza.

Today’s starter special was a burrata salad made with arugula, prosciutto, Parmesan crusted croutons, and a whole round of burrata cheese; all drizzled in vinaigrette of aged balsamic reduction. This was a fresh start, simple and clean with the salty meat, creamy cheese, and crunchy croutons. It was exactly as expected.

The “Carpaccio di polpo” was declared as a “must try” on the menu. This was thinly sliced, slow cooked octopus, with salad leaves and an lemon oil vinaigrette. It ate more like a salad with the oiled up greens, fresh tomatoes, and briny olives. The highlight was the baby octopus, deep fried as a whole. I would have liked more of it with the salad, instead of the carpaccio. Nothing was wrong with it, it was just not memorable, nor did I get much octopus flavour from it.

Seeing it arrived at the table next to ours, we too wanted and ordered the “Arancina bomba”. A giant, twice cooked saffron risotto ball filled with mozzarella and topped with a pistachio pesto. This was quite the presentation. Easy to cut into and divide between 5. But the centre was mushy from the melted cheese, whereas you wanted a more firm risotto to parallel with its crispy shell. Texture aside, it served as a decent base, I just wanted something meatier and heartier to enjoy with it.

It is advised that you eat the “Spaghetti carbonara” right away; less it congeals and you lose the firmness of the noodle and the creaminess of its sauce. Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and locally cured guanciale in egg. Tasty, but I just wanted more of the pork meat for taste and salt.

The “Frutti di mare” delivered a bounty of seafood. Arborio rice with clams, mussels, prawns, and squid; cooked in white wine and a fish stock reduction. It is very fishy thanks to the stock, where as I would have liked it more garlicky. A milder risotto flavour, to be able to make out the individual mollusks.

The “Diavola” was a tomato sauce base pizza, topped with mozzarella, spicy Italian salami, and black olives. It was a decent pie, but not outstanding. The dough was moist, whereas I expected more crispiness from a thin crust, along with some blistering. It was also a little too salty for my taste, thanks to the cured meat and briny olives. I could have drizzled on some olive oil to help neutralize, but found it already plenty oily with pools of it on the pizza’s surface.

For dessert, we shared one of each of the options, minus the scoop of gelato available. Their “Tiramisu” was a single serving round, made more fun with a shot of amaretto on the side. You could drink it as is, but the intention is to pour it over the cake. The cake soaked it up like a sponge, and what was left over you could lap up like sauce. The 2oz gave the dessert a kick, but increased the dessert’s naturally soggy texture. The rest was traditionally done with mascarpone cheese, espresso, ladyfingers, and cocoa.

I am not a fan of soggy textures, so preferred the “Sicilian cannolo al pistachio” for its crunch instead. A house made pastry shell filled with sweet ricotta mousse, then topped with pistachio cream and a pistachio crumble. It tasted fresh made, and wasn’t too sweet. This would have been great with tea.

We were all in awe cutting into the “Torta di limoncello”, not knowing what to expect. It wasn’t the “Fluffy cake” the menu described, but more a firm sponge filled with limoncello cream, and covered with white chocolate and almonds. The lemon was beautifully fragranced. Tart and refreshing, this made for a great palette refresher to end our meal on.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Off the beaten path, the setting and the serving of this cozy restaurant makes it a great spot for authentic Sicilian. I definitely recommend this one as a unique date spot worth checking out. Don’t deny your cravings.

MANGIA
2211 Manitoba St, Vancouver, BC V5Y 1K1
(604) 620-5445
mangiacucina.com

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