I was invited as the plus one to David aka “Picky Diner”, judge for this year’s @Vanfoodster pizza challenge. A competition between several restaurants to see whose unique pizza creation runs supreme, a contest that runs every two years.
As a disclaimer, when it comes to anything media related: plating and portion size may be gussied up and/or paired down, and the service will usually be top notch. Though I can at least paint you the most accurate image when it comes to the food and the setting, as how I interpret it. But as always, these are my opinions and you need not take them as fact. Unless you have my exact background, have lived my exact experiences, and we possess the same tongue; no one can truly taste and appreciate as you do.
Our destination was Langley, which is a long way to drive, especially for those of us living in the Burnaby and Vancouver area. But in hindsight well worth it for a dining experience this immersive.
Your experience begins as soon as you exit your car. The whimsy of their Italian melodies welcomes you in with string instruments and opera vocals. It spoke of the charm and authenticity of the restaurant to come. A feeling of history derived from red brick and mortar arch ways, black and white photographs, and chianti bottle candle holders with candles on display and for sale.
The coffee/drink bar was especially notable, accented with its own unique ceiling tiles. Copper flowers and plenty of detailed carving. And under it, bottles of vintage red and white, stainless steel machinery, and showcases of their homemade desserts for dine in as well as those packaged for takeout.
We were seated at the secluded chef’s table in the corner. It was dim and cloistered away from the rest of the restaurant. We were dining in the dark and it therefore it wasn’t my ideal seating arrangement (I love to see my food as I consume it, plus better lighting is better for photographs.) However with the amount of photos we were taking and the need to use a portable light, we would have been too distracting for all the other diners looking for a romantic night, seated anywhere else.
Here, we met the owner of “Mangia e Scappa”, Giulia. She introduced herself and immediately you could feel her passion for the restaurant and her vision for it resonating. She regaled us with a verbal tour of her business from its origin to all the special touches she has implemented to make them one of a kind. My favourite were the stories of her childhood and the throwback to the moments captured from her own personal photo album, on the wall. Like how the oven in her Italian hometown had the capacity to make 500 loaves of bread at a time, with a total of three ovens for 1,500 loaves in one go.
She also spoke with excitement over their fresh ingredients, majority of which she herself grows and harvests from her own backyard garden, and in the plot they have out back as well. They farm their own fruits for the desserts and herbs for their pizzas. Majority of which is flashed frozen and used throughout the year. This homegrown and homemade ideology extends to their in house made cheeses and handmade pastas. We even got a look at the freshly dried trays of the latter, in their naturally died green, orange, and black hues.
This was one of the many products they offered in their adjoining stop and deli. Open 11-6pm every day, all of their offerings are either imported from Italy or made in house by chefs hailing from Venice, Paris, and Rome. Here they sell bottles of olive oil, tins of coffee, boxes of cookies, cans of stewed vegetables, tubs of briny olives, and links of sausages and salami. And for those not looking to cook for themselves, they also have preprepared Italian flatbread and ready made dishes like lasagna and stuffed shells to take home for later.
We started with their pizza challenge contribution, the main reason why we were here in the first place. It was created by Giulia’s 15 year old son Luca. He based it off of the family’s recipe for traditional Italian style pizza, and took inspiration from Nonna’s favourite Calabrian meal. And this is his brainchild, the “Patate e Pipi”, a pizza with potatoes. I appreciated how there were so many unique features about this pizza, from the crust all the way to the toppings and the cheese used. This was a tomato infused wheat and tipo oo crust (a type of flour that is more friendly towards those with gluten intolerances), coated with a creamy white sauce. Topped with thinly sliced potatoes, fresh rosemary, fire roasted red peppers, fontina, garlic confit, bonetti’s pancetta, and their own handmade cheese (using their family’s recipe).
The potatoes were my favourite part, they offered depth and helped to add some substance to the thin crust. I could have eaten a plate of them and the cream sauce, as it. You can smell and taste the fragrant rosemary, and couldn’t help but to enjoy the chunks of roasted garlic cloves that surprised you. The red peppers gave pops of smokiness, but the chunks of salty cheese were the memorable topping to bite into. I haven’t tried any of the other pizza challenge contestants, but they definitely have their work cut out for them, competing against this one.
From there, the regular menu was a concise list of Italian classics. We debated on what to get, but Giulia was more than helpful in swaying our minds. She suggested their “caprese salad” for its buffalo mozzarella, but we went with her other recommendation of the “calamari” instead.
These were large cuts of squid in a light flour dredge. “Calamari fritti”, served with a zesty mayo. Each ring was pillowy and each tentacle crispy. They were as airy and as light as they looked. Especially when compared to other places that serve their calamari chopped into small chunks and fried into crispy dense balls. I just wish they were better seasoned with more herbs and double the spices; instead of being just salty by means of the sauce. Though the decorative lemon and it’s juice helped to kick things up a notch. Sadly we had the pizza first, so comparatively this didn’t measure up flavour wise. Shame, we should have started with this and been content moving forward from appetizer to entree.
The “Fettuccine al nero di seppia” was another recommendation we took from Giulia, and were happier for it. The black squid ink pasta was cooked in a lobster cream sauce, and served with tiger prawns, baby shrimp, and swirls of zucchini”. This is only available for dine in only, and at $7 more than all the other $18 pastas, it certainly earned its prestige.
The pasta noddles itself was the highlight. It had the ideal starchy texture with a nice fishy finish. You tasted the sweet lobster meat in the sauce, got some freshness from the zucchini, and the cherry tomatoes offered pops of juice. The doubling of the prawns with shrimp was a nice little treat as well. Overall this was a refreshing pasta dish, not heavy or over burdened with carbs.
And the side of garlic bread included was most helpful in giving us a bonus taste of their home made breads. It wasn’t crispy and chewy as regular garlic bread, but instead dense and cakey. But that is again because of the use their tipo oo wheat. And again, that is done purposefully with consideration given of those with gluten intolerances.
Throughout our meal, I didn’t once feel the need to sprinkle Parmesan on anything, and I usually like shaking it on thick. I feel that, that itself is a good tell of the place.
We then indulged in their homemade desserts. First a pie that was a future contestant in the upcoming @vanfoodster pie challenge. This gold brown pastry was made by Giulia, with inspiration taken from another family recipe. It was figs and Boston pears in an amaretti cookie cake base. “Amaretti” is an almond cookie soaked in liquor and coffee. The fruit was picked fresh from Julia’s garden. I love fig newton bars so loved her pie that tasted like a grown up version of the bars. The pear added a nice crisp texture to the dense spongy crust. And the almond essence, from in house ground almonds, was a nice after note to simmer on. Overall it was Easy to eat, and not too sweet.
I loved the way the “traditional Sicilian cannoli” looked. These canollo shells are made in house and stuffed with a ricotta filling and chocolate chips. It looked like a small serving, but you didn’t need anymore than this, it was rich and creamy and already too decadent with its luscious cream and crispy shell. Although after the second bite, a little too over the top with the chocolate chips for my taste.
And lastly this was their most popular dessert, “Chef Alessandro’s tiramisu”. Coffee flavoured ladyfingers and cream filling make up this Italian cake. I am actually not a fan of tiramisu as I find it too soggy. I typically want more to crunch on in my dessert. Although David, who does enjoy a good tiramisu, found himself a fan of its moistened texture. He declared this as one of the most flavourful versions he has ever had. So fluffy and so soft, as if it would dissolve on your tongue.
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.
This was definitely worth the drive all the way to Langley for. It was like they brought a piece of Italy to the small township. Or at least an intimate look into Giulia’s culture and her family. She was proud to announce that if you can’t take a trip to Italy, they will bring Italy to you here, and they did. I enjoyed her and all the Italian hospitality from the entire restaurant, employees and clientele alike. Don’t deny your cravings.