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.
412 6th St, New Westminster, BC V3L 3B2