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.
265 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5T 3J5