Thursday, January 17, 2013

Great Food Returns to Vancouver

When Ensemble closed down last year, the restaurant industry in this town took a major hit. The best meal I've ever had here was at Ensemble but chef MacKay's empire seems to have expanded too quickly and thus, is no more. However, good food remains at Cioppino's (not as good as before, but still excellent) and a new Italian restaurant  has stepped up to bat and hit it out of the park.
La Pentola Della Quercia is the latest offshoot of one of the city's best restaurants (or so I'm told, Haven't eaten there yet) La Quercia, which I'm also told has a 2 month waiting list to get in. Just like Per Se. Hopefully with better food. I read an article in The Georgia Straight about La Pentola when it opened recently. The review raved about its Souffle di parmigiano, zucchini crudo which sounded like the Parmigiano Souffle at Payard's Patisserie and Bistro in Vegas, a meal I have yet to consume but it will be at the top of my list my next trip there. I had great souffles as a kid. Stauffers, the frozen food folks, had a spinach souffle that was one of my favourite foods growing up. So I had high expectations when my friend Frank (no stranger to Italian food) and I got reservations at La Pentola early this week. The souffle was every bit as good as I expected, a bit crispy on top but succulent throughout. The zucchini was refreshing and went superbly with the souffle.  I didn't know if the others things on the menu would be as good. I ordered the stuffed squid, leeks, fennel, salsa rossa also from the appetizer menu and it was just as good, maybe better.Frank had the Eggplant terrine, prawns, agro-dolce tomato which was smooth and not as eggplanty as I expected but excellent anyway. In another review of La Pentola, I read about a Northern Italian dish of pasta and potatoes in pesto which the reviewer raved about. Our profoundly informative server told us it was off the menu but the chef could make it for me, and he did. Before any of the food came to the table, the server brought some warm bread, something I normally ignore,but the server raved about the olive oil he served with it. "Very floral" he informed us. I've only become interested in great olive oil after having it, also with bread and a Greek salad at the Greek restaurant Milos in Vegas (originally in Montreal). That opened the door for my enjoyment of this product and there's obviously far more to engage my palate. Recently Fumiyo and I celebrated her birthday with  dinner at Dino's house (Bit's old boyfriend, a long time friend and dining companion of our family) and he told me that Bit used to dive into the bread offering at restaurants, but also had room for the food, something that kept me from eating the bread offerings with most meals. My dad used to say a meal isn't a meal without bread, though coming from Saskatchewan, where most of Canada's wheat comes from, that is understandible. I probably exceeded my capacity to eat the pasta because of the small amount of bread I tried, but the server was right about the floral oil. "From Spain," he informed us. Odd, in an Italian restaurant but I'm really glad to have experienced it. A couple of decent cocktails also added to my enjoyment of the meal, as did it's relatively small price. Now I know where to take friends visiting from out of town.
I didn't notice an reference to Ocean Wise on the menu, and will ask Pentola if they're part of that programme the next time I dine there. Ocean Wise was started as an educational programme by the city's aquarium and several chefs devoted to educating the public about sustainable seafood. It is now ubiquitous in  the city's restaurants, sea food shops and even Safeway. I recently read an article by the son of a friend about seasonality of seafood, Whether because of Ocean Wise or other reasons, the seasonality of Spot Prawns has been celebrated in Vancouver for the past few years and various species of salmon are looked forward to in their season in town. Obviously a good marketing device for both restaurants and seafood stores and as the article points out, very important to the continuation of species we like to eat. I'm now reading How Much Is Enough? by Robert and Edward Skidelsky which mentions that in the Koran, the Moslem Heaven features fruit that is always in season. That is not the case on earth. We should eat accordingly.