1133 Hamilton Street
T: 604 688 7466
Brief Description: Cioppino’s and its sister restaurant next door, Enoteca, serve up classic Mediterranean cuisine, with a sophisticated dining room as the backdrop. Prices reflect the high standard of food and service.
Once a year, in the few weeks preceding Christmas, the Vancouver restaurants that normally keep their doors firmly closed during the day, throw open their doors and welcome the lunch-time crowd. And I’m talking about high-end restaurants such as Blue Water Café, Cin Cin, Cioppino’s. Yes, what a wonderful time! Lunch time is a great time to visit these restaurants as they can often be more affordable than at dinner, and also less busy.
When my colleagues asked for a restaurant suggestion for our pre-Christmas team lunch, I had no hesitations: “Cioppino’s!” was my reply. It had been far too long since my last trip to Cioppino’s, which was almost 2 years ago when I took B for his birthday dinner. It had been an expensive night – over $200 – and, truthfully, I wasn’t overly impressed. This is why I am pleasantly surprised – our lunch before Christmas was incredible and left me raving about Cioppino’s to anyone who would listen. I do have to wonder, however, whether this was because I didn’t have to pick up the bill (therefore my expectations were lower) or whether I had just ordered better this time. I still don’t have a definitive answer for that. Only another visit will tell.
Cioppino’s is a high-end Mediterranean restaurant, located on Hamilton Street in Yaletown. When I say high-end, I’m referring to the price and also to the clientele who, on the occasions that I’ve been, seem to be mostly suited business men on power meetings. It does feel quite formal so keep this in mind when preparing for the evening. I felt more comfortable having made the effort to dress up slightly. The interior of the restaurant is warmly decorated in a classic, sophisticated way. Crisp white linen table-cloths, wooden chairs, and earthy terracotta tiles make this an elegant, yet comfortable, dining room. Patrons are also able to watch the hustle and bustle of the kitchen from their tables due to the open show kitchen.
The appetizer menu heavily favours meat and seafood. For the meats, you have a choice of prosciutto, hams and beef Carpaccio. For the seafood, you have an abundance of choices; calamari, BC spot prawns, mussels, tuna, scallops, octopus and salmon. Most the seafood appears to be local and all of it has a hint of the Mediterranean, whether it be in the chorizo that accompanies the mussels, or the Tuscan beans cannellini that completes the spot prawn dish. On my next visit, I think that I will be trying the seared Qualicum Bay diver scallops, served with roasted porcini, and topped with a black truffle vinaigrette. They sound phenomenal.
For those that aren’t looking to start their meal with either seafood or meat, you can peruse further down the menu to the salads and soup, where you will find offerings that will provide you with a lighter start to your meal. I ordered the classic caprese salad (roma tomatoes, a wonderfully creamy Italian mozzarella di bufala and a splash of robust olive oil) and I was so happy that I did. Although incredibly simple, the flavours were refreshing and the mozzarella was heavenly.
I was also able to try the slightly grilled young romaine leaves that were served drizzled with a rich Caesar dressing. At first I thought the idea of grilling romaine leaves was an odd one but the slightly warm leaves, with their hint of char and smokiness, convinced me otherwise. Unexpected, yet very impressive.
The show stopper for me is the pasta and the risotto section of the menu. I can’t even bring myself to read past this section to seriously consider the main courses. Highlights include the 4 hour-braised veal cheeks and porcini mushroom pappardelle, the beef cheek ravioli with organic onion confit-truffle sauce, and the garganelli with boar sausage and preserved winter truffles. Yum! These are not cheap pasta servings, however, but at around $25 a serving you are getting freshly made pasta, complimented by quality ingredients. The Spaghetti Factory this is not.
This time around I chose a saffron, citrus risotto with seared scallops and it was un-friggin-believable. I am usually very particular about my risotto but I had no complaints about this dish at all. The scallops were perfectly seasoned and delicate, and the risotto had a good bite to it with just a hint of citrus coming through. Again, at $30 it is not a cheap dish, but well worth it in my mind. Most of my colleagues also ordered the risotto, except for one who ordered the spaghetti “alle vongole”, which was scattered with clams and coated in a light parsley-white wine-garlic sauce. She claimed it be one of the best she’d had.
The main course menu returns, once again, to a meat and seafood focus. Pan-roasted sablefish, ling cod with a garlic-lemon-caper sauce, and Atlantic lobster, find themselves competing against beef tenderloin with a black peppercorn sauce, roasted rack of lamb in a confit garlic-lemon reduction and Tuscan style rib-eye, for your attention. Main courses are up there amongst some of the most expensive in Vancouver, at around the $40 mark for the meat dishes. Not at all surprising in an establishment of this caliber but be prepared to hand over some serious cash.
There are surprisingly quite a lot of desserts to choose from but the dessert with the cutest name, warm “soft heart” chocolate cake, caught my eye and tugged on my heart-strings. It tastes as good as it sounds. A center of warm, gooey chocolate spilled out once I greedily dug my spoon in. As a side note, the wine list is a biggie – over 60 pages – so if wine is your thing, Cioppino’s is likely worth a visit.
Final Thoughts: Cioppino’s well and truly redeemed itself with me. My first visit was good but I left underwhelmed for the amount that we spent. I am still unsure as to whether this redemption came because I wasn’t left paying the bill or whether it really was better this time around. If you can afford these prices without much of a stretch, then you will certainly do no wrong visiting Cioppino’s. The food is of high, quality standards, as is the service, so it is definitely worth it for a splurge.