Tag Archives: Italian

Photo Visit – Ask For Luigi – April 2014

26 Apr

305 Alexander Street
Vancouver, BC
V6A 1C4

T: 604 428 2544
www.askforluigi.com

I have only been to Ask for Luigi twice but it is fast climbing up my list of favourite restaurants in the city. Ask For Luigi is brought to us by the same folks that run Pourhouse and Pizzeria Farina (another favourite of mine). Ask for Luigi is Italian all the way, with a focus on house-made, fresh pasta dishes. Sharing is recommended and the atmosphere is casual and relaxed. The space is a cute one with an open concept kitchen and a small and intimate dining room.

In the same way that my other local favourite Nook impresses, Luigi delivers simple, well-prepared food at a reasonable price. Dishes on the dinner menu are all under $20 and for lunch and brunch, all dishes are under $16. The coffee is impressive too, which makes it a rarity (good food paired with good coffee). If you’d prefer alcohol beer, wine, and prosecco (yes!) is offered by the glass for $6, or choose wine by the bottle.

With good food and limited seating, Ask for Luigi is busy. Be aware that it is unlikely that you will be seated immediately. On the two occasions that we’ve been during the day we have been fortunate to get a table immediately but that doesn’t seem to be the norm. I’ve been on a Wednesday night at 8pm and have been told the wait is over 45 minutes, so be prepared. But once you are in, sit back, and enjoy the experience.

Exterior
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Pork belly with a fried egg, salsa verde and creamy polenta - $15

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Tagliatelle alla carbonara with a poached egg - $16

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Fingerling potatoes cooked in duck fat – $4

Risotto with pancetta, peas, and asparagus – $15

Ask for Luigi on Urbanspoon

Photo Visit – Nook Kitsilano – March 2014

16 Mar

1525 Yew Street
Vancouver, BC
V6K 3E4

T: 604 734 3381
www.nookrestaurant.ca

Since becoming home-owners late last year, we have been trying to save a few pennies by foregoing our usual weekend brunches out. Unfortunately, habits are hard to break and we’ve found ourselves returning to our brunching ways. I have found myself brunching at Nook Kitsilano the past three weekends in a row. I could pretend to be shameful right now but the brunch is so good that I hold my head high. Nook is, without a doubt, the restaurant that I find myself at the most. I’ve talked about my love for Nook on this blog numerous times and so it comes as no surprise that I would also enjoy their brunch offerings.

A typical breakfast diner this is not (head up the street to Abigail’s if that is what you are after) but you will find Italian-influenced skillet dishes, pizza, and these two dishes; the baby Dutch pancake (almost like a sweet Yorkshire pudding) and the Italian breakfast (a plate of Italian meats and cheeses). Be warned: the Italian breakfast is like a hot girl that walked into a room – heads turn when this dish gets delivered to your table. I’ve had other diners stare at my ordered brunch of Italian breakfast and ask “What is that?!” and then proceed to order it. It is a meaty start to the day and only $14.

Besides hearty breakfast dishes, the coffee is also quite good meaning that this is a one-stop shop – no need to get a caffeine hit before, or after, brunch.

The Baby Dutch Pancake

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The Italian Breakfast

Brunch special: lentils with lamb sausage ragu and poached eggs

Brunch special: guanciale, spinach, egg, and parmesan pizza

Nook Kitsilano

30 Aug

1525 Yew Street
Vancouver, BC
V6K 3E4

T: 604 734 3381
www.nookrestaurant.ca

So if I’ve not been in the kitchen this summer (see previous post), then what have I been eating? Well, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the recently opened Nook Kitsilano. Perhaps I have even been spending too much time there, who knows? All I can say is that it is dangerous for my wallet and my waistline that my favourite restaurant opened their second location only blocks from my place.

Nook’s original location is in the West End and has long been a favourite of mine. Some might wonder why this casual, small restaurant with a fairly simple menu is one of my favourites and I would respond with exactly that…it is casual, small (read: intimate), with an uncomplicated menu of Italian favourites. Oh, and the price-point is just right. So, long story short, they opened their location at Yew and Cornwall in mid-July and I’ve been there a lot. The new space is quite different from their cozy, intimate spot on Denman Street. The Kits restaurant is bigger and brighter and it definitely seats more people (not so much a “nook”), which is good because they have been busy every single time I’ve been there.

Besides some slight differences, the menu basically mirrors their West End menu and you will find the usual Nook offerings of excellent pasta, pizza, and antipasto. In addition to the menu, there are always daily pizza and pasta specials. Most menu items are well under $20 and I highly recommend ordering dishes to share amongst the table.

Nook

Daily pizza special: sopressata and egg.

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Daily Pasta Special

Nook KitsDaily Pizza Special: Bianco, zucchini, and pancetta

If you are wanting to try Nook Kitsilano but don’t want to forgo a sunny evening, you are in luck. You can take-away and with the beach only a block away, it is the perfect storm for a delicious picnic dinner at the beach. FYI, if you aren’t too full after dinner, try one of their cappuccinos – the foam is incredible.

So whilst I believe that the Denman location is slightly better than the Kits one (ambience, space, and service is better at West End), you still can’t really go wrong with the new Nook either. The food is still excellent and the price-point is the same – I’m just a sucker for the original.

Nook Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Photo Visit – Nook – June 2013

16 Jun

781 Denman Street
Vancouver, BC
V6G 2L6

T: 604 568 4554
www.nookrestaurant.ca

Brief Description: Nook fills the West End void of affordable and unpretentious Italian food. Think generous portions of scrumptious pizza and pasta for under $15.

I think I’ve made it pretty clear on this blog just how much I enjoy visiting Nook. I dare say that it is my favourite restaurant in the city. Not because of any one thing but it is the combination of the friendly service, well-executed food, the unpretentious and intimate space, and the value for money, that make it a favourite. B and I love visiting Nook whenever we want to go out for a romantic, yet affordable, evening. This meal, plus 2 glasses of wine and a beer, came to just under $100.

Nook

Burrata and Proscuitto – $18

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Daily Pasta Special: Pork Ragu – $19
P1070322Italian Sausage Pizza – $15

Rumour has it that Nook will be opening their Kitsilano location in July. I, for one, cannot wait and I have my fingers crossed that they are able to keep the same standard that they consistently deliver at the West End location.

Nook on Urbanspoon

Mario Batali’s Wilted Greens with Garlic and Anchovies

11 Mar

I am always searching for tasty recipes that include lots of green vegetables. I enjoy eating most green veg but at times it can get a bit dull so I look for recipes that add some much-needed flavour and variety. I recently came across a Mario Batali recipe for “Wilted Greens with Garlic and Anchovies“. It sounded quick and easy, yet tasty – exactly what I was looking for. I used kale as the recipe calls for any sturdy green leaf and we have an abundance of kale here in BC. Mario recommends escarole or turnip greens.

Overall, it was a simple dish, although not particularly memorable nor impressive. I felt that it needed more of the fishy flavour so I would add 5 anchovy fillets, rather than just 3, next time. I also finished it with grated parmigiano reggiano for just a bit of added flavour.

Mario Batali’s Wilted Greens with Garlic and Anchovies – Serves 6
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 anchovy fillets, rinsed
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 head escarole or 1 head or bunch other sturdy leafy green, such as dandelions or turnip greens, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide ribbons, washed and spun dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lemon

Method:
Heat a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the olive oil, anchovies, and garlic and cook just until the garlic is light golden brown, about 30 seconds. Add the greens and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, squeeze the lemon juice over, and serve.

Recipe from Epicurious.

The Dirty Apron Cooking Class – Primo Italiano

6 Feb

Cooking is one of my favourite hobbies so it is fair to assume that I love cooking classes. Friends of mine are well aware of this and so when it comes to getting me gifts, my friends know that they can’t go wrong with buying me a cooking class. I recently received a gift voucher for The Dirty Apron and I was eager to use it immediately. Last night I spent a few hours at The Dirty Apron Cooking School getting my hands dirty and eating my fill (plus some) at the “Primo Italiano: Italy from Country to Coast” class. I was so inspired leaving this class that I have signed up for another class tonight (I’ll tell you more about that one when I’ve completed it).

The menu was ambitious and we went a little over our 4 hour time limit but it was absolutely, without-a-doubt, worth it. Firstly, I must say that I saw a lot of improvements from the last class that I did, which was about a year ago. I had a great time at the “Ooh La La” French class but I was a little doubtful about the value. Let me clear that up right now. I am no longer in doubt – with the changes that the school has made the class is absolutely worth the $150. Changes that I had noticed from a year ago were sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvres on arrival, the charcuterie plates that were served whilst we were cooking, and the complimentary apron. I believe that these additions really elevated the experience and made the night even more polished.

Welcome hors d’oeuvres and sparkling wine served on arrival.

You can read my full review from last year here, and things haven’t really changed when it comes to the format of the class. I was still impressed by the professionalism displayed by the Chef and the team – everything was explained very thoroughly and very calmly – there was no Gordon Ramsay style yelling. Once the dish has been demonstrated and tips given, you are sent back to your station to make an individual-sized portion for yourself. If you are unsure of anything during the cooking process, the Chef and the team are always on hand to provide helpful tips or advice. This comes in handy as there are sometimes quite a few steps to remember.

The first dish that we made was black pepper fettuccini, served with crisp double-smoked bacon and a white wine arugula cream sauce.

I found this demonstration particularly helpful as I have made pasta at home by myself and whilst it turned out quite good, I felt that there was room for improvement. Tips provided such as using a mix of flours, not adding flour whilst rolling the pasta, and a demonstration of the correct kneading process, will really help me when I try to re-create this dish at home. My pasta turned out incredibly well and the sauce really couldn’t have been any simpler to make. All in all, this dish was much less complicated than it seems and, boy, was it tasty. Give me just a bowl of this and a glass of wine and I’ll be happy!The second dish of seared sablefish with lemon prawn risotto, blew away many of the perceptions I had associated with making risotto. Risotto would have to be one of my favourite dishes and I really don’t mind spending the 45 minutes to an hour stirring in stock and tending to it. I was told last night (shock horror) that I didn’t need to do this and that this actually made the rice more gluey by constantly stirring. The other tip that rocked my world was that you could make the risotto in advance by cooking it until it is about 80% done and then spreading it out on a cookie tray, wrapped and chilled, until you are ready to finish it off. Seriously, I did not know that this was possible. When done this way, the risotto only took about 15 minutes to finish. The sablefish, much like the Mediterranean bass I made in the French class, was so incredibly easy to cook (less than 10 minutes in total) that I feel like a bit of an idiot ordering fish at a restaurant now.The meal concluded with a warm Frangelico and roasted pear tart, served with soft mascarpone and Muscat sabayon. Before the class, this was the dish that I was the least excited about making but it is now my favourite dish of the evening. The whole process wasn’t overly complicated – really most of the work is waiting for the pears and the syrup to cook down, and then whisking the sabayon until it is light and fluffy. I’ve made cupcakes more complicated than that! I have never attempted sabayon before but I will definitely be re-creating this dish at home, particularly if I’m hosting a dinner party.

The appetizer and the main are served with your choice of red or white wine and the dessert is served with tea or coffee. If you are going to do a course at The Dirty Apron Cooking School, be prepared and go hungry. I was soooo full after eating all of this and, sure, I didn’t have to eat it all but it was all so incredibly delicious that I felt like I had to! When I sat down to eat such beautiful, delicious, dishes that I had created, I really felt a strong sense of achievement. The classes are $150 each and I have no hesitation in recommending them to you, or the foodies in your life.

Photo Visit – Nook – January 2013

20 Jan

With a strict “no reservations” policy and a small dining room, you have to be quite strategic when attempting to score a seat at Nook, particularly on a Saturday night. My sister and I wanted to go for dinner last night (a Saturday night) at our favourite place in the West End, but first we tallied up the odds: 1/ The Canucks first game of the NHL season was on, and 2/ Dine Out Vancouver was underway and Nook isn’t a participant. With this in mind, the odds seemed stacked in our favour and, as we had hoped, we walked straight in to a seat at the bar.

My sister and I have eaten at Nook a lot and we normally order our favourites but last night we decided to order both the pizza and pasta daily specials, just to mix things up a bit.

Spaghetti with Nduja and Guanciale – $18

Pancetta, rapini, and egg pizza – $18

Normally, I would have suggested ordering the delectable burrata and proscuitto plate to start, but that would be gluttonous with just the two of us so we stuck with these two dishes and could barely finish them. The spaghetti had a nice hint of spice, thanks to the nduja, which is a spicy Italian sausage (never heard of nduja before – you learn something new every day!). The pizza was also very good but I am finding that I’m finding less enjoyment with eating anything that has a runny egg yolk (personal preference). With $8 glasses of prosecco, friendly staff, and affordable, hearty servings of carbs, I continue to strongly recommend a visit to Nook.

Nook on Urbanspoon

Christmas Lunch at Cioppino’s

18 Dec

133 Hamilton Street
Vancouver, BC
V6B 5P6

T: 604 688 7466
www.cioppinos.wordpress.com

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.

Every year, my team at work goes for a fancy lunch to celebrate Christmas and the end of another year, and this year was no exception. It has become quite the norm for us to splurge and this year we chose to return to Cioppino’s, as we had a memorable lunch there two years ago.

I believe that Cioppino’s is one of the best overall restaurants in the city. That might be because I’m a huge fan of Italian but I do think that the quality, in service and food, is exceptional at Cioppino’s. The decor itself is quite traditional, with terracotta tiling, warm wood features, and a more sophisticated feel. The clientèle also seemed to be more suits and grey hair, than young and hip, but I’d say that is mostly because of the price-range. Cioppino’s is not cheap, in fact with the cheapest main courses of pasta at $25 and meat dishes upwards of $35, I’d put it in the expensive, high-end basket, but it is lovely and worth it for a splurge.

Caprese Tradizionale

Classic Lobster Bisque

Saffron, citrus risotto with seared scallops

Milk Chocolate: Light mousse, Caramelia chantilly and ice-cream

Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

Del Posto – New York

28 Sep

When I was planning our eating expeditions for New York, one of the restaurants that was continually recommended to me was Michelin-starred Del Posto, a Mario Batali restaurant. After our experience at Del Posto, I can see why people are so keen to recommend it.

Del Posto is a high-end Italian restaurant located in Chelsea, near the Chelsea Market. After making dinner reservations at Per Se and Eleven Madison Park, there wasn’t much room in our budget for a dinner splurge at Del Posto so I was grateful that they have the ridiculously affordable three course prix fixe lunch for $39 per person. Even at this price, we were treated like a King and Queen, and the service was flawless, whilst also being personable. We spent an extra $10 per person to add a pasta dish to our lunch (in my opinion, well worth it).

The interior of the restaurant is elegant and classically decorated. Warm colours, sweeping stairwells, and a live pianist, make it a sophisticated space worthy of spending a few luxurious hours.

When we arrived we were greeted with complimentary amuse bouche and three types of fresh bread. The bread (focaccia, baguette, and olive bread) was served with butter and…wait for it…whipped lardo.

I won’t go into specific details about each individual dish, because all I would be doing is showering you with superlatives, however it should be known that the Sardinian lamb, with its salty, slightly crispy crust, was absolutely one of the best lamb dishes I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve eaten a lot of baby sheep in my time.

Lobster Fra Diavolo with Garlic Bread Panna Cotta & Seaweeds

Beef Carpaccio with Sunchoke Puree, Sage Grissini & Sunflower

Veal Agnolotti, finished with Sweet Pea, Espresso & Grana Padano. This was spectacular.

Sardinian Lamb with a side of Roman Artichokes, Bruised Mint & Saffron Potatoes.

Butterscotch Semifreddo with Sour Cherries, Melon Agrumata, & Crumbled Sbrisolona. 

This was B’s dessert, I believe it was the Tartufo al Caffè, Dark Chocolate, Sant’Eustachio Coffee.

Complimentary petit fours, including ice cream lollipop, dark truffle, and donut balls filled with custard.

Our experience at Del Posto, was outstanding. If this how they treat you for a $40 lunch, I’m intrigued to know how they treat you for their dinner service. I would highly recommend a visit to Del Posto, even if it is just for the lunch. When I return to New York, I will certainly be making a return trip.

Del Posto on Urbanspoon

Pronto Caffe

7 Sep

3473 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC
V5Z 2W7

T: 604 722 9331
www.prontocaffe.ca

Brief Description: Pronto is a cute, casual café on Cambie Street that specializes in porchetta (Italian roast pork), and Italian-inspired panini, sandwiches, and entrées.

Pronto is one of those unpretentious cafés that offers tasty food and good value for money. Located at 18th and Cambie Street, it is truly a neighbourhood café and the relaxed vibe attests to this. During the warmer weather opt for the secluded, sunny outdoor patio in the back, or one of the alfresco tables that overlooks Cambie Street. If the weather has turned, no worries, the art deco-style interior is welcoming and there are booths to snuggle up in, or limited bar seating to watch the action.

The food is simple in its approach and the menu includes Italian-inspired panini, sandwiches, porchetta plates, pasta, and daily entrée specials, such as chicken scallopini. The sandwich selections include saucy house-made meatballs with pomodoro sauce, chicken cutlet with spicy mayo and cheese, and roasted Mediterranean vegetable. Considering how generous they are with their fillings, the prices are more than fair at $7 to $8.50.

Meatball and Provolone Sandwich

Sopressata Sandwich

Porchetta Sandwich

I’ve had a number of the sandwiches, and have liked them all. Of course, the porchetta sandwich stands out, but so does the meatball sandwich and the sopressata sandwich. If sandwiches aren’t your thing, then choose from the pasta menu or the changing daily specials.

The last time I was there for dinner, my sister and I shared the linguine pesto, topped with crispy pancetta, and the tagliatelle arabiatta with prawns. The pasta portion sizes were very generous so the prices were a steal, at $12 and $15 respectively. The linguine pesto was a little bland (aren’t all pesto pastas?) but the arabiatta was a satisfying taste of home-style cooked pasta.

Prawn Tagliatelle Arabiatta

Linguine Pesto

Pronto also does a brunch service on the weekends where they partner breakfast specials, such as breakfast pizza and eggs benedicts, with a limited sandwich menu. Pasta and entrée dishes aren’t available during brunch.

Breakfast Pizza with potatoes, pancetta, and egg.

I’ve visited Pronto a number of times now and I must say that, in my experience, the service is spotty. I was there for a dinner a few weeks ago and there was venting issue in the kitchen that was creating an odd smell, which caused some folks to leave. On other occasions, I’ve had to chase up drink orders and forgotten items. I’ve had slow and inconsistent service, but I’ve always had friendly service.

As odd as this sounds, these issues seem to add to the charm of this place. I’m ok with the inconsistencies because my expectations are that this is a casual, relaxed café and not a high-end, fine-dining establishment. With that said, if they could refine their service, they’d have a really great thing going on rather than just a good thing.

Final Thoughts: I do like Pronto and I will continue to go back when I’m looking for a relaxing lunch spot or a cheap and cheerful place for a hearty pasta and a glass of red wine.

Pronto Caffe on Urbanspoon

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