For quite a while, I’ve been waiting patiently for a good opportunity to go have dinner at La Quercia. [3689 W 4th Avenue, Vancouver, (604) 676-1007] Since the restaurant opened a couple years back, all I’ve heard is good things and I’ve been a fan of Adam and Lucais (chef/owners) since their days at La Buca. I was a regular diner at La Buca, sent all my staff and a bunch of my guests over the years. Back in the day, when I worked for the “Count of Calabria,” Adam mentioned years back that I met them when they came to do a stage, but my terrible memory and early stage Alzheimer’s does not recall a thing. Well, it was finally my opportunity to go check out La Quercia and I hoped that my high expectations were not setting me up for disappointment.
A couple of days before “Monk” and my 4th wedding anniversary, we decided to celebrate with dinner for two at this tiny Italian neighborhood spot. I wish I could say it was a smooth and easy road to dinner at La Quercia, but it was not even close. I originally booked a reservation through Opentable and since there are now a lot more factors to consider before dining out, many issues had to be discussed and resolved. After arguing with “Monk” about the logistics of dinner, I finally confirmed a reservation for 6pm and pre-ordered the 9 course alla famiglia menu. The evening of our anniversary dinner, I picked up “Nuoc Mom” at the skytrain station, after yet another “Lost in Translation” moment, rushed her home, passed on the “Jazzy” details, while a fully dressed “Monk” and I snuck through the “man-cave,” “hopped in the hybrid” and got on our merry dining way. Traffic going downtown from our house in the burbs was a fricking disaster, so we called the restaurant and let them know we were going to be considerably late. Through my stellar driving ability and creative route management, I eventually got us to the restaurant only 25 minutes behind schedule. By the way, I hate being late, I hate people who are late and punctuality is a very big deal to me.
When we walked in, I felt (who says I don’t have feelings) a weird sense of déjà vu, since the restaurant completely reminded me of La Buca. As we stood there waiting for someone to greet us, I started getting a little nervous, when no one talked to us for a couple of minutes. I uneasily watched a server assistant (who was a dead ringer for Crispin Glover in Charlie’s Angels) ignore us, meticulously set, fiddle with and reset a table. Eventually, a server greeted us, sat us at our awaiting table and I quickly empowered them to do whatever they needed to do, to get us caught up on the 9 course menu. They had told me days before that they would need our table at 8:30, so because we were late (have I mentioned I hate being late???), I was more than happy to play by their rules.
While I was taking a quick peek at the wine list, “Monk” and I started off with a glass of rose bubbles for her and a Campari and soda for me. Since I was driving, we decided to pass on a bottle and order a glass of Valpolicella for “Monk” and a Barbera for me. I don’t remember the details of what the wines were; I’m terrible with Italian wine and as much as I love drinking them, I seem to have a real learning disability when it comes to remembering anything about them. The one thing I do remember was the server speaking into my bad ear, me not hearing her well, me not asking her to repeat herself, but me hearing her well enough, to hear her describe my wine as leathery on three separate occasions.
Within a few minutes, our aperitif arrived, some bread and butter was served and we both started to relax. We took a big pull from our drinks, started reminiscing about the “salad days of yesteryear” and “waxed poetically” about simpler, but less fulfilling times in our lives. Becoming parents has changed our lives considerably and just as I was going to get way too sentimental, our first course of veal tongue salad arrived. The salad was simple, not garnished in any way, but perfectly dressed and nicely seasoned. It was a salad of curiously chopped endive and baby lettuce, tossed with a simple olive oil vinaigrette and a few slices of veal tongue. It was super tasty, super simple and a super way to start the meal.
A few minutes later our second course of fritto misto arrived. Again, the plate was very simplistic and was basically a plate of fried seafood with a remoulade/tartare sauce and a few pieces of “frizzled basil.” The pieces of scallop, halibut cheek, mussels, squid and assorted bits were fried well, could have been a touch crisper, but overall, very nice. It could have used a little more salt and the remoulade was a little boring, but who doesn’t love a good plate of fried fish? Next up was an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano soufflé. It was served with a couple of dressed leaves of baby arugula and some 8 year old balsamico. I haven’t had a cheese soufflé in quite a while and found it very nice. “Monk” really liked it and insisted I make one for her at home in the not too distant future. I can’t remember the last time I had a cheese souffle at a restaurant and it’s definitely one of those things that most guests will really appreciate. The fourth course was Dover sole with a caper and brown butter sauce. Not exactly Italian regional cuisine, but the fish was well-cooked, the sauce was tasty and the simple garnish of sautéed zucchini was the perfect accoutrement to the dish. By this point, we were both really getting into our meal, everything was portioned appropriately, the taste of everything was very good, the service took a huge turn for the better and I was really enjoying the meal and the vibe of the room.
As they cleared away our plates and empty glasses, our glasses of wine including my “leathery Barbera” were brought to the table. The beginning of our pasta courses were starting and a saffron risotto was placed on the table. It was a plate of vibrant bright yellow risotto, garnished only with a little grated parm. The risotto was supposedly cooked to order and though it was probably the most boring looking plate of food I’ve ever seen, I was in a state of bliss after the first bite. The rice was cooked perfectly, flawlessly al dente, was seasoned faultlessly, the moistness of the risotto was spot on and clearly the rice was the star. I hate undercooked risotto, I hate overcooked risotto, and though there is only a little room for error, I love a properly cooked risotto. “Monk” didn’t like the rice dish one bit; she found the rice to be way underdone for her liking and the saffron flavor was not completely up her alley. That’s OK, you can’t please every one and it meant more for me and my gluttonous appetite. Next up was a linguine puntanesca (spicy whore sauce). I don’t think they made the pasta in-house, but it too was cooked brilliantly. I prefer dry pasta when it comes to long skinny noodles because you get a true al dente mouthfeel. This pasta was tasty, the linguine was appropriately dressed (not swimming in sauce) and the taste of the olives and anchovies was outstanding. “Monk” found the pasta to be undercooked, but again, I win again! Our final pasta course was rustic porchetta ravioli. Unfortunately, the sage butter sauce glazing the ravioli was a little split, but these ravioli were wicked tasty. Though they were not the most beautiful ravioli I’ve ever seen, the texture of the pasta was fantastic and the filling was clearly secondary to the noodle.
After the pastas, they reset the table for our meat course and brought us Tagliata di Manzo. Seared flatiron steak, dressed roccolo, pinenuts, parmesan, balsamico and olive oil. What can I say, except it was very good too. The meat was roasted and seasoned well, the greens were dressed nicely and this dish is a classic expression of Tuscan flavors. Minus the pinenuts, I do the same dish and refer to it as my version of “Bisteka alla Fiorentina”
After the savory dishes were done, dessert was served. We were served a platter of three dessert including a baked chocolate custard, a rhubarb strudel and a spiced cake, which I do not remember the details of. In my opinion, the desserts were tasty, but not outstanding in any way. Unfortunately, the ice cream and sorbets were too warm/melting and the taste of the desserts were not overly memorable. The best of the bunch was the baked chocolate custard; the texture was very nice and I appreciated the controlled amount of sugar. After a little grappa and a little apricot wine, we ended our spectacular meal, headed home to our house in the burbs, appetites satiated, another year of marriage under our belts with our beautiful daughter waiting patiently in our front picture window.
Issues and concerns; the room is very tight. For a “plus size gentleman” like myself, I would like a little more room around me. I prefer not to rub shoulders with the table of four ladies next to me as I elegantly use my steak knife. I love the simplicity of the food, but for my own personal taste, I would like just a touch more complexity. I respect simplicity and the restraint and confidence a chef needs to have, to execute unadorned simple food, but just one more component or flavor or garnish, could quite possibly elevate their already excellent dishes. Most chefs over-complicate things for no good reason; I’d like to see these guys complicate the food just one little smidge. I am very pleased with my experience at La Quercia and though there were a few tiny mistakes, I now consider La Quercia one of my favorite restaurants and look forward to my next visit. As a treat, I was thinking of taking the boys from Tapenade down and maybe I could be so bold to request them to cook 12 courses for our voracious appetites.
On my chef’s night out scale, La Quercia receives 4/5 SOB (slices of bacon).