While we were milling around the foyer after our Friday ice hockey game, Special K asked me if I had ever dined at Cioppino's before. As fate would have it, I had a reservation at 6:45pm to go the following night. Coincidentally, she had a reservation for 7:00pm on the same night! Right there and then, I devised a plan to take advantage of the situation. That's right folks, I have sunk to a new low. I asked if I could take pictures of their food, even though their table would likely be nowhere near mine.
Prior to our dinner at Cioppino's, Elaine, Costanza, Viv and I went to the Scotiabank Theatres to watch District 9. Let me just say that was one very odd movie. Somehow, I really was not in the mood for Prawns after watching it (if you've seen it, you'd understand). For my starter, I went for a different type of seafood - Grilled Tender Pacific Octopus with stewed Tuscan white beans. Although it was tender in some parts, most of the octopus was a bit chewy. Despite this, the combination of white beans, frisee and cherry tomatoes in a citrus vinaigrette (?) helped bring out the natural sweetness of the octopus. This ended up to be a filling appetizer and I knew right there and then that this wasn't going to be a Filet-O-Fish meal. For those who do not know what I am referring to, there is a story behind this. Once I had a meal at Feenie's (now DB Bistro Moderne) that was so small, I needed to go get a Filet-O-Fish afterwards! So from that point on, if a meal was unsatisfying, it would be deemed a Filet-O-Fish meal.
Viv loves smoked salmon and it was predictable that she would choose the Apple Wood Smoked Wild Salmon with toasted brioche. The salmon was buttery soft with gentle smoke undertones. The sweet toasted brioche provided a nice textural contrast. The sauce (looked like olive oil, mustard and shallots?) added a nice smoothness to the salmon without interfering with its delicate flavour. Elaine went for something completely different and bless her soul for doing so. More diversity for me to write about! Her choice of appetizer was the Porcini and Chestnut Soup with vanilla chantilly. This particularly soup was a Gold Medal Winner. When I think of chestnuts, I usually equate it heavy and hearty. Yet, one sip of this soup and I was pleasantly surprised by its lightness and depth of flavour. Thanks to the porcini mushrooms, there was a nice combination of earthiness and richness which was never heavy. I didn't get to sample the Chantilly on top of the soup; but I'm sure that it would have added an extra creaminess.
Costanza dined at Cioppino's recently and had sampled a dish with an exquisite balsamic dressing. He asked our server if they could whip something up using the same vinaigrette. The kitchen obliged and a simple Spring Salad with feta arrived. Honestly, the salad itself was none too exciting. Mind you, the kitchen could only do what it could with the special request. I must remark that the dressing was indeed very good since it was super smooth with only slight balsamic undertones. A less successfully executed dressing would've been sour. Thankfully, Costanza's main dish had much more substance. He opted for the Veal “Ossobuco” alla Milanese with saffron risotto. Looking quite rustic, the large portion of veal rested on a modest amount of risotto. The veal was super tender and delicately seasoned. Prepared much like a pot roast with root vegetables, there was a richness to the meat from the slow cooking. The risotto had a nice firm texture and it held up well to the addition of the roasting juices from the veal. Of course the real draw of osso buco is the bone marrow and Costanza devoured it all by himself.
I originally had difficulty selecting my main dish since I am conflicted when there is so much choice. Thankfully, Costanza recommended the Pappardelle with 4-hour-braised veal cheeks and porcini mushrooms. He had this dish on his last visit and swears by it. The first thing that I noticed was how the pasta was so perfectly cooked. It was teetering on the line between undercooked and just cooked. To me, that is perfection. The pasta is soft enough to eat; yet still retains bite and/or resistance. With just enough sauce clinging onto each ribbon of pasta, the flavours really worked. The slightly nutty flavour of the porcini helped offset the saltiness of the tender pork cheeks. It's one of those dishes where you would keep eating it if there was an unlimited supply.
Viv picked another one of her favourites, the Braised Beef Short Ribs in red wine with seasonal vegetables. Sandwiched in between 2 "interestingly" shaped mounds of potato puree were 2 melt-in-your-mount pieces of short rib. There was a pronounced red wine taste to the ribs and sauce. Some nice broccolini finished off the dish. Now, I've saved the best main course for last. Elaine smartly chose the Pan-Roasted Sablefish Fillet with soy sabayon and green vegetables. Apparently, this was one of the dishes Pino served at the James Beard Dinner in NYC. After trying it, we could see why. The fish was prepared to perfection with each moist flake of fish melting in our mouths. Flavoured with a soy sabayon (which is usually a dessert), the fish was well seasoned; yet there was no question it was the star of the show. Some may wonder why this dish costs $40.00. The answer to that is if you even had eaten something that you can remember for a long time and still taste it in your mouth through memory alone, it was worth it.
For dessert, I ended up with the Limoncello Cheesecake with citrus-vanilla confiture, aged Balsamico caramel and mascarpone-citrus sorbet. Once again, this was served at the James Beard dinner in NYC. I didn't know this before ordering it and I can see why it was chosen for the prestigious dinner. The soft, sweet and fluffy cheesecake was perfectly contrasted by the crunchy citrus rind shavings sprinkled on the outside. It gave an extra kick of flavour and tartness/bitterness to the delicately sweet cheesecake. Further enhancing the tartness of the dessert was the mascarpone-citrus sorbet. I thought that the mascarpone helped temper the tartness by offering a smoothness normally associated with gelato (despite this being a sorbet). Giving one last kick of sweetness and depth was the balsamico caramel.
Elaine had the Tiramisu with mascarpone custard, lady fingers and chocolate sauce. I love tiramisu and almost ordered it instead of the cheesecake. I got a good spoonful and it was delicate and only moderately sweet. There wasn't a pronounced coffee flavour. It was there, we could taste it; but it didn't dominate the dessert. Viv opted for a decadent dessert in the form of the Light Milk Chocolate Mousse with raspberry cream centre, sour cherries and mango coulis. Colourfully presented on a long white plate, the chocolate mousse melted in my mouth. As the name implied, the mousse was rather light and only semi-sweet. The raspberries and coulis added a nice tartness to the mousse. Costanza was intrigued by the Ricotta-filled Cannoli which was the dessert special. He thought they were a bit heavy and I would have to agree. Probably the weakest of the desserts we had. I did like filling though, it was light and creamy.
Now normally I would have pretty much summed up my thoughts and begin to do a concluding paragraph for this post; however, with Special K and Emilicious dining across the room, I couldn't pass up the opportunity for more pictures. In between our courses, I passed the camera to Special K and she graciously took pictures of all dishes at her table. Yes, I knew someday that I would sink to this level where I would have pictures from a table that I was not even sitting at! Their party started off sharing 2 appetizers. The first one was the Sautéed Calamari “alla Ligure” with spinach and Portobello mushrooms. I was told that the Calamari was tender and of course delicately seasoned. I considered it, but I think it would've been bad etiquette to start trying dishes from another table. Maybe I'll sink to that level one day. The second appetizer was the Crepes with buffalo mozzarella. According to Special K, the crepe was very tasty, it had a delicate flavour, definitely French influenced.
There was a dinner special which was a Risotto with Italian Truffles. It sounded really good until our server notified us it would be $100.00. Apparently, Special K and Emilicious had the same reaction too. So no comments on Truffle Risotto here, we'd like to eat for the rest of the week! Instead, their table had the Porcini Mushroom Risotto. Special K thought the risotto was really good. It was cooked perfectly and it was not too rich. Sometimes risotto is heavy-handed with a thick consistency, but this was just right. They also had the same pappardelle that I had and Special K thought that it was everyone's favourite. The veal was so tender and full of flavour, hardly needing any sauce.
Special K normally prefers beef tenderloin, but decided to give the Tuscan Rib-Eye a try. On the menu, it's described as the Tuscan style rib-eye of dry-aged triple A beef with rocket salad and Parmigiano. She thought the meat was cooked perfectly medium/medium rare and very tender. It was a large piece of meat, but they balanced it very nicely with a green salad and balsamic vinaigrette. For me, by looking at the dish, the beef seems to be cooked perfectly and evenly with a nice char on the outside. Emilicious seems to love pasta and clams, so it wasn't much of a surprise that she ordered the Spaghetti “alle Vongole” served in a white wine garlic sauce. According to her, it was very well done. Not as in overcooked but perfectly al dente tossed in a white wine garlic sauce - very simple and delicious. She added some crushed chillies for a bit of a kick as well. When I went to pick up my camera, they kept "ooo"ing and "aaa"ing about their Organic Lemon Tart. I'm sure they said "organic", not some other similar word... Emilicious thought the lemon filling had a good consistency and tartness to it. It was topped with a light and fluffy meringue that had just the right sweetness to offset the tang of the lemon. Crust was thin - good balance of crust to filling. Special K liked the tart, but she preferred the Tiramisu.
It's true that Cioppino's is pricey and it's very easy to drop $100.00 per person, if not more for a meal here. However, in my opinion, it's one of those dining experiences that is worth every penny (and that's a lot of pennies). The food in general was executed with precision and care, sometimes by Pino himself! Nice to see an Executive Chef in action rather than merely supervising. Service was professional and not pretentious in any way. The ambiance was a bit noisier than I expected; but it didn't detract from the overall experience. Cioppino's is definitely high on my list of "must eats" in Vancouver.
- Food is prepared and executed with precision
- Service is top notch
- Excellent wine list
- Some might find it overpriced
- Atmosphere was a bit more boisterous than I thought it would be