Yaletown is an arena of highly competitive restaurateurs. One of the “must-visit” restaurant here, the winner of this year’s Best Upscale Italian as well as getting an honorable mention in the Best Upscale category, was Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill. It was also the Restaurant of the Year in 2009, and its head chef/owner, Giuseppe “Pino” Posteraro, was Chef of the Year in 2008. It is no surprise that it was here that I had one of the best pastas I’ve had in my life.
It also happened to be my birthday, so a friend was treating. Another year older, but that’s not going to stop my tasty eating habits!
We settled in to this dark, but lively, restaurant, where businessmen in Armani suits were just winding back after a hard day at work. We even saw Pino himself walking around the restaurant and greeting customers. He seemed so relaxed!
To start, I got the Porcini and Chestnut Soup with low fat vanilla Chantilly. It was also the Gold Medal Winner 2007, whatever that is. I didn’t know what to make out of this. I recently had a very delicious dish with Porcini broth at Diva, and it had a strong porcini flavor. But for this soup that was sitting in front of me, the flavor from the porcini mushrooms was still there, but it tasted like it had been watered down by the liquid. It wasn’t exactly creamy either, as it was actually pretty light. I did liked the croutons, which was salty, and that helped “seasoned” the soup a bit and provided some textural contrast.
My friend had the Stuffed Zucchini (?) Special. It was a Zucchini that was lightly fried and the interior was stuffed with cheese. I couldn’t tell what kind of cheese, but it did tasted familiar (it’s driving me crazy).
For my main course, I had the Pappardelle, with 4 hour-braised veal cheeks and porcini mushrooms, which was recommended by another friend. What a great recommendation, because this was legendary. The pasta itself was cooked in the perfect zone between undercooked (not too hard) and overcooked (too mushy). I would say it’s slightly beyond al dente. The creamy, meaty sauce was well spread throughout the pasta. But the star of the show here was definitely the meat. 4 hour, Braised, Veal Cheeks. If you look up those three terms in a dictionary, it’ll tell you that they all mean tender. And tender it was. The chucks of meat just broke apart and melted in my mouth, and there were quite a few pieces of it too. When I looked at the dish, the portion didn’t appear to be a lot, but the richness and the creaminess of the dish filled me up.
My friend got the other pasta item that I had my eye on: the Linguine, with Atlantic half lobster, tomato-cream-lobster sauce. I didn’t get a good taste of it, but what I noticed was that they did have a generous portion of lobster (tail) in there.
No meal is complete without desserts. Since we were in an Italian restaurant, I skipped over my usual choice of the crème Brûle and had the Mascarpone, the chef’s own interpretation of Tiramisu, coffee macaroon, dark chocolate sorbet. The presentation was interesting, as the three distinct elements were placed separately on the plate, like an exhibit in an art museum. The macaroons were more on the crispy side, but it was still alright. (I still think Thierry had the best macaroons.) Nothing remarkable about the dark chocolate sorbet, but it went well with the fluffy, creamy, and SWEET, almost sugary, tiramisu.
My friend had Pino’s Version Of Catalan Custard: crispy warm vanilla and semolina custard served with maple syrup ice-cream. I didn’t get to taste it though.
Service was good, and the waiter was knowledgeable about the menu. I LOVE the Pappardelle: simple execution, few ingredients, great delivery. From what I tasted tonight, I would love to come back to explore the menu a little further.