Sunday, April 15, 2012

Italian food, La Quercia style

A classic formal Italian meal consists of 4 courses, 'antipasti' (starter), 'primi' (usually a pasta course), 'secondi' (meat or fish) and 'postre' (dessert). Found this out the hard way the first time I went for dinner at Connie's house (now a very long time ago!), the all-important 'first contact' with her mother's cooking. After the salad she brought me a large plate of pasta, Connie had prepared me somewhat so I was ready and dug in. It was delicious and I managed, happily accepting a second helping that was pretty much as big as the first. Towards the end of this one I struggled but finished the plate, immensely full but satisfied. Imagine my surprise when a large dish of potatoes, vegetables and sausages appeared. Not eating it wasn't an option so I continued well past the point of comfortably full, managed dessert as well and staggered home afterwards. I didn't eat for a few days after that one, but I did manage to impress suffiently to continue dating :-)
Finding rustic, home-style Italian food has been a challenge in the past. Connie doesn't like 'fancy Italian', it has to be like mum's cooking or it won't fly. Campagnolo was the first Italian restaurant in Vancouver that managed to sway Connie with its casual take on high-quality Italian. We have visited there often and have never been disappointed. Lately, La Quercia has been in the news, it won the 2011 Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards as best restaurant as well as best casual Italian and best informal dining. I have been wanting to try this place for some time now and after a few attempts realized that reservations were very hard to get. When looking for something special for my birthday, I called them at least six weeks ago and managed to get a 5:45 reservation for last night, every other seating was booked already!
I wouldn't classify La Quercia as casual, more as rustic. Prices are high enough to make this a not so casual outing plus the fact that you have to book weeks in advance doesn't make it seem casual either. But let's stop nitpicking, it was very, very good. We followed the classic four course model, enjoying a couple of simple starters of butter lettuce with a whipped egg dressing as well as cured trout with shaved fennel and radishes.

We then moved on to pastas, this is where things started getting great, Connie had linguine with clams, I had gnocchi with crumbled sausage. The gnocchi were pillowy soft with just enough sauce and bits of sausage to satisfy, the linguine perfectly al dente and flecked with green herbs in a light sauce.

Secondis came in the form of a piece of pan fried trout with mussels for Connie and Cornish game hen plus pork belly for me. Kai was present too, he had picked at our dishes until then but we requested some spaghetti Bolognese for him which was also delectable and he inhaled it. He certainly has the Italian pasta-eating gene, usually when eating pasta at home he and Connie will be done well before me and the amount of pasta he manages to pack away is impressive.

We also managed to score a Parmesan soufflé, we saw those being served to the table next to us and the ecstatic reaction of the people eating them was enough for us to order one. It was beautifully light on the inside with a nice caramelized crust on the outside. Perfection really.

The Parmesan soufflé good, it deserves a close-up
Dessert was a Tiramisu with a orange accent plus a pear-almond tart. By that time we were entirely satisfied and vowed to come back only to enjoy some more of this great food.
The room is tiny, it has about 36 seats, there is an equally tiny kitchen in the back and that is it. The overall experience is definitely one I want to repeat in the not too distant future!

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