Restaurant: Cafe Il Nido Restaurant & Bar
Cuisine: Italian/West Coast
Last visited: September 25, 2010
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson/West End/Downtown)
Address: 780 Thurlow Street
Price Range: $20-30
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
Food: 2 (based on few items I tried)
- Since 1988
- Italian owners
- Casual fine dining
- Hidden location
- Traditional pastas
- Contemporary Italian entrees
- Pasta portions are a bit small
- Wine bar
- Intimate, quiet, cozy dining
- Patio seating available
- Meter parking
- Ocean Wise seafood
- Lunch Mon-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm
- Dinner Mon-Sat. from 5:30pm
- Closed Sundays
Cafe Il Nido has been around since 1988 and it’s located right in the heart of downtown, Vancouver BC. The restaurant is actually very hidden in a courtyard, inside a mall complex, between an apartment building and some small local shops. It used to be known as a hidden gem to locals in the area and to some degree it still is. Although it was busy, my assumption from the food and atmosphere is that it’s still attracting the same crowd or even some tourists, but no new customers. It attracts an older 45+ crowd, and it has a quiet and intimate ambiance, but the air is stale and so was some of the food.
I came for dinner and it was my first time visiting. I only tried their pasta dishes, but it wasn’t good enough to make we want to come back. The pasta was all very mediocre to needing some improvement and even better execution. I find it interesting that they advertise so heavily on being “inventive Italian dining” because I found the pasta dishes all quite typical, a bit small, ordinary and tiresome. The main entrees and meat dishes sounded more creative and perhaps that was the direction to go. I anticipated to visit this local hidden gem, but instead I think it’s better just hidden. The food and experience was all very forgettable.
For a contemporary take on Italian dining in downtown Vancouver try Lupo Restaurant + Vinoteca and for fine dining try Cin Cin Ristorante right across the street. There’s also Q4 and Vita Bella Ristorante outside of downtown.
On the table:
- The focaccia was served cold and I have my doubts that it was made in house. There was barely any course sea salt used and no fresh or dried herbs.
- It was very chewy with some crunchy parts and it almost tastes stale.
- The olive oil and balsamic vinegar were actually very good though.
- Even for complimentary bread I expect better like from at Vita Bella Ristorante, Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina, and even Romano’s Macaroni Grill.
- Spaghettini w/mussels, garlic, white wine, and sun dried tomatoes $16
- This was my favourite pasta of the ones I ordered. It was also the most basic and looked the most bland, but it was actually the most flavourful.
- The spaghetti were a bit paste al dente and should have had more bite.
- The sauce was a very light but full flavoured olive oil based white wine sauce. It could have used more fresh garlic because they only used one garlic clove to infuse the wine, but no actual minced garlic in the sauce. I loved biting into the juicy sun dried tomatoes which gave it a nice salty tang and they were generous with them.
- I do question if the mussels were fresh because they seemed frozen although they were cooked right and still good. Quite small, but still meaty, but not gutsy in texture.
- The garnish should have been chopped up parsley too.
- Papardelle bolognese, rich meat braised in red wine sauce with egg noodles $18
- I have been craving parpardelle since watching the movie Eat, Pray, Love. Julia Roberts does an awesome job at making you crave it.
- The parpardelle noodles seemed fresh and home made. They were cooked to a perfect al dente with a bite. (Some may consider it undercooked, but it’s not)
- The bolognese sauce is tangy, salty with fresh cracked black pepper and made with very tender and soft ground beef. It was actually quite good but had no aromatics from onions, carrots, or celery. They were scarce on it too and it didn’t have enough meat so it got quite boring. The noodles didn’t pick up the sauce well and the basil sauce drizzle was pointless because I couldn’t taste it at all.
- Overall it was pretty forgettable, although I guess somewhat on the traditional Italian side. It could have used fresh Parmesan and basil leaves too.
- Ricotta and sweet potato gnocchi, fried sage butter, sweet potato chips $15
- The portion looked a bit small, but they were filling so I guess it was okay.
- This sounded better on the menu and looked better than it tasted.
- The sauce tastes like unsalted melted butter, it had a couple leaves of sage and some lightly sauteed radicchio and fennel that was almost executed like a warm crunchy salad. Overall they just piled it with licorice tasting ingredients and it did nothing for the gnocchi. It was more bitter and bland than savoury and sweet. Very odd.
- The sweet potato chips were chewy and stale too.
- The ricotta gnudi at Vita Bella Ristorante along with the ricotta gnocchi with pork cheeks from Lupo Restaurant + Vinoteca are way better. Even the Butternut Squash Ravioli from Cactus Club is way better and it has the same sage butter sauce. I actually like that dish in general though.
- The sweet potato gnocchi was bland and didn’t have the fork ridges on them. I couldn’t taste the Ricotta or really even the sweetness from the potato. they weren’t very fluffy and they actually taste greasy from all the unsalted melted butter.
Too bad that your meal was uninspiring…at least there’s many more Italian joints to cover(like Frederico’s supper club/dine and dancing); unlike writing about Armenian food.
Pasta is one of those things that I am a bit wary of ordering because it is so simple yet, at times, people charge truckloads of money for it. In fact, the worst Chinese analogy I can provide with Chinese food would be the bowl of noodles at Chef Hung and that was less than $15! (compared to > $30 at some Italian eateries!). In a way, I guess it is the law of diminishing returns: how much “extra” you can get after you have passed certain threshold…
As for Italian food in Downtown/West End, there is Nook and Ciao Bella. The later, while not necessarily the best (some tends to be more on the lines of American Italian), it certainly looked better than what you got…
Bow – I went to Frederico’s a long time ago and I was actually considering it before Cafe Il Nido… next time though!
KimHo – yes I’ve been to Ciao Bella before, but it’s been a while. I agree, pasta is very simple, but I never find main courses at Italian restaurants very worth it. Pastas are usually $17-20 at casual fine dining ones, while the mains are $24+…. I’m just an “okay” fan of Italian anyways… sometimes I find it just gets so repetitive. AUTHENTIC Italian on the other hand… I like!