Restaurant: La Quercia
Last visited: April 14, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Kitsilano)
Address: 3689 W 4th Ave
Price Range: $30-50+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
Service: 5.5 (sit at the bar)
- Authentic Italian
- Italian family owned
- Casual fine dining
- Named “Best Casual Italian”
- Named “Restaurant of the Year 2011”
- Local favourite
- Very busy
- 2 hour seating time
- Daily fresh sheet
- Seasonal menu
- Simple & fresh
- Vegetarian friendly
- Excellent Italian only wine list
- Family style dining available
- Reservations recommended
- Tues – Sun: 5pm-10pm
**Recommendations: Family style dining 5 courses for $43 or 9 courses for $59. My highlights include Chicken Liver Parfait, Quail, Parmesan Sformato, Risotto for 2, Potato Gnocchi, Pistachio Pot de Creme, Pine Honey Semifreddo. I didn’t try these, but they looked really good was the Vitello Tonnato and the Parmesan Cheese Souffle.
La Quercia has only been open for about three years and it’s already won itself an award every year at the Vancouver Restaurant Awards put on by Vancouver Magazine. This year it won “Best Casual Italian” as well as “Restaurant of the Year”, so I immediately made reservations before it became impossible.
It’s a small little restaurant in Kitsilano and it’s a local favourite for casual Italian fine dining. From the outside it could be easily missed, but after one visit I can almost promise that you won’t forget about it.
The room is narrow and it can feel a bit tight, and because it’s so busy they limit you to a 2 hour seating time. However it’s still inviting and leads a sophisticated and elegant atmosphere with friendly service.
We were originally seated at the table, but when I made the request for “Alla famiglia dining”, either a $43/5 course menu or $59/9 course menu (guess which one I had), our server kindly suggested we sit at the bar. Well actually at first she looked at me and asked “are you sure?” with a concerned look on her face as if I was about to be defeated by an overwhelming amount of food. She warned us that people tend to get full by the pastas and that even the 9 course ends up being about 11 courses with a few of chef’s extras. Did it cause me to hesitate? No. Bring on the 9 courses please! I may be Asian, but I can eat like an Italian.
The reasons for moving us over to the bar is because the tables are too small to handle the series of mini plates served with alla famiglia dining (family style dining). It’s also a time sensitive way of eating because people with “normal” eating capacities usually require breaks, which means dinner would likely exceed the two hour time limit. At this point I don’t know if I was feeling slightly nervous or just more excited.
I personally hate rushed dinners, so we gladly moved over to the bar which was actually a cozy little nook in the restaurant which faces the kitchen. It’s a very intimate spot with a a two person booth which makes it all very interesting if you’re just dining with a friend. Yes, we had to laugh at the circumstances, but all my dining partner and I had in mind was our date with 9 courses.
The philosophy of the food is fresh, organic, and local ingredients with simple flavours and execution. They skip the labour intensive sauces, reductions and the truffle oil and really bring it down to the bare basics of authentic Italian dishes and style. It’s non-pretentious, non-indulgent Italian food, made with traditional technique, and few ingredients, which are all high in quality. For me there’s a fine line between “let the ingredients speak for themselves” and too simple, but I found the balance well achieved here.
The Alla Famiglia Dining 9 course menu ($59/person) features a good selection from their daily fresh sheet menu as well as some of chef’s choices, and overall it’s a fantastic value. It varies accordingly and it’s pretty much the Italian version of Japanese Omakase. Most of my highlights were found in the appetizers and their famous pastas, which are both the majority of the courses anyways. This is definitely my style of eating, keep the small plates coming, mind you the portions were actually quite generous and grew in size as they continued.
If you want the full experience and don’t mind the very casual, yet intimate (sit close), but not intimate (with staff) corner in the restaurant than I would strongly recommend booking the booth for two (max) at the bar. Seriously, it’s pretty much getting the private La Quercia experience with super attentive service and occasional greetings from the Chef when he has time. My experience at La Quercia left me fully satisfied in all aspects, but oddly enough I was full, but not stuffed, although any “normal” person would definitely be stuffed. La Quercia honours Italian cuisine with a rustic, yet clean approach that can be easily appreciated and is well celebrated.
On the table:
The wine list features a fantastic selection of Italian wines by the glass or bottle. Their most popular is the Bolla 2007 Valpolicella Ripasso ($10/glass), which was a medium bodied and easy drinking wine with a mild spice. It’s great to start or pair with red meats. The Castello di Bossi 2006 Morellino di Scansano ($13/glass) was stronger, quite spicy, and very full bodied with a rich syrupy texture and spice that would stand up to gamey meats. In Italy, these wines are your classic and affordable wines.
- A rustic baguette with large holes, crusty, but not crispy, minimal in flavour, but with a great chew.
- The extra virgin olive oil it’s served with is high quality and it’s incredibly fruity, pure and rich in flavour. It’s one of the most intense brands I’ve tried.
- Chicken liver terrine, prune compote
- This was an unusual start since it’s a traditional French appetizer, however it was delicious so I didn’t mind too much.
- I’ve never really cared for pate to be wrapped in butter since it’s incredibly buttery enough as is.
- The pate was creamy, rich, savoury and pretty much as authentic French as they come.
- The sweet sticky prune, incredibly tangy house made pickled onions and pickles were a perfect compliment.
- Parmesan and asparagus souffle with preserved chanterelles and prosciutto di parma.
- This is a classic Tuscan appetizer that’s more like a savoury fluffy custard than it is a cakey French souffle.
- It was almost the soup of the meal and the use of local asparagus was a sign of Spring as well as the typical flavour of a Parmesan Sformato.
- It was like a fluffy cream of asparagus soup pudding and the Parmesan was lighter than expected and more dominant with ricotta flavour and texture.
- It was eggy, creamy and smooth, but not rich and it melted in your mouth with the salty piece of prosciutto and tang of slippery chanterelles.
- The asparagus was tender with a crunch and infused with fresh parsley giving it the lemony herb aroma that completed the dish beautifully.
- A cured beef eye of round with juniper berries, lemon zest, thyme, salt, artichokes, shaved Piavé cheese, and olive oil.
- It’s a feathery light beef salad made of thin shavings of salty and sweet melt in your mouth beef and Piavé which is similar to Parmesan, but more delicate in texture and flavour.
- The fresh earthy artichokes added texture, crunch and a slight tang and the hints of lemon kept the dish light yet bright with flavour.
- The thin layers of artichoke played well with the thin shavings of ingredients and it was all very natural and simple in flavours.
- I know it’s about simplicity, but I would have loved this dish with a drizzle of white truffle oil.
- Sausage stuffed quail.
- This was almost breakfast for dinner and it was a well assembled knife and fork appetizer.
- The quail was incredibly moist and tender with a pan seared skin that I wish had been crispy. It was stuffed with juicy crumbly fresh sausage with fennel seeds that gave it a savoury and sweet mild licorice flavour.
- The Canederlello Tonnato, or Canederli allo, is a Northern Italian dumpling made with bread, eggs and in this case tuna. It was reminiscent of a bacon French toast, but it was flat in texture.
- I’ve never seen Canederli look this way before so it caught me a bit off guard. It’s usually round, like a meatball, and in this case it was pan fried, but not crispy or very moist.
- It’s made of stale bread and this one was predominantly smoky in flavour like savoury bacon rather than fishy, and it was a bit dry so it came across as stale. It wasn’t a great canederli, but I appreciate it being on the menu.
- It was served with an Italian cole slaw that was made of finely shredded cabbage, fennel seed and a very simple tangy lemon and olive oil dressing.
- The thick, rich and syrupy balsamic reduction was the simple condiment adding the perfect tangy sweetness to the overall savoury dish.
- Octopus, asparagus, artichokes, olives and watercress
- I was really hoping that this would land on the table, and on the regular menu it’s served with sea bass.
- It was a generous portion and showcased the octopus quite well, although it was a bit on the chewy side.
- The tang of the artichoke heart and salty bites of olives were very Mediterranean in flavours, and the tender crunch of asparagus was a nice reminder of the West Coast.
- It was very fresh, lemony, decently salted with great olive oil, but bordering on the lines of too simple, although I still enjoyed it very much and could appreciate it for what it was.
- My favourite octopus salad to date is the Pacific Octopus at Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill, although in a different class.
- Stinging nettle risotto with Parmesan
- The risotto for 2 is usually standard of the alla famiglia dining menu and it may also be available upon request depending on the night.
- This is the most properly and well executed risotto I’ve had to date in Metro, Vancouver.
- It’s cooked upon order, 18 minutes, and the rice was perfectly al dente with a nice bite. Most people would probably think it’s undercooked, but it’s exactly how they would serve it in Italy.
- The texture was perfectly creamy with each grain being separate yet united and well coated with an intense stock made with white wine and beautifully melted salty Parmesan cheese.
- I’ve never tried Stinging Nettle before but it has a furry texture reminiscent of mint leaves, but it actually didn’t add much flavour to the risotto. I almost thought it was a hybrid of Swiss Chard and mint, but the flavour was buried under the rich sauce which just coated your lips like savoury thick gravy.
- It was truly perfect as is, but some sweet green peas would have been great.
- House made ravioli stuffed with radicchio, ricotta, Gorgonzola Picante, Parmesan and topped with walnuts.
- I saw this on the fresh sheet and was hoping it would be served.
- The ravioli skins were delicate and thin and I could have had them a bit less cooked, but I’m not sure if that would have melted the filling completely.
- It was bite sized pieces of flat ravioli with a conservative amount of creamy filling that tasted mostly of Gorgonzola Picante with a slight spice and desired bitterness from the radicchio. It was the essence of radicchio more than the texture.
- It was very strong and bold with buttery, salty rich Gorgonzola flavour, but a nice sweetness from perhaps some honey would have made for a better balance.
- I would have liked to see some crispy sage or herbs being used in the presentation and more walnuts since they weren’t used in the filling.
- Tomato, guanciale, red onion and chili.
- This is one of the most basic and classic Italian pasta dishes and the only thing it missed was fresh basil leaves.
- For what it was, it was good because it’s meant to be simple, but the basil is still a must for me.
- The initial notes is salty smoky guanciale (bacon made from pork’s cheek) which were minced, creamy and tender, but would have been great crispy.
- The guanciale fat rendered into the sauce and the tang of fresh Italian tomato and mild heat from the chili made for a simple, yet well flavoured spaghetti.
- I still could have used more garlic and herbs and even a slightly less cooked spaghetti.
- For a very glorified version of this try the Spaghetti Quattro at Q4.
- Home made gnocchi with sausage ragu.
- I actually requested the gnocchi because people rave about it. I think it ended up replacing one of our mains because usually alla famiglia dining comes with two mains.
- This gnocchi was indeed excellent and included the fork ridges I’m so particular about. It was creamy, soft and made with Kennebec potatoes, however at times they make it with Russets, which would really affect the texture and consistency of their gnocchi.
- The pork ragu was deliciously savoury and made with coarsely crumbled and rather lean pork with fennel seeds that I assume was the same as the one they used as stuffing for the quail appetizer.
- The juices did make for a nice and light natural pork au jus sauce, but I did prefer the pork ragu sauce at Campagnolo better – see my post on their Tagliatelle.
- As melt in your mouth this gnocchi was, I actually like the gnocchi at Federico’s Supper Club best. It melts in your mouth even more – see my post for their Gnocchi Pomodoro.
- This was solid and I would order it again, but in a perfect world the gnocchi at Federico’s with the pork ragu sauce from Campagnolo would be trés excellent.
- Shave flat iron steak, arugula, pine nuts, Parmesan, balsamic and olive oil
- This was a huge main and it wasn’t anything particularly special and I wouldn’t really order it, but it was still delicious.
- Would I have preferred something more creative for the main? Probably, but for what it was, it was excellent and it’s still very Italian.
- The steak was well seasoned, perfectly seared with a charcoal grilled smoky crust and the meat was almost rare which was great. It was a bit chewy, but still very tender and perhaps cutting it on a diagonal would have made it easier to chew. It’s a really cost effective cut of meat and the fat was incredibly well marbleized in this case.
- The arugula enhanced a peppery flavour and the salty Parmesan helped balance it out.
- The crunch of the buttery pine nuts was very much appreciated and together with the Parmesan it created a wonderful nuttiness.
- The balsamic was syrupy sweet and easily coated the salad adding the tang the dish needed.
- There was nothing fancy about this main, besides the pine nuts, but everything was represented and showcased very well.
- Gorgonzola Picante, Fontina, green apple, house made crackers, and pine infused honey.
- The Gorgonzola Picante is incredibly rich, pungent, buttery, creamy, and salty with a nice spice at the end.
- The Fontina is a nice soft and mild cow’s cheese that was a good balance with the Gorgonzola since that was already so rich.
- The house made crackers are light, crisp, nutty, and earthy and made with finely ground quinoa and all sorts of grains.
- The pine honey was beautiful with the perfume of nature in the aftertaste.
All the desserts are made in house and they vary daily. The only thing is that they were more French and European in style, so I was hoping for more of an agreement with the Italian theme. For the size of the restaurant and staff, and no pastry chef, I’m really surprised they had so many options for dessert. Thank god we got the platter though, or I would have never been able to make up my mind. I kind of regret not ordering the Parmesan Cheese Souffle dessert that I saw them pumping out of the kitchen, but there’s always next time… although I totally had room.
Personally I do take a liking to desserts at Q4 more – see here, and of course Cin Cin is my ideal for Italian desserts – see here, but Cin Cin does have their own award winning pastry chef, so that doesn’t really count.
- This was my favourite dessert from the platter for sure. Incredible in flavour and unique.
- It hasn’t been on the menu before, but I’m quite certain it’s about to be or at least should be.
- It was a nicely sweetened fluffy cream and when it came to room temperature it was almost like a gently folded mousse or whipped cream.
- It was very aromatic and light with toasted pieces of pistachio on top and a layer of orange gelatin that added a orange blossom like flavour in combination with the pistachio.
- This went fabulous with the apple tart as well.
- It reminded me more of a German Apple Strudel, and it was good, but not really what I look for at an Italian restaurant. An Amarena Cherry Ricotta Tart would have been a nice substitution.
- The crust was very soft and I wouldn’t have been able to tell it was made with ricotta. It wasn’t cheesy but very tender.
- The apples were nice and tart Granny Smith apples and they still had a slight crunch to them. It was very easily sweetened and natural in flavours with perhaps some simple brown sugar, a few plump raisins, and very few spices if any.
Walnut & Raisin Tart – 4/6
- Again not really an Italian dessert, but it was well made and very good, although a tad dry.
- It wasn’t too sweet and it had a thin walnut crumb crust with a thick pureed walnut paste with perhaps some sticky dates for sweetness.
- There were also plump raisins and actual walnut pieces in the filling and it wasn’t too sweet at all.
- It kind of reminded me of a pecan butter tart, but not as sweet, buttery, rich and with less nuts.
- This was my favourite semifreddo and it’s only cut so thin because it was being served on a platter.
- It was wonderfully creamy, yet icy light and it tasted like a malted pine honey cream with the perfect balance of each ingredient.
- It was ideal with the apple tart which was slightly underwhelming.
- Amaretti and cocoa baked custard (excuse my awful picture)
- This is something you either like, or you don’t, but in my case I’m quite neutral towards it although I wouldn’t care to order it.
- It tasted almost exactly like the compressed cocoa I had at Cioppino’s in their Dark Chocolate Tanzine 75% dessert.
- It was almost like a dry bittersweet chocolate pudding and it’s more like jello than a creamy custard.
- The cocoa powder texture just enhances the bitterness as well as flavour and it’s almost more bitter than it is sweet.
- I’m not sure where the amaretti came in and the slice was jello like in texture throughout, including the crust looking part.
- Raspberry Semifreddo, Nougat & Orange Semifreddo, Espresso & Hazelnut Semifreddo
- I pretty much love semifreddo, and any ice cold dessert, so almost any flavour is fine for me. This was also one of their traditional Italian dessert offerings which is what I was looking for.
- The Raspberry Semifreddo was more sweet than tart and reminiscent of strawberries and cream.
- The Nougat & Orange was my favourite and it had a beautiful orange zest that played well with the honey roasted hazelnuts (nougat). It was creamy, sweet, nutty and aromatic with orange flavour and crispy bits.
- The Espresso & Hazelnut Semifreddo (yellow triangle) was nutty and bitter sweet and tasted like it was made with freshly ground espresso beans. I was expecting a sweet honey like taste with the colour, but it was quite pleasant with a creamy malted espresso flavour and aroma.