Portobello Ristorante

Restaurant: Portobello Ristorante
Cuisine: Italian
Last visited: December 28, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Fairview)
Address: 1429 West Broadway
Bus: WB w Broadway FS Hemlock St
Price Range: $20-30

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!

Food: 3.5-4
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 3.5
Overall: 3.5
Additional comments:

  • Italian family owned/operated
  • Casual, but nice
  • Intimate/cozy
  • Price fixe menus
  • Moderately priced
  • Wine list
  • Free parking at rear
  • Tues-Sun 5pm – 10:30pm
  • Closed Mondays

**Recommendations: Fungo Portobello Gratinato, Gnocchi Alla Cardinale, Ossobuco Classico

Photo from Portobello Ristorante website.

It’s a hidden gem that’s been around for at least 5 years and I only noticed it a couple years ago when dining at Cru Restaurant + Wine Bar located further up on the same block. It’s easily missed and it’s one of those restaurants that locals have yet to discover, but people in the neighbourhood might already know about. I was curious, but not eager to try it, so I put it on the plan B list. Well I ended up resorting to that list when the wait at Vij’s was 2.5+ hours and Portobello Ristorante was conveniently nearby with seats to be filled.

I always imagined the restaurant to be a bit fancier with white tablecloths and napkin service, but it is more casual than expected. It is still nice, but just not formal and I thought it would be more along the lines of Cru or West nearby. There is still napkin service and candlelight, but it had a very family owned feel that is more quaint and charming than it is professional. It definitely feels more like an intimate spot for neighbourhood locals. The atmosphere is a bit dated, but it also features art from local artists.

It is Italian family owned and operated and the food is supposed to represent Southern Italian cuisine, but I noticed a lot of Northern Italian dishes too. In terms of authenticity it isn’t as authentic as La Quercia, but it is more authentic than most of the Italian restaurants in Metro Vancouver. In terms of goodness, everything I had was pretty good, but the pastas fell short and seemed more or less “like the other guys”. The food still feels catered to West Coast tastes and there are a few forgivable hiccups along the way. Overall I’d say it’s better than average, but not amazing.

On the table:

Complimentary Bread & Butter

  • This was actually quite impressive! I was expecting basic Italian bread if anything.
  • It was served warm from the oven and it was crusty and chewy, but didn’t have the big holes and texture of a great Ciabatta.
  • It was likely from a local Italian bakery and the gesture was nice.

It was served with butter, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese. The cheese was unexpected. My friend learned from an Italian friend to mix the cheese into the oil and vinegar and I’ve never done that before, but it made for a good dipping sauce.

Bocconcini Alla Caprese – 4/6 (Very good)

  • Fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil drizzle of balsamic vinegar $10
  • This would have been great with a traditional buffalo mozzarella or even better with burrata.
  • I rarely order these because they’re so simple to make with good quality ingredients, but this one was still good for what it was.
  • It was a very generous portion and all the ingredients were nice and fresh.
  • The bocconcini was very mild and not that spongy, but there was a good amount.
  • It was drizzled with a standard sweet and tangy balsamic reduction and I wasn’t keen on the dried oregano, which I feel like it didn’t need.
  • The basil leaves were really big and crunchy and I wasn’t a fan of the type, although fresh. The flavour wasn’t as delicate or floral so I question the source and variety.

**Fungo Portobello Gratinato – 4.5/6 (Very good – Excellent)

  • Portobello mushroom stuffed with bread crumbs, fresh herbs. Served with roasted red pepper sauce $10
  • This was highly recommended and since the restaurant is called “Portobello”, so it should be a signature.
  • I love Portobello mushrooms and stuffed mushrooms so naturally I would enjoy this.
  • It was a perfectly baked juicy Portobello mushroom stuffed with a minced mixture of bread crumbs, garlic, mushroom stems, onions and some fresh chopped tomatoes.
  • It was incredibly garlicky and moist with a crispy top, but it was missing some grated Parmesan cheese for added crispiness and salty nutty flavour.
  • The sweet balsamic glaze and house made roasted red pepper sauce was a good sweet and tangy dipping sauce, but I wasn’t keen on the parsley garnish which probably should have been fresh basil leaves.

**Gnocchi Alla Cardinale – 4.5/6 (Very good – Excellent)

  • Our own, made on the premises potato dumplings, rose sauce or meat sauce $16
  • This was another highly recommended dish and it was also voted as “The Best Gnocchi in Vancouver” by Georgia Straight.
  • It was a big portion and worth the price.
  • I ordered it with rose sauce which is more traditional to gnocchi.
  • The creamy rose sauce was bright orange/red and it was more dominant with tomato than cream.
  • It was very heavily sauced and again the parsley should be fresh basil leaves, but I can overlook that.
  • It was a housemade Northern style gnocchi which were light, soft and creamy with a slight chew, but not doughy.
  • The gnocchi had no fork ridges, and it’s not a big deal, but I appreciate seeing them.
  • The sauce was tangy, acidic and fresh, but there was just an overwhelming amount and I prefer more basil in the sauce.
  • I still prefer the gnocchi from Federico’s Supper Club – see Gnocchi Pomodoro because I find them even creamier and more tender. I think it has to do with the type of potato. The ones at La Quercia are also amazing – see here.

Linguine Al Pesto Con Carciofini 1.5/6 (Poor-Okay)

  • Fresh basil pesto, roasted pine nuts with artichoke hearts $14
  • The portion was huge and it was very bland which really doesn’t show the beauty of a pesto.
  • The only thing really giving the dish flavour was the big pieces of tangy marinated artichoke hearts, which would be great freshly roasted.
  • The linguine was overcooked to Italian standards and normal to North American standards. I prefer the Italian way with a firm noodle.
  • The pesto was house made and it did have pureed pine nuts in it, but just not a whole lot.
  • The sauce had a hint of cream, but it was on the watery side and it lacked flavour and salt.
  • The pesto didn’t taste like it had any Parmesan cheese in it either and overall it was quite weak.
  • I’m really not keen on the type of basil used because the flavour isn’t floral, delicate or as aromatic as sweet basil so it influenced the whole dish.
  • Genovese basil is traditionally used for pesto, and this could have been it, but the flavour just wasn’t there.
  • I appreciated the generous sprinkle of toasted pine nuts, but that was kind of the highlight and I had high hopes for this dish since it was recommended.

 Salmone Affumicato 2/6 (Okay)

  • Fettuccine with smoked salmon leeks, fresh dill, cream sauce $16
  • It was a smoked salmon fettucine and the portion was generous again, but it was also quite average and ordinary.
  • It had a lot of smoked salmon which was great, and it was nice and salty and not that dry either.
  • It wasn’t wild smoked salmon, but that was kind of expected.
  • It would be nice to have the smoked salmon flavour more infused into the sauce too.
  • I could definitely use more leeks and I couldn’t see or taste any fresh dill.
  • I liked that it wasn’t heavily sauced, although it could have used some Parmesan cheese in the cream sauce.
  • The fettucine was firm and more al dente than the linguine, but still overcooked to Italian standards. I prefer more of a bite, but I’m assuming the clientele prefers the softer American noodle.
  • Again, I’m not crazy about the parsley garnish, but I’ll let it go.

**Ossobuco Classico – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Veal shank, braised with red wine rosemary, carrots, celery, served with risotto $26
  • This is a house favourite and signature menu item.
  • I don’t order ossobuco often, but this would be a good start/standard for it.
  • The veal shank was literally melting off the bone and it was a big piece.
  • The meat was tender and moist with a good amount of fat and generously sauced with natural juices.
  • It was topped with tender carrots and celery and the meat had good aromatics.
  • The meat could have used more flavour though and I missed the cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves and thyme that is used with traditional ossobuco.
  • Ossobuco is usually braised in white wine instead of red wine, so this was a bit different.
  • The sauce could have been a bit more reduced and thicker with a bit more tomato paste. It was more like the natural stock during the roasting process, but it tasted fine.
  • I really didn’t care too much for the risotto which was just buttery in flavour.
  • As a traditional side to ossobuco, the risotto should be simple, but it was also a bit rushed, not that creamy, and short of Parmesan cheese, but the veal shank made up for it.

Complimentary Champagne Creme Brûlée

  • This was really unexpected and generous. Every table got one.
  • It was that extra bit of service that you get at a mom and pop shop that you almost feel bad for accepting.
  • There was a hint of champagne and an almond tuile and it was nice for being complimentary.

Portobello Ristorante on Urbanspoon


  • Krystal says:

    Hmmm that Fungo Portobello Gratinato looks amazing. Another reason why I need to come back to Vancouver.

  • LotusRapper says:

    Wow I forgot about this place. I think we went there years ago when they’ve only been opened for a couple of weeks (previous resto there was some Asian fusion gig). I honestly don’t remember what the food is like. Thanks for the “reminder” that they are still around and lives up to esteemed food bloggers’ high standards 😉

  • We always mean to try the portobello mushroom when we come here but there’s always other stuff that looks good on the menu (it’s an on-going inside joke with us). I really liked the parmesan chicken they have here.

  • Mijune says:

    @krystal – Yes! I did like the Portobello! Not particularly hard to replicate if you wanted to, but still nice to try here!

    @LR – lol aww far too kind LR. Yes I was quite happy, but saw it impressive on that mom and pop level…. cute and quaint!

    @pennyandrusty – nice to see you comment again! Nice to hear you come here too! I think the Portobello is worth a try since it’s in the name and their signature… and it’s quite good! Maybe not amazing, but solid. Thanks for the parmesan chicken tip!

  • Vincent N says:

    Out of all the things I read, I think the most interesting was actually putting the Parmesan into the oil. I’ve never heard of that before. It’s good to know. Things that you learn from a food blog 🙂

  • Mijune says:

    @Vincent N – lol! Love it!! It was a new thing for me to learn too! Thanks for commenting!

  • Linda says:

    wow, now that you’ve mentioned it, i’ve always seen this place around too! if you didn’t mention that it was close to CRU, i would’ve never been able to place it – the sign looks all too familiar lol

    mmm, very impression bread spread there… i’m glad the dinner started with a bang! i’m always really aware when restaurants serve bad bread lol the gratinato looks amazing! although everything cooked in a cast iron pan has potential for me… i was sad that the dishes i thought would be amazing weren’t that great.. the pesto pasta and the affumicato for example… i’m glad the ossobucco was good, it does look quite delish!

    mmm creme brulee, my all time favorite 🙂 and i LOVE that it was complimentary! wow!!

  • Tina says:

    I don’t know why but my eyes seem to always catch it while riding the 99 bus, and have been planning on going there but never seem to make it, and now that you’ve blogged about it, I went to try it. For reasons, when I saw it, it was never particularly packed, but while I was there, it was evident it was quite a favourite.

    I had gnocchi in rose as well, just to try it since my previous and only encounter with it (at another restaurant) turned out to be a bit doughy. Texture wise, they are light and tender, and I quite like them.

    Though there was quite a bit of sauce, I did find it on the milder side. I felt the sauce on its own underwhelming and excess almost necessary to carry the gnocchi because they were quite a bite size. I did get the tang here and there but I still wished it was fuller flavour-wise.

    For dessert, I got the tiramisu cake. I enjoyed it exceedingly. Again, I don’t really know what an “authentic” tiramisu is supposed to be like, but the mascarpone cream was very light and smooth and not mousse-like. The lady fingers were fluffy for the part that was not soaked in liquor and for the part that was, you could not miss the liquor for sure, and I like the bit of textural contrast there in addition to the mascarpone. It was a fair size too for the price.

    I would say the experience was pleasant 🙂

  • Tina says:

    I would have gone on to get the creme brulee too but somehow I stopped myself there at the tiramisu.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.