Siena

Restaurant: Siena
Cuisine: Italian/Pasta
Last visited: June 5, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Fairview)
Address: 1485 West 12th Avenue (East of Granville St.)
Transit: NB Granville St FS w 12 Av
Price Range: $20-30 ($15-20 mains)

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

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

  • Simple Italian/Mediterranean cuisine
  • Daily specials
  • Intimate/cozy
  • Casual, but nice
  • Neighbourhood restaurant
  • Gluten free pasta available
  • Reasonably priced
  • Wine list
  • Accepts reservations
  • Free parking at rear
  • 50% off wine bottles every Monday
  • Mon-Sun Dinner only 5pm – 10pm

**Recommendations: Arancine, Bacon & Leek Ravioli, Burrata, Polenta Fries, Bruschetta

Good bye to Cru Restaurant and hello to Siena. I’m actually really sad about the closing of Cru (officially closes end of June), but at least there is something to latch on to. What would have been sister restaurant to Cru is the new Siena. Just like Cru, the location is a bit hidden and easy to miss, especially due to the tree covering the name, but it caters to locals living in the neighbourhood who have likely already discovered it. From here on the word will continue to spread and I imagine the reputation to slowly and steadily grow like it once did with the beloved Cru.

The menu features Italian and Mediterranean selections and the style is very simple. They offer a daily and formal menu and the room is cozy and casual, but still sophisticated. It has a neighbourhood feel with an affordable menu and good ingredients that lead the way. The sauces are light which is the traditional Italian way, but there is still West Coast or Pacific Northwest flavours and I wouldn’t be so quick as to call it “authentic Italian”. I don’t think it aims to be anyway and authenticity aside, I did enjoy most of the food.

On this occasion I managed to try almost their whole menu. I decided to pass on the main proteins which sounded a bit more typical of any Pacific Northwest restaurant. Instead I ordered all of the pastas and half the appetizers and sides. Since I had the benefit of trying almost the whole menu I ended up being quite pleased with the overall delivery, but there were some hit and miss dishes. However the satisfactory dishes ended up being forgivable with the majority of dishes that delivered.

It’s not as fancy as La Quercia, Q4 or Campagnolo and it’s much more casual than those. It actually reminded me of Nook, but a notch more refined although I might prefer the food at Nook slightly more. I haven’t been to either enough times to really say though. Portobello Ristorante is also in the area, but it’s a bit dated with more drastic hits and misses and I find Siena a safer bet based on ambiance, style and food.

With the simplicity of the menu and brand behind the name I was hoping for everything to be an effortless score, but it’s not quite there yet, although I wasn’t disappointed. I would be satisfied if I was coming in as a local from the neighbourhood enjoying a weekday dinner over a glass of wine, but it’s not somewhere I would make an effort to visit or save for a special occasion. Fair enough that it’s still quite new and I would be happy to go again in a couple months. For the price, portions and ambiance it’s good value even with the few hiccups. It’s no fuss Italian with a couple fancier items so it’s a nice daily dinner option for the area.

On the table:

**Burrata5/6 (Excellent)

  • Extra virgin olive oil, focaccia, rocket salad $12
  • Burrata is usually delicious so by default it’s almost always a 5/6. The quality of the burrata is what makes the numbers go.
  • This was a good quality Italian burrata and the inside was cream filled with a creamy and stringy casing as opposed to the California kind which is creamy and stringy throughout.
  • It was drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper.
  • It’s pretty much impossible to get authentic Burrata if you’re not in Italy because it expires almost after 2 days of making it, but the stuff in Vancouver is still good.
  • The places serving high quality burrata that comes in fresh on a daily basis is likely the best it’s going to get for imported Burrata in Vancouver.
  • The rocket salad was arugula tossed in a basic vinaigrette and it would have been great with some parmesan cheese shavings and some cherry tomatoes too.
  • The focaccia was nicely brushed with extra virgin olive oil and well grilled so that it was crispy yet still chewy without being hard and crunchy.
  • They kept it all very simple, but as long as the Burrata was good quality I was buying it.
  • Nook also does a great Burrata Duo Antipasto Platter and Cento Notti makes their own (see here), but I do prefer the imported kind most.

Grilled Radicchio4/6 (Very good)

  • Pears, endive, toasted walnuts, roquefort dressing $11
  • I ordered this not expecting a salad.
  • For some reason I thought it was going to be grilled radicchio wrapped with pears, endive and toasted walnuts and a Roquefort dressing drizzled on top. I was expecting something like the Radicchio Bocconcini at Q4.
  • Despite my expectations and never ordering salad (I feel like I can make it at home), this was actually very good.
  • It had good texture and crunch and the fruit, nut and cheese combination was nothing new, but the ingredients were fresh and balanced.
  • The radicchio and endive have a natural bitterness, but it was well rounded with all the other ingredients.
  • It was lightly dressed and I could use stronger Roquefort dressing, but since it’s a strong blue cheese it might be just enough for the majority.
  • Since this is an Italian restaurant I was hoping they would use Gorgonzola (an Italian blue cheese) instead of Roquefort (a Southern French blue cheese), but it’s an easy detail to overlook.

Today’s Arancine4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Orange and brown butter $7
  • It’s rare to find an Italian restaurant in Metro Vancouver serving Arancine which is basically a deep fried rice ball made from risotto.
  • They were perfectly shaped and quite large and about the size of a tangerine. Arancine actually means “little orange” and it refers to the shape.
  • The execution and presentation was well delivered and they were fried perfectly golden brown.

  • They had a thin and crisp crunchy batter and the inside was filled with piping hot risotto that was slightly cheesy with some aromatic lemon and orange zest.
  • The risotto was a bit mushy, so it’s not the risotto you hope to get as a plated main, but in the context of Arancine it’s delicious.
  • It was served on a savoury garlic, basil and parsley aioli and that sauce really made the dish, even though the Arancine was good on its own.
  • It’s a pretty substantial appetizer, but I would definitely order it again as a shared plate for 2-4.

**Bruschetta4/6 (Very good)

  • Changes daily. $4 each or all three bruschette $11
  • Garbonzo and fresh chilies bruschette4/6 (Very good)
    • It came across as a house made hummus and it was made with good olive oil, fresh lemon and fresh herbs.
    • I couldn’t taste the chilies though, but it was still a good spread and the garbonzo beans were made from their dry state.
    • The White Bean Crostini at Nook is also worth trying if you like this.
  • Eggplant, basil, sweet bell pepper, crispy caper bruschette4/6 (Very good)
    • This was fresh and good and basically marinated Mediterranean vegetables.
    • It wasn’t that tangy and I could taste mostly sweet marinated yellow and red bell peppers.
    • I would have loved some fresh basil, which they either left out or didn’t use enough of.
    • The salty fried crispy capers on top where a nice touch and it was basic and traditional, but good.
  • Caramelized onion and Gorgonzola cream bruschette5/6 (Excellent)
    • I tend to like the richer toppings, flavours and textures so I liked this one best. I also like sweet and savoury which this one was.
    • The caramelized onions were actually slow cooked and stringy as opposed to fried quickly until soft.
    • The onions melted in my mouth like butter and it was naturally sweet and creamy.
    • The drizzle of Gorgonzola blue cheese cream just gave it the savoury notes and bite to offset the natural sugars in the onion.
    • I just wanted to top this off with the walnuts and the pear from the salad for texture, and it could have easily been a sandwich for me.
    •  Nonetheless it was still gold without the crunchy texture and the crostini was enough.

Linguine con Vongole3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Clams in white wine, garlic and olive oil $16
  • This was very basic and simple as it should be, and it might not have been the best version of linguine con vongole, but the ingredients and execution were good.
  • The linguine was well salted and al dente with a nice firm bite.
  • There was a good amount of clams, but a few of them were sandy and not cleaned too well. I know that’s a big “no-no”, but it was only 2-3 of them.
  • The sauce was nice and buttery, garlicky and a bit spicy too, but it was also a standard white white and olive oil sauce.
  • There wasn’t any apparent cream and just olive oil so it was very light and good for the summer.
  • A stronger olive oil would have been great and I could have used more fresh herbs and more of those clam flavours and juices infusing into the sauce, but it was still good and I enjoyed it.

Puttanesca Spaghettini3/6 (Good)

  • Roasted tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, olives, capers $15
  • “Whore’s Spaghetti”… the pasta was a bit over cooked and soft and it was quite heavily sauced which was unexpected from this restaurant.
  • It’s a spicy, tangy and salty pasta and it had all the ingredients, but I couldn’t taste the anchovies and they went super light with those.
  • I wasn’t too keen on the quality of olives which were quite soft and there was a good heat although it wasn’t all that spicy.
  • There were nice slices of garlic and good capers and fresh tomatoes, but I prefer less sauce and more of a whole tomato texture than a smashed one.

Prawn Ravioli3/6 (Good)

  • Oven-dried tomatoes, lobster cream $19
  • I always fear the 3 pieces of ravioli as my main, but this was a good portion.
  • I was hoping to see some fresh BC Spot Prawns or fresh prawns on top, but it was all inside the ravioli and used as filling.

  • The ravioli skins were firm and they were cooked al dente, but the filling was a bit wet, spongy and paste like.
  • I was expecting more prawn texture, but the prawns were pureed and perhaps mixed with egg or cheese.
  • The flavour came across as puréed baby shrimp and it almost had a chopped tofu like texture. It seemed like it was separating from the moisture.
  • It wasn’t quite a prawn meatball, and the meat was loosely packed together but I just wasn’t feeling it as much.
  • The sauce was a light cream sauce that seemed infused with shrimp and lobster stock and perhaps lobster oil.
  • I could taste the seafood in the sauce, but the filling just wasn’t coming together as well as I would have liked.

Mushroom Tagliatelle 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • With parmesan, shallots, charred leeks, oloroso cream $16
  • The tagliatelle was al dente, but it seemed unsalted and there wasn’t much flavour in the sauce.
  • The sauce was buttery with some cream and it was supposed to be a rich Sherry cream sauce, but it needed more seasoning.
  • The leeks were crunchy and the mushrooms were good and the flavours came from the ingredients more so than the sauce.
  • I wouldn’t mind more variety of mushrooms and fresh shavings of Parmesan on top and it’s something you could attempt at home, but I still liked it.

Today’s Risotto – Ling Cod and Shrimp2.5/6 (Okay-Good)

  • Ling cod and shrimp with Mediterranean vegetables $18
  • I think this was the only dish I was actually disappointed in.
  • The risotto was a bit overcooked and mushy and the pieces of ling cod also came across as mushy and blended in with the sauce.
  • The shrimps were baby shrimp and I was hoping for at least 3-4 regular sized shrimps.
  • There were some red peppers, zucchini, oven dried cherry tomatoes, basil and some parmesan cheese and it had good flavour, but just not texture.
  • The stock for the sauce was I think the same one used for the prawn ravioli. It was a prawn stock.
  • I just couldn’t tell what was seafood and what was rice and there was a bit too much liquid and I lost the texture of everything.

Today’s Pasta – Bacon and Leek Ravioli4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Bacon and leek ravioli, potato foam, parmigano $18
  • This was the best pasta of the night and the one I wouldn’t mind having the full portion of without getting bored.
  • Again the ravioli skins were thin and firm and they were cooked al dente.
  • The filling tasted like savoury pulled pork confit and the bacon and leek stuffing was almost creamy and not dry or bitty.
  • The potato foam was unexpected for this restaurant, but it actually tasted very good and it was almost like a starchy salty foam.
  • Bacon, leek and potatoes go very well together and the foam just gave the ravioli a bit of richness and texture more so than flavour.
  • I probably didn’t even need the potato foam and the ravioli was good enough on its own.
Sauteed Kale 3/6 (Good)
  • Fried garlic, chili, lemon, olive oil $5
  • Kale is everywhere these days and it’s definitely a “trend” or vegetable being extensively celebrated this year in all forms.
  • This was a basic side and it had good flavour with a bit of tang and spice.
  • I wouldn’t mind the garlic being a bit more fried because its flavours hadn’t quite developed yet.
  • The water wasn’t drained from the kale so it got quite watery at the bottom of the bowl and it almost washed some of the flavour away.
**Polenta Fries5/6 (Excellent)
  • Basil almond aioli $5
  • I loved these and I would order them again.
  • They were executed and presented well and better than duck fat fries for me. I know it’s apples and oranges, but if it’s one or the other I want these.
  • They were crispy from a dusting of cornmeal and fried golden brown with a nice thin crust.
  • The inside was creamy polenta that was moist and not dense and it was nice and hot too.
  • The polenta was savoury with perhaps some brown butter and Parmesan cheese and the texture was smooth and rich.
  • The sauce was almost like a pesto meets and aioli and it was creamy, nutty and fragrant and perfect with the polenta.

My birthday was actually on June 6, but this was an unexpected surprise! The cake was the Chocolat-Banane from Ganache Patisserie which tastes similar to the Momofuku Milk Bar Banana Cake. I don’t want you to think I missed out on dessert, although I had my eyes on Siena’s Olive Oil Polenta Cake with Raspberry Coulis and Vanilla Gelato. Next time!

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8 Comments

  • Bow says:

    Nice pics, great review as always. Yes, the risotto looks a bit wet; think that ling cod is a poor choice ‘cos it’s bland, a better fish would have been Burramundi. Like the mushroom tagliatelle and the linguine con vongole looks good(lottsa clams). Personally I would add fine chopped raw garlic to the kale for more taste. Betcha the shrimp came as machine peeled not whole…an infused oil from cooking shrimp shells, heads, ginger, lemongrass and chilies(strain) and toss w. shrimp would intensify the flavour of the shrimp. Pretty rich food, you must of been stuffed…Happy Belated Birthday !!!

  • 4SlicesofCheese says:

    Happy Belated!

    Another place to put on my must-try list.

    My sister made me a Kale smoothie, I think I have been traumatized by that.

  • Meg says:

    I wish we’d ordered the arancini when we went… we just had too much food! We had the risotto of the day, which was a chicken risotto, and it was AMAZING. The polenta fries and burrata were also absolutely phenomenol, and my bf was in love with his lamb ravioli (not sure if it’s still on the menu?). Definitely a neighbourhood gem for us, as we’re a block away.

  • Mijune says:

    @4SlicesofCheese – aw thanks!!!! HAHAHA… Kale smoothies CAN be good, but they require a lot of other ingredients 😉

    @Meg – see!!! Neighbourhood!!! You are the clientele I was referring to!! 🙂 If I was in the neighbourhood I’d probably be there more too!

  • Winnie says:

    Happy belated birthday! Great review as always! Siena was one of the few new restaurants that I visited while I am “down”. I really enjoyed the food there. You should go back for meat and dessert. I had their roasted chicken and loved it.

  • Mijune says:

    @Winnie – thanks for the compliment and update winnie! i will go back to try other things! i think just a bit selective ordering with pastas, but it was generally very nice 🙂

  • Tim says:

    Great review, thanks I’m glad you enjoyed your visit.
    We were using while prawns that were in the shell for the ravioli not machine peeled ones.
    Spot prawn were not in season when this was written so we uses pacific white prawn.

    Bow made an interesting comment regarding the use of ginger and lemon grass,
    We obviously stay away from these flavored being a Mediterranean restaurant.

    Please visit us again soon. We have grown a lot in the past 16 months and like to think we have got a lot of the teething problems refined and fixed.

    Sincerely Tim (Chef at Siena)

  • Mijune says:

    @Tim – Hi Tim! Wow, thanks for taking the time to comment and go through everything. I appreciate it a lot. This is a very dated post, so I do plan on updating it and I’m sure lots has changed since then! Funny! I was JUST thinking about this post today because I wrote about polenta fries today and thought of yours! 🙂 Thanks again for giving me an update!

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