Restaurant: Poor Italian Ristorante
Last visited: August 17, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Hastings-Sunrise)
Address: 3296 E 1st Ave
Transit: SB Rupert St FS E 1 Av
Price Range: $30-50
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Since 2007
- Italian owned
- Casual fine dining
- Neighbourhood restaurant
- House made ravioli
- Daily specials
- Family friendly
- Extensive wine list
- Ocean Wise
- Gluten free options
- Vegetarian options
- Tuesday – Friday: 11:30am – 10pm
- Saturday: 5pm – 10pm Dinner (no lunch)
- Sunday: 5pm – 9pm Dinner (no lunch)
- Closed Mondays
**Recommendations: Linguine Vongole Positano, Zuppa Di Pesce Amalfi, Gnocchi, Braised Beef Short Rib, Sicilian Cannoli
It’s the 1st Annual Taste of Italy Seafood Festival at the Poor Italian. It is on now until the end of September and it features a reasonably priced seafood menu with optional wine pairings – see here. There are local seafood and ocean friendly choices and their extensive wine list includes local and international wines.
I’m rarely in the area so I didn’t even know about this festival until I was invited to check it out. I’ve been to the restaurant on my own for dinner once before (about a month ago) and had a medicore experience, but I didn’t feel like I tried enough to get an idea of what they could really do. I was open to trying it again although it wasn’t a priority, but I was on the fence and I did have higher expectations.
The menu is quite large with Italian and Pacific Northwest influenced Italian dishes, but I must say the second time around was heaps better. Based on my first experience I would be hesitant to recommend it, but perhaps there may be some inconsistency issues. They are certainly capable of making very good food, but when the dinner service gets busy (which it does), then I question if they can keep up with the pace. I came after the lunch rush and I tried things from their regular menu and Seafood Festival menu. I’m going to combine both of my experiences to be fair.
It’s a bit off the beaten path, but it attracts neighbourhood locals looking for that downtown experience without having to head downtown. Although the standards didn’t quite reach those “downtown standards” (if I’m comparing to CiBo, Cioppino’s, LUPO, Campagnolo, Cin Cin, La Quercia or La Buca), it was decent. I found it slightly pricey almost matching prices downtown, but the portions were more generous. It’s not big portions of mass produced Italian food either, but they are fair with the size. The room also feels a bit dated or more family style, although the crowd was mature.
The restaurant is Italian, but the food is accommodating to West Coast palates. It’s not exactly authentic in style, but it’s traditional Italian food made for the clientele. The pasta was for the most part al dente leaning towards the softer side, the sauces were light and the ravioli house made, but the quality of ingredients were average and it held back a bit. Again it does go back to consistency and I would be selective with my ordering. Certain things I felt would be reliable, and others I could imagine being riskier depending on the day or time of day.
**Due to the nature of the event, the portions and context were not representable of a regular dining experience at the Poor Italian. I will leave my comments to a minimum and my ratings out. This post is intended to give an idea of what to expect, however I will give my recommendations for what I would order again.
On the table:
- The focaccia was baked in house, but I would have never guessed.
- It could have used more herbs and flavour and I prefer mine with larger holes and a bit chewier.
- This one was more bready, denser and on the drier side, but it was soft.
- I don’t think it was baked in a stone oven so it doesn’t have that authentic focaccia quality. I didn’t expect a stone oven, but it does make a difference.
- When I came here on my own they served it with butter which was very unusual for an Italian restaurant.
- I ended up asking for oil and vinegar, but the second time around they served it with nothing.
- The bread basket also comes with crunchy bread straws and ciabatta bread.
Terre del Comune di Gavi, 2009, Italy $11/glass $35 1/2 litre $48/bottle – It was crisp and lemony and if you’re not a fan of starting with a bubbly proscecco than this is a good alternative. It was a good starting wine, but I’m not sure if I would remember it although it was nice and refreshing on a hot day.
- Local clams prepared in a white wine and garlic or tomato sauce $15
- I wouldn’t have ordered this unless it was recommended.
- I suggest ordering it with the traditional white wine and garlic sauce.
- I love clams, but I find most Linguine Vongoles unimpressive and something I could do at home, but they made it fantastic here.
- I could taste clam shell flavours in the sauce and it was sticking to the linguine. The linguine was cooked al dente too.
- There was seafood, olive oil, lemon, basil and garlic flavour throughout the dish and infused into the sauce. There was even a bit of heat.
- It was simple, but simple done right and with the amount of clams it had, it was well worth it.
- I was surprised with how much I liked this.
The Linguine Vongole is even better with added spice. The regular chili flakes are available, but I would ask for their house made hot chilli peppers in olive oil. It’s complimentary, but sometimes you have to request it. Drizzle a spoonful of the chilli pepper olive oil over the Linguine Vongole and it just makes the dish pop and gives it great heat and spicy flavour.
Velenosi Villa Angela Pecorino $10/glass $32 1/2 litre $43/bottle – It was another easy drinking wine with crisp notes and flavours of peach, pear and perhaps nectarine. It was dry, yet fruity with a slight acidity to it, but I wouldn’t say it was citrusy. It was perfect with the next prawn course.
- Sicilian inspired pasta with North African spices, prawns and scallops $23
- Trapani is a city on the Westcoast of Sicily and the food there is influenced by North African cuisine, so this is actually something you could find there.
- It was still a modern take on Italian food, but I thought Thai more so than I did North African in flavours.
- I ordered this on my first visit and I thought it was quite bland and just okay.
- The spices were very mild and the pasta wasn’t salted and the sauce wasn’t sticking to the noodles.
- However, the second time I tried this was much better.
- The sauce was creamier and thicker and sticking to the al dente noodles.
- It was reminiscent of a yellow Thai curry (without lemongrass, Thai basil etc.) but it tasted sweetened with some coconut milk.
- On both occasions I found the spices very mild and almost undetectable though.
- The prawns were crunchy and tender both times, but I wish they seared the scallops.
Inama Vin Soave Classico, 2010, Veneto, Italy $11/glass $33 1/2 litre $45/bottle – This was quite floral and aromatic with chamomile and elderflower. It wasn’t rose like or perfume like, but it was delicate with stone fruit and apples. It was another easy drinking wine with soft and elegant notes. It was wonderful with seafood.
- Succulent prawns, local clams, mussels, and catch of the day in an aromatic tomato broth $24
- This was my favourite dish and I tried it the second time dining here.
- It was the Italian version of bouillabaisse.
- This is a modern Italian take on it, but regardless of authenticity I loved it.
- It was a light and healthy seafood stew.
- The soup was light in texture, but very rich in flavour and it had so much depth.
- There was no cream so it wasn’t heavy and it was a tomato sauce based soup.
- The key to an excellent Zuppa Di Pesce Amalfi is a good quality home made tomato sauce and of course fresh seafood.
- I expected a seafood flavour in the soup, but the seafood flavours never infused although none of it was overcooked either which is good.
- The fish was a boneless and skinless delicate and flaky white fish with mild flavour and there was a decent amount.
- The tomato broth was the winner though and that’s because the tomato sauce was very well made.
- It was made with carrots, celery, onions, fresh tomatoes, fennel, white wine, garlic, saffron and even tea.
- It was well layered in savoury flavours, tangy from tomatoes, fragrant from saffron and fennel, and naturally sweetened by the caramelization of the vegetables.
- There were spices in the soup, but it wasn’t spicy and the saffron wasn’t overpowering, but it was just an incredibly aromatic tomato broth.
- Traditionally there is supposed to be a slice of bread rubbed with garlic at the bottom of the bowl, but this one didn’t have it.
- It’s only available on their Seafood Festival menu and I would actually come back just for this… and the Linguine Vongole and cannoli.
Cusumano, Angimbe, Insolia-Chardonnay, 2005, Sicily – This was warming up to the “better with food” white wines. It was creamy, medium bodied, quite bold, slightly spicy from warm spices like cinnamon or all spice and full of flavours of peaches, apricots, nectarines and stone fruits.
- Time-honoured homemade gnocchi recipe served with brown butter and fresh sage sauce $17 (Sample size shown)
- Gnocchi started off as peasant food in Italy and sometimes they didn’t even use egg because they didn’t have them.
- An authentic Northern Italian style gnocchi should melt in your mouth, have little egg and taste mostly of potatoes.
- The gnocchi here were larger in size than most and the execution was a bit rustic, but the texture was wonderful.
- Usually I prefer the details of fork ridges on the gnocchi and fresh basil as a finish, but this was still good.
- The gnocchi was house made and it was 1 egg to lots of Russet potatoes so I could really taste the potato and not flour.
- They were very creamy, pillowy and soft gnocchi and not chewy or doughy gnocchi.
- They melted in my mouth and required very little chewing. They were legit in texture.
- The only downfall was that they were quite bland and needed more salt because the potatoes used to make them didn’t seem salted at all.
- The pomodoro sauce was wonderful and well made. This is supposed to be the key sauce in judging an Italian restaurant.
- It was slightly acidic and rich and there was no sugar added and it was naturally sweetened with the caramelization of onions and vegetables.
- The sauce was finished off at the end with butter and some parmesan cheese.
- It was very rich and flavourful, but I think it would have been even better with Yukon Golds or Kennebec potatoes.
- Apparently they tried it with Yukon Golds and it came out denser which surprised me.
- I also recommend the gnocchi at La Quercia and Federico’s Supper Club.
- Ask your server about today’s house made special – Market Price (Sample size shown)
- Veal – Market Price
- The ravioli are hand made and they are a house favourite.
- I could smell the truffle oil just lifting off the plate and it tasted as rich as it looked.
- It was stuffed with a pasty puree of ground veal, porcini paste, garlic and mortadella.
- I could tell immediately it wasn’t all veal and there was an intense porkiness to it.
- At first I thought it was ham hock, but it was fattier and too creamy to be ham hock.
- The pork flavour was almost more intense than the veal flavour and the mushroom was also obvious.
- It all made sense when they revealed it was mortadella (cured Italian sausage similar to bologna).
- The ravioli skins were super thin and cooked al dente and lightly sauced in a rich and creamy porcini sauce finished with truffle oil.
- It would be lovely if it came with actual porcini mushrooms and some more fresh herbs, but this was just a sample so I’m not sure if this is how it’s normally presented.
Di Lenardo Pinot Grigio, Venezia Giulia, Italy $10/glass $32 1/2 litre $42/bottle – This was working a bit backwards now and it was less intense than the Chardonnay. It was very crisp and acidic with apples and pears. I could taste some honey notes as well and there was supposed to be a banana flavour which I didn’t really get, but it was a very good and rich pinot grigio.
- Pacific halibut, seared and topped with salsa fresca $24 (Sample size shown)
- I wasn’t too excited about this one.
- It was very simple, but it didn’t stand out and it seemed more Pacific Northwest than Italian to me.
- I always prefer my halibut with the crispy skin, but I can see how the majority might not appreciate that.
- The halibut was a bit overcooked for me and firm rather than flaky and juicy.
- It was topped with a fresh salsa fresca that tasted like topping for a tomato bruschetta.
- It was fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, smashed capers, lemon and basil and it was nice and citrusy, but not the highlight for me.
Tollo Colle Secco Montepulciano D’abruzzo, 2008, Abruzzo, Italy About $9/glass $27 1/2 litre $43/bottle – The bottle was quite unusual. I could tell the red meat was coming and it was quite oaky, leathery, and almost a bit bitter with dark fruits, black plums, black cherries, chocolate, coffee and/or tabacco. It had a long finish and it was better after airing out. I definitely preferred it with food.
- Prepared with roasted garlic and cherry tomatoes, fresh arugula and luscious gorgonzola risotto $25 (Sample size shown)
- I ordered this on my first visit and had it again on my second visit.
- Braised beef short rib is one of my favourite dishes and although it’s not very Italian, they did a great job with it.
- The sauce was similar to an Osso Bucco sauce, but heavier and richer with reduced red wine and beef jus.
- I loved the creamy tender cloves of sweet garlic on top and the sauce was tomato based with a nice tang and also a kick.
- It was not spicy, but there was a kick of perhaps Worcestershire (?) or something along those lines.
- The short rib was actually not short rib though, and I wish they just called it “braised beef” in that case.
- It was a shoulder (chuck) braised for 3 hours so it was still very tender and moist, but just not juicy.
- It’s not as good as short rib, but it was very tender both times I had it and the flavour of the sauce is there.
- Gorgonzola Risotto
- The short rib seems like a no-fail, but the risotto was riskier business and if it’s busy I’m not sure if it’ll be as good.
- The first time I ordered it it was very stiff and mushy, but the second time was creamy and much better.
- The Gorgonzola risotto was a nice Italian twist to a classic American “Steak and Blue Cheese”.
- I could taste mostly parmesan in the risotto with a bit of gorgonzola, but the texture wasn’t ideal.
- It was creamy, but perhaps cooked half way and finished off because the rice was slighter bitty and it could have used more time.
- 2 crisp pastry rolls filled with sweet ricotta & chocolate, caramel finish $11
- These are pricey, but I loved them!
- I honestly never cared about cannolis and didn’t understand the hype for the them until now.
- I don’t think I have ever had a good cannoli until now and I can’t stop thinking about these.
- They tried 14 recipes for these until finalizing this one.
- I would have never ordered them if they weren’t highly recommended.
- The pastry shell had some decent blistering and they were crisp and crunchy, lightly sweetened, very flaky and fresh.
- They were filled with a lightly sweetened ricotta with some lemon zest for aromatics, but it wasn’t cheesecake like either. They didn’t cut corners on the ricotta.
- There were no chocolate chips folded inside the ricotta which I don’t mind even though it’s common for cannoli to have them.
- I much rather have the toasted pistachio crumbs and I just wish there was more of them.
- It was creamy and perfectly sweetened for my standards. I have a major sweet tooth, but don’t like things too sweet.
- The pastry was sweetened with Marsala wine and I thought it was with almond extract because it was so nutty and aromatic.
- It’s been weeks after my cannoli experience and I still keep thinking about them.
- I honestly loved these and now I want to go on a cannoli hunt to find my favourite ones in the city out of the so called “best cannoli” places.
- Served with toasted pistachio and fresh strawberries $10
- I usually love semifreddo (semi-frozen Italian “ice cream” dessert), but I found this one too sweet.
- It was very rich and creamy and basically semi-frozen white chocolate whipping cream.
- It’s lighter than ice cream and denser than mousse.
- It was a bit plain and there were no vanilla bean seeds and I rather have 2 orders of the cannoli.
- I also like the pistachio within the semifreddo and not just sprinkled on top.
Cappuccino – Carraro “Tazza d’Oro”, 90% arabica, 10% robusta coffee beans. It was good Italian coffee which is not bright or acidic. It comes with a house made biscotti with hazelnuts and cranberries, but it was not as fresh as I would have liked. I loved the big pieces of hazelnuts in it though and they were generous with those.
A good espresso will leave that “stain” or coffee bean residue around the cup. If you’re traditional Italian you will order a Grappa at the end of the meal and save your last sip to rinse your espresso cup with. This espresso scented grappa will be your ultimate last sip. I wouldn’t do it with expensive grappa, but the regular stuff you should try it.