Restaurant: Don Francesco’s – Part 2/2
Cuisine: Italian/Fine dining
Last visited: September 8, 2013
Location: Vancouver, BC (Downtown)
Address: 860 Burrard Street
Transit: Vancouver City Ctr Stn Southbound
Phone: (604) 685-7770
Price range: $50+ (Pastas $22-28 Mains $35-40)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 4 (based on 50th anniversary menu)
- Since 1963
- Fine dining Italian
- Sicilian family recipes
- White tablecloth
- Patio dining
- Extensive menu
- Extensive wine list
- Private rooms
- Occasional live music
- Mon. – Fri. Lunch service
- Mon. – Sun. Dinner service
- Twitter: @donfrancescos
**Recommendations: Squash Agnolotti Stuffed with Cheese, Vegetarian Linguine, Filet of Halibut
I had the pleasure of meeting Don Francesco who is no longer the owner, but still has dinner here with his wife.
On Sunday September 8, I was invited to Lamborghini’s 50th Anniversary Dinner at Don Francesco’s, which was one of the featured events from Luxury Supercar Weekend. Don Francesco’s is a long time restaurant in Vancouver which was coincidentally on its 50th Anniversary as well, so it was a joint celebration of fine cars and food.
I’ve walked by this restaurant for years and I was never very curious to check it out. I always considered it a tourist restaurant and from the outside it looked dated. I rarely hear any news or chatter about it and it’s rather forgotten with today’s generation. However I had friends recommend it to me over the last few weeks and that was before I knew about the Lamborghini dinner. It was quite random how that happened, but their recommendations caused a sudden interest although I was still skeptical.
It was my first time inside the restaurant and it was as dated as the outside. It was not bad and the place is kept nice, but it’s just not modernized. It was a cross of traditional white tablecloth fine dining and vintage hotel restaurant, and it was reminiscent of Hy’s Steakhouse. The ambiance was old-fashioned for my tastes, but I am always more interested in the food anyway so I can overlook the room.
The open salad bar kitchen in the centre, carpet, white tablecloth, and mature music emphasized its 50 years of existence and it seemed like a place that rarely changes. That being said, it is a special occasion place and the service is professional and experienced, which is always a bonus with restaurants of this caliber.
I have no problem with white tablecloth fine dining, and I actually like it, but it felt like a place where someone would propose by hiding a ring inside a chocolate cake. I felt like a character in Clue, but at least it was rather full and it wasn’t because of the event. The restaurant is usually quite busy and they have their regulars.
Nonetheless the ambiance came with its surprises and I adored the live opera singing during dinner. The hostess is a professional opera singer and she sings occasionally upon request. Her singing was easily my favourite part of the ambiance.
Due to the nature of the event I didn’t get to try the typical menu and chef cooked dishes inspired by the a la carte menu. They have a lunch time chef and dinner time chef, and I didn’t meet either, but I was pleasantly surprised by the food. I came in rather neutral and wouldn’t have expected much if it weren’t for the earlier recommendations from friends, but the food was good.
The menu was quite large for a formal restaurant and it was kind of all over the place. It was Italian dominant, but with French and Pacific Northwest influences and ingredients. There was everything from Spaghetti and Meatballs to Filet Mignon and it tries to cater to everyone. They had the usual Italian suspects and then the popular American favourites, and my guess is the clientele are people who have been going there since it opened, and then tourists who want something familiar.
There are mainstays and favourites and I’m not sure how seasonal their menus are, but there are a lot of old fashioned classics. Usually these “do everything” menus are unsuccessful, but the dishes I tried worked and I was impressed.
Back in the day, Don Francesco’s was one of the top fine dining restaurants in Vancouver, but much has changed. It still wins awards from local media here and there, but for the most part the clientele isn’t the younger generation of Vancouverites.
The special 5-course menu I had featured Italian inspired cuisine with simple application and execution. The presentation could be updated, some ingredients could be better quality, and dishes a bit more polished for fine dining, but the flavours were there and the food well cooked and seasoned. I can’t speak for consistency or attention to detail, but considering they have been around for 50 years and have loyal customers, they should be fairly consistent.
Compared to other Italian restaurants in the city, the value may not be there and original dishes are few, but I would try their a la carte menu to see what they can do on a regular night.
**Note: Again, due to the nature of the event I didn’t get to try the typical menu and chef cooked dishes inspired by the a la carte menu. The portion sizes are not representable of what is usually served. Therefore I will only comment lightly and not “rate” the dishes.
On the table:
Lamborghini’s 50th Anniversary Chef’s Tasting Menu at Don Francesco’s
- I always write about bread and butter because it can say something about a restaurant.
- The bread was served hot with a crispy crust and a soft and fluffy centre rather than chewy one.
- I could taste garlic powder in the dough and it tasted like focaccia.
- It was served with whipped butter and fruity olive oil. The olive oil was good quality.
- Extra virgin olive oil, reggiano cheese, grain french mustard, capers, truffle oil (variation of this with beef on a la carte menu for $23)
- The almost rare venison (deer) was incredibly tender and not chewy at all with a lightly seared exterior.
- It’s a leaner game meat similar to beef, but richer and a bit gamier in flavour, but not pungent or overwhelming.
- For carpaccio it was sliced thick and more like steak, but it was still tender and delicious and I didn’t care.
- It was a bit spicy from the whole grain dijon mustard and I think there was lemon juice or vinegar in the mustard for added acidity.
- There wasn’t enough balsamic vinegar to make a difference, but it tasted good with the venison.
- It was topped with arugula and parmesan and it was more like a steak salad than carpaccio, but I enjoyed it.
- White wine, herbs, fresh tomato, onion, black truffle sauce (a la carte version for $25)
- It was a double seared scallop with a nice crispy crust.
- The stuffing was quite dense and I could bite into tender chunks of squash so it wasn’t just pureed.
- It was topped with oyster mushrooms and tomato and it was a very basic brown butter sauce which never fails.
- I would have loved some fresh basil or herbs to finish it off.
- I would order this again, but I wouldn’t necessarily have to come back just for it.
- Tossed with fresh vegetables, lemon juice, basil, Italian spices, garlic, olive oil (a la carte version for $25)
- This was the simplest dish and I loved it. It’s something you can make at home, but their pesto was really nice.
- The pasta was al dente with a nice bite and there was a good amount of pesto.
- The pesto was nutty, fresh, spicy and I could taste the basil, parsley, pine nut and parmesan.
- It was another dish I would order again, but not have to come back especially for.
- Orange citrus sauce, herbs, garlic over a bed of Tuscan beans served with seasonal vegetables (a la carte version for $39 w/variations)
- This was East meets West.
- It was Pacific Halibut, Atlantic lobster, champagne foam, orange and lobster reduction, Tuscan beans, broccolini and sustainable Northern Divine Caviar.
- Halibut is such a mild flavoured fish and most of the time it is overcooked, but this one was cooked very nicely.
- It was moist and flakey, but it still lacked seasoning.
- The orange citrus sauce tasted like a lobster bisque meets brown butter sauce.
- I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually their lobster bisque made into a sauce too.
- There was intense umami and seafood flavour, but the beans were a bit soft and I prefer them firmer.
- The orange was mild and it was not that acidic, but there was perhaps some creme fraiche to give it a bit of tang and richness.
- Each component was well done, but the sauce was the highlight and it had a ton of umami and flavour.
- Covered in dark chocolate ganache with poached pear $12
- I wrote about The Evolution of the Stilton Cheesecake in my WE Vancouver column this week.
- Sticking to an Italian blue cheese this Gorgonzola cheesecake is an excellent balance of sweet and savoury.
- It was a super dense and rich cake and I could taste crumbles of gorgonzola in the cheesecake.
- It was a cheese plate and dessert in one and the chocolate sauce and house made caramel gave it sweetness.
- I loved the tender pear with the gorgonzola and the only thing it was missing was walnuts.
- They offer this as a special, so call ahead to avoid disappointment.
- This dessert is always on their menu unlike the Gorgonzola Cheesecake.
- I didn’t care for the non seasonal fruit garnish or strawberry, mango, and vanilla sauce served on the side though. None are traditional to tiramisu, or really go with it.
- I appreciated the effort for plating, but I think there are more appropriate options.
- It was very moist and light and I could taste the booze in it too.
- I would have loved thicker layers of the mascarpone, but it was a very good tiramisu.