Restaurant: La Pentola della Quercia – Famiglia Supper Series
Last visited: September 29, 2013
Location: Vancouver, BC (Yaletown)
Address: 350 Davie St (Inside OPUS Hotel)
Transit: Yaletown-Roundhouse Stn Northbound
Phone: (604) 642-0557
Price range: $30-50, $50+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 3.5–4 (based on Famiglia Supper Series)
- Sister to La Quercia
- Chef Lucais Syme
- Northern Italian inspired cuisine
- Sophisticated/upscale dining
- Seasonal menus
- Handmade pasta
- Local & Italian ingredients
- Cocktail/wine program
- Open 7 days a week *Closed daily 3-5pm
- Breakfast: 7am – 3pm
- Lunch: 11:30am – 3pm
- Sun-Thu: 5pm – Late
- Fri & Sat: 5pm – Later
- Brunch: Sat & Sun: 10:30am – 3pm
- Famiglia Sunday Supper Series
- Twitter: @La_Pentola
**Recommendations: Famiglia Sunday Supper Series (last Sunday of every month)
Vacouverites were thrilled when parent restaurant La Querica (which I really enjoyed) decided to open La Pentola della Quercia (La Pentola) last year in the OPUS Hotel. It has been rather well received by the Yaletown neighbourhood and was nominated as Vancouver’s Best New Restaurant by local media. Fans of La Quercia seem to like both, but this is the more relaxed, young and hip offspring under the brand name.
I like the intimacy and coziness of the more sophisticated La Querica, but La Pentola is the only restaurant I’ve liked in this spot since OPUS Hotel opened. The space can attract a “Yaletown crowd” (the kind people don’t like), but with La Pentola it seems grown up. It is more focused on the food rather than the “to be seen” ambiance and it is a refreshing change compared to its night clubbish past. Both restaurants are for a different clientele, La Querica for Kitsilano and La Pentola for Yaletown (which are very different neighbourhoods), so I wouldn’t compare them although I’d have a preference depending on mood. I could be a customer at both, but if I am eating with more than four people it will be at La Pentola.
On this occasion I was invited to their Famiglia Supper Series which takes place on the last Sunday of every month. Guests are invited to dine family-style with others, or the option for a private table is also available. Chef Lucais Syme chooses a theme for every dinner such as nose to tail lamb, pig, fish, or flavours of a certain Italian region. I attended the Famiglia Supper Series featuring the ‘Flavours of Tuscany’ and it included 10+ courses using local and Italian sourced ingredients.
La Pentola specializes in Northern Italian cuisine with West Coast flare. The food is traditional and simple, just like La Quercia, but the style is a bit different. This dinner did not represent the flavours of Tuscany exclusively, but it had a mix of Tuscan, Piedmont, and West Coast (North American) characteristics and flavour. It was not something I could not easily overlook, since few Tuscan restaurants exist in Canada, let alone Vancouver, and I enjoyed the menu as Italian in spirit and theme.
The whole “our restaurant is as local as we can be” I find troublesome too (see my post on the politics of eating local here), either you are or you are not, so I respect and appreciate the philosophy at La Pentola. They use local vegetables and meats, but the olive oil, charcuterie and cheeses are proudly from Italy, which I admire since it is an Italian restaurant. Yes, importing goods means a higher carbon footprint, but compromising flavour, authenticity, and quality of ingredients is not fair to a chef’s culinary vision or some diners either.
Chef Syme tries to demonstrate whole animal cookery, which means not wasting, so his cooking style may not be for everyone, but it is one I relate to. Being in Yaletown the restaurants tend to play it safe, but he is not afraid of taking risks and being adventurous. The risks are not so much culinary experiments either, as his food is very simple, but the off-cuts and “exotic” ingredients push Vancouver palates and boundaries.
For the volume and the context, my Famiglia Supper Series experience exceeded expectations. It didn’t feel like they were trying to make a quick dollar or use up end of the month inventory, and even if they were, I wouldn’t care because the food tasted fresh. If anything I found most of the dishes under seasoned, but still good, and some of the hot dishes were served a bit cold to room temperature.
I’ve only been to La Pentola once, and since it was for an event it may not be representable of the restaurant on a regular night. However, based on their Famiglia Supper Series I was impressed and interested on revisiting sooner regardless of there being an occasion.
The Famiglia Supper Series happens on the last Sunday of every month. Dinner starts at 6pm (more like 7pm) and it features 10+ courses for $55/person. For $55 I thought it was excellent value, and in true Italian fashion the food did not stop until you were more than full. You will likely have leftovers and that’s coming from a bigger eater like myself. They are reasonable to generous with portions (the portions shown in my photos are for about 4) and there was a good variety. The event was well paced and organized and reservations are required. It is an event I would bring my family and friends too and recommend to others.
On the table:
- It came with two varieties – a black olive bread and a caramelized sweet onion bread.
- The black olive bread was soft and fluffy without the rustic, thick and crusty exterior of an artisan bread.
The caramelized sweet onion bread was the same, but a bit chewy.
- The olive oil was fruity without the peppery after kick which is a characteristic of olive oils high in antioxidants.
- It was a good quality Italian olive oil to serve complimentary at a restaurant of this caliber.
- The colour was yellow instead of green which is no indication of quality unlike what people may think.
- The tomatoes were from Sapo Bravo Farm in the Fraser Valley and they were mixed with basil and Di Carlo olive oil. It was served on grilled ciabatta bread.
- Bruschetta means “to toast”, and the toppings can vary although the most popular is the tomato variety.
- The consistent component in all bruschetta is the toasted Italian bread rubbed with olive oil, garlic and sprinkled with salt and pepper.
- Tomato bruschetta in Italy is very simple with few ingredients, but in North America people tend to add balsamic vinegar, cheese, and all these herbs and spices.
- That’s not to say it is not good, but it is not traditional to tomato bruschetta.
- This one had no balsamic and it was super simple.
- I could have used more fresh basil, but the most important part was having fresh and ripe tomatoes, which they were.
The baguette was crisp and not crunchy with a softer centre to absorb the tomato juices, but I couldn’t taste the garlic or olive oil.
- A selection of imported Italian salumi.
- They served a fennel and black pepper coppa and a salami.
- Tuscany is not known for its coppa, but coppa is available in many regions of Italy.
- Coppa is most recognized in the Emilia-Romagna and Calabria regions.
- The coppa (capocollo) is made from dry cured pork shoulder or neck.
- It wasn’t salty and the flavour was delicate, but the texture fatty and rich as expected.
- The salami was studded with black peppercorn and it too was quite fatty.
- Tuscan salami will have larger cubes of fat compared to salami from Calabria.
- Served on lightly dressed arugula, olive oil, raw walla walla onion (Stoney Paradise Farms) and shaved pecorino.
- Borlotti Beans (Cranberry beans) are a large, dense, creamy and meaty Roman bean with a nutty flavour.
- They are often used in soups and stews (great thickener), or in cold bean salads like this.
- The olive oil was most noticeable and flavourful in this course.
- The beans were fresh rather than dried and it was a really simple salad, but lacking in a bit of salt.
- I would have loved more pecorino, but it was a good and simple starter salad.
- Classic style with tomato braise, vegetables, topped with parmigiano reggiano.
- It is hard to find tripe appreciated outside of Chinese and Asian cuisine in Vancouver, BC.
- Each region of Italy has their own version for tripe.
- Tripe is the inside lining of a farm animal (usually a cow).
- I didn’t eat it as a kid even though I had the opportunities to, but I eat it now – willingly too.
- I enjoy the offal best stewed and it is how it’s commonly executed in many cultures eating it.
- This was braised in a tomato, celery, onion and carrot broth.
- The tripe was juicy and incredibly tender and comparable to brisket, but a bit more gelatinous and chewy, but not tough.
- It looks like a sheet of morel mushroom caps, but it is cut into strips.
- If you were going to warm up to tripe, this would be a great starting point.
- Crepes filled with béchamel, UBC Farms kale, caramelized walla walla onions, and topped with slivered almonds.
- I’ve actually never had this dish before and it is basically a ricotta and spinach crepe, but they used kale instead of spinach due to locality.
- It was very soft and a bit mushy so I liked the almonds for texture although not traditional. Pine nuts would be great, although pricier.
- The crepe was just like a French crepe and it was a cross between a crepe and cannelloni.
- It is usually topped with béchamel and tomato sauce before being baked in the oven, but this one just had béchamel sauce baked inside.
- It’s a very rustic and homestyle dish and something all ages would enjoy.
- Local chanterelle mushrooms, UBC Farms beets, and 64 degree sous vide egg.
I had to get my shot for the Runny Egg Yolk Series.
- I do not think this had Italian origins and it was the most West Coast dish on the menu, but that didn’t bother me.
- Theoretically I thought I would love this since I loved all the ingredients in it, but it just didn’t translate.
- The texture was a bit gelatinous and it was slimy egg on slippery mushrooms and I’m not sure if the yolk was just not runny enough.
- It was missing some texture, salt and acidity so it was a bit lacking in flavour.
- The flavours were a straight forward translation of the ingredients used, so it seemed like something you could whip up at home.
- It wasn’t quite a vegetable side dish and there was nothing to absorb the sous vide egg.
- It was still edible, but the concept was lost and there was nothing bringing it together.
- Pork shoulder ragu with rosemary, cooked in a traditional Tuscan way
- Paccheri is not a Tuscan pasta (which they knew), but they liked it better for the dish.
- Paccheri is a Neapolitan pasta similar to rigatoni, but with a larger hole.
- It is usually stuffed with seafood or ricotta like a cannelloni, or tossed with meat and veggies like this one.
- The pasta was thick with a firm bite, but a bit under seasoned and so was the sauce.
- The pork could have been larger to match the size of the noodle, but it was good.
- It was creamy, rich and soft pork shoulder and it didn’t have an overwhelming amount of rosemary.
- The sauce was under seasoned, but it was a simple and lightly sauced pasta dish.
- Paccheri style pastas usually have a lot of garlic, but this one didn’t have much.
- I like pork shoulder ragu more with parpadelle (Tuscan pasta), but I can overlook the choice of noodle.
- Stuffed with sage, rabbit, artichoke and ricotta
- This was one of my top 3 favourite dishes of the night.
- It was again very simple and lightly sauced, but very rich in flavour and one of the most well seasoned.
- The sauce was a brown butter sauce, but the butter wasn’t quite browned yet so it wasn’t nutty in flavour.
- The filling was creamed together and it was quite rich and balanced with each ingredient.
- The handmade ravioli was al dente and well made too and it was something La Quercia would serve.
- The raw vegetables and dip dish is served with the main course or as an appetizer in Tuscany.
- The seasonal veggies included cauliflower, squash, bell peppers and fennel.
- Traditionally it is served with olive oil and salt and maybe some red wine vinegar.
- Serving it traditionally would be considered boring for North American palates and I appreciated the extra effort to make dipping sauces.
- It was served with a grilled tomato and almond dip and an anchovy dip on the side.
- The tomato and almond pesto was nutty, sweet and savoury and it was almost like sundried tomato, but sweeter.
- This was an anchovy and garlic dip for the veggies.
- This butter, garlic, and anchovy dip is usually served warm and enjoyed with veggies like a fondue, but this was served room temperature.
- The dip is a specialty in Piedmont.
- I love anchovies and have a high tolerance for salt, so I loved this sauce.
- It was very acidic and salty though so if you had too much it could make you cough.
- Sometimes it is made with a bit of cream, but I don’t think this had any.
- It was creamy in texture without the richness of cream.
- A little went a long way, although I still dipped my bread into it.
- UBC farms squash puree added to a smooth quiche style filling gently baked and served at room temperature.
- This savoury sweet pumpkin quiche was creamy, fluffy and eggy, but I couldn’t taste any squash.
- The pastry was soggy, but I still liked it. It was a bit sweet, but not dessert like.
- There are many versions of this recipe; some with raisins, ricotta and chocolate, but this was just squash.
- It tasted like a neutral flavoured quiche though, so I wouldn’t mind more squash and warm spices.
- Bone marrow and parsley sauce
- It was slightly gamey and I thought it was lamb which was a bit unexpected.
- It was tender, but a bit dry and under seasoned and not hot, so it wasn’t my favourite.
- I could taste some rosemary and herbs, but it was lacking flavour.
Salad – In traditional Italian style they served a salad with the main course (technically it should be following the main course). It was fresh and lightly dressed with olive oil and vinegar. In Italy it is believed that salad aids in digestion and the vinegar helps cleanse the palate, so it is eaten after the main course and before dessert.
- Plum sorbet, grappa gel, olive oil
- This was another one of my top 3 favourite courses of the night, and it is not because I have a sweet tooth.
- It was a very original dessert and it was well presented and thought out.
- I don’t think they have an in house pastry chef, but I could have been fooled with this.
- The ricotta mousse was nice and salty, creamy and fluffy, but firmer than a traditional mousse.
- The fact the mousse supported two quenelles of sorbet without caving shows you it had weight.
- It was a cross between a panna cotta and a mousse.
- The plum sorbet was a bit too sweet and also tart, but the texture was good and not icy.
- The smoked plums were unreal and incredibly aromatic. They blew most of the table away.
- The plums were smoky sweet, had depth of flavour and complemented the savoury components of the dish.
- The olive oil was fruity and overall the only thing missing was texture. I would have loved something crispy or crunchy.
- It was a salty, sweet, tart, and smoky dessert, and it still felt like a dessert which is how I want to end a meal.
- Panforte is a traditional dessert from Siena, Tuscany.
- It is made from dried fruits, cocoa and honey.
- Although it is supposed to be quite hard, I could barely bite into this one and it was too hard.
- I could taste candied orange and fruit cake spices, and it had some warm heat from cinnamon and nutmeg.
- It was very hard and chewy with lots of whole almonds and sprinkled with icing sugar.
- If you like Panforte I would recommend Cocolico’s by Wendy Boys which is only available during Christmas.
Wine pairings and wines can be purchased on top of the dinner, or you can bring your own and pay corkage. My friends brought their own and with this selection it made it extremely difficult to focus on anything else.