Jamie’s Italian

The last of the four novels we studied during our time in London was Angela Carter’s Wise Children. I’d previously read a few selected stories from The Bloody Chamber, so I was excited to delve into Carter’s curious world of magic realism. To be honest, I preferred The Bloody Chamber, as there’s something about reimagined fairy tales that really sparks my interest. Anyways, as part of our tour of the neighbourhood in which Wise Children takes place, we had lunch at Jamie Oliver’s Diner, a pop-up restaurant on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue. It was a decent meal, but nothing memorable.

Then fast forward a couple weeks to one night in Oxford. The girls decided to try out Jamie’s Italian, another of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant ventures. Due to the size of our group, we were seated at two different tables, but served by the same waiter. I’m not sure how to describe the waiter, except to say that we honestly didn’t like him. He was quite awkward and seemed disappointed that some of us only ordered drinks or appetizers. Sure, I realize that you need your tips, but to overtly express disappointment isn’t going to help you, right?

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Katy wasn’t too hungry, so she just had the Crab and Avocado Bruschetta (£6.50), grilled sourdough topped with Start Bay crab, avocado, and Yeo Valley yoghurt, with apple matchsticks, chili, mint, lemon, and olive oil. Despite the decadence of that description, Katy found her bruschetta a bit unappetizing, as it was served quite cold, which she didn’t enjoy.

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Chantallyhoo and Shawarma both had the Tagliatelle Bolognese (£9.95), with a ragu of British beef and pork, with herbs, chianti, Parmesan, and crunchy, herby breadcrumbs. Again, a decadent description, but the dish didn’t live up to it. The pasta was undercooked, being quite clumpy and hard to chew, while the sauce was underwhelming and very bland. It needed a lot of pepper to be somewhat enjoyable. Also, we were all surprised by the small portions. The items mostly came in two sizes (a smaller “entree” size and a larger portion), but even the larger portions were quite small. I had no idea, but apparently outside of North America, “entree” means a small course served before the main course. Having spent most of my life on the West Coast, this was a rather strange concept to me, and one that actually impacted our enjoyment of our meal here overall. When some of us accidentally ordered entree-sized portions without realizing that “entree” doesn’t mean the same thing it does in North America, the waiter reacted by condescendingly informing us of the difference, as opposed to offering us the larger portions. Considering how awkwardly he recounted the specials, I think that he was relatively new at his job, but wouldn’t it be common sense to try and make a customer feel happy as opposed to stupid?

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As for me, I had the Seaside Risotto (£12.50), with clams, mussels, prawns, cockles, gurnard, chili, and white wine. I found the risotto to be a tad undercooked, but I believe that’s personal preference, as I generally prefer my pasta to be softer than al dente as well (blasphemous, I know). The fish was well-prepared, being moist throughout, and the mussels were plump and briney, exactly the way they should be. However, I thought that the risotto itself could have been creamier; perhaps more cheese would have helped? I also was dissatisfied with the portion size, especially considering the price tag.

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Madeline’s Fish Stew (£13.50), which was on special that night, was comprised of the same seafood as my risotto, although in a tomato-based broth. Although the seafood was well-prepared, with plump and juicy clams and mussels, she commented that she wished she’d ordered a pasta instead, which would have been much more filling. It was a pricey dish, probably due to the amount of seafood included. I feel like it would have worked well as a risotto, pretty much the same as mine above but with a tomato-based sauce.

Overall, we were all quite disappointed with our experience at Jamie’s Italian, especially considering its association with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. The food was mediocre, and the service was startlingly inept, awkward, and even condescending. Based on the two experiences I had with Jamie Oliver’s restaurants during my time in the UK, I probably would not return.

Jamie’s Italian
24-26 George Street
Oxford, United Kingdom OX1 2

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Spaghetti House

One lovely morning in London, Pickles, Chantallyhoo and I decided to head off to Harrod’s. Not to shop, obviously, but just to visit one of London’s most famous landmarks. In all honesty, I found shopping in London to be quite expensive, although I was excited about the number of shops that aren’t available in Vancouver, including River Island and Uniqlo. Harrod’s was an interesting experience to be sure, and the three of us made a few purchases at the gift shop, where the prices are much more on par with what the average tourist can afford to spend.

After our little adventure, it was time for lunch. We walked around looking for a McDonald’s or a Pret a Manger or even a Starbucks, but for some reason, we were unable to find anything even remotely fast food-like. Since we still needed to eat, we wandered into Spaghetti House, where we were promptly seated and received our food quite quickly.

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I had the Penne Arrabiata (£8.75), with spicy tomato sauce, crushed red chilies, and cherry tomatoes. It was a rather sticky and muggy London day, and this was served piping hot. While that’s usually a good thing, for some reason my pasta stayed hot to the end, and verged on being uncomfortable to eat. I personally would have preferred the pasta itself to be a little bit softer, as I felt it was a tad undercooked, but the tomatoes added a perfect sweetness, while the chilies had that promised dimension of spiciness. Ultimately, this was a filling bowl of pasta, and I would probably order this again, if it hadn’t been inexplicably hot.

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Chantallyhoo went with a classic in the Spaghetti Bolognese (£9.95). She quite enjoyed her pasta, remarking that the noodles themselves were quite chewy, with a bouncy, toothsome texture. She found the sauce a bit watery, but that it didn’t detract from her overall enjoyment of her meal. Overall, she thought that it was a filling and comforting bowl of pasta.

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Pickles had the Margherita Pizza (£7.95). She didn’t have much to say about her pizza, saying that it tasted quite average. She found that the flavours were balanced but that the pizza itself was nothing special. I think that’s a good summary of our experience here overall. I quite enjoyed my lunch, but mostly due to the conversation rather than the food itself. If I were in the area again, I would probably want to try something else.

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After lunch, the three of us ventured to the Natural History Museum. Like the British Museum, the Natural History Museum is publicly funded, and, therefore, free for the general public, although donations are welcome. That being said, the line to get in was quite long, but well worth it. Vancouver isn’t exactly a hotspot for museums, and we had a lovely afternoon just admiring fossils, samples of various minerals, and such.

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Even if you’re not interested in natural history (although how anyone wouldn’t be interested in dinosaurs and mineral formations is beyond me), the building itself was astoundingly beautiful. In some ways, it reminded me of New York’s Grand Central Station, and in other ways it reminded me of Hogwarts. I suppose I’m just trying to point out the grandeur of the architecture. The wide open space provided a perfect backdrop for the larger-than-life displays, and navigating the area was easier than you’d think, with helpful maps and signs in clearly designated locations. The gift shop was definitely more geared towards children, with arrays of stuffed animals and other toys, although that didn’t stop us from picking up our own souvenirs. I only wished we’d arrived earlier so we could have spent more time poring over more exhibits.

Out of the tourist spots that I visited in London, the Natural History Museum was one of my favourites. As much as I love discussing literature and British imperial history, spending the day amongst fossils and other ancient objects was a welcome and much-needed break. Although the Natural History Museum hadn’t been on my list of sights to see in London, I’m glad that I got to spend an afternoon here.

Spaghetti House
77 Knightsbridge
London, UK  SW1X 7RB

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Italian Kitchen

SignageBrunching with Cynthia is always fun, and it really is a shame that we can’t go out more often– school, work and (the ironic) lack of funds keeps getting in the way! When we do go, we always have a fantastic time, and this day was no different.

We originally planned on going to Coast, since we went for Dine Out the year before and loved the food, but it wasn’t open! No matter though, since there were a ton of other restaurants on Alberni for us to choose from– we ended up going to Italian Kitchen, which is also part of the Glowbal Group, right across the street.

Amuse BoucheThe visit to Coast last year resulted in a coupon for a complimentary amuse-bouche from any Glowbal restaurant; imagine my surprise when it was still valid after a year in my drawer! These small bites of Bocconcini, Tomato and Arugula were presented to us first, atop of a small piece of chewy, fried bread. In addition, it was drizzled with a bit of olive oil, but as you can see, there isn’t much to the actual morsel. I wasn’t super impressed with this, but it’s free food from an old voucher– what did I really expect?

DrinksBrunching-with-Cynthia times also invariably ends up being Drinking-with-Cynthia times, so we also ordered a pair of Italian Sodas ($3.50) to go with our meal. The menu lists a variety of fruit syrups you can add to the soda (you can choose two), as well as a list of predetermined mixes. I chose the Mango/Apricot, while Cynthia chose the Pineapple Colada. We made these brunch-worthy by adding vodka (they offer other liquors too), for an additional $3.50. I really liked the soda, as it was refreshing and a nice change from drinks you’d normally get– there’s the fizziness of pop, but also the different fruit flavours of smoothies and juices. If I were to go to Italian Kitchen again, I’d be content with just having the non-alcoholic version (a pretty good and delicious deal, I think).

IMG_0144We actually arrived after 12, so “brunch” really isn’t a correct term for our date… but we were adamant in our brunching, and this reflected in the dishes we ordered. Our first dish to share was the Dungeness Crab Benedict ($18.95) from their Prima Colazione section (they also offer a Proscuitto Eggs Benedict and a Mushroom Benedict, as well as classic breakfasts and some less-than classic dishes, such as polenta and “breakfast pizza”). Our Crab Benny came with a side salad and hasbrowns. The eggs were poached a little too long for my tastes (the yolk wasn’t very runny), and the hollandaise was a little bland, but on a positive note, this allowed the fluffy crab to shine, as it wasn’t too overpowered by the other flavours. The English muffin was toasted just right, but it definitely would’ve benefited from more hollandaise and egg yolk. The potatoes were again, very lightly seasoned, so they didn’t have too much of an impact. I liked the salad, as it wasn’t too wet with dressing, but placing it on the warm plate probably wasn’t such a good idea, as the bottom pieces got a little wilty. Overall, the dish was a on the mediocre side, and I didn’t think it was worth the $19 we spent.

IMG_0147We didn’t realize that the Crab Benedict came with potatoes (only the salad was listed in the menu, and other menu items did list potatoes so we just assumed), so we ordered a side of Roasted Potatoes ($4.50) to share. This serving of potatoes was much more presentable and tasty than the ones that came with the Benny, so maybe it was a good idea to get them anyways. These came with more flavour than their plated counterparts, and were topped with crumbled parmesan cheese and parsley. Sometimes you just need a good potato dish to make a meal better, and I believe these did the job.

IMG_0143Since we were at Italian Kitchen, we couldn’t very well leave without trying something more Italian than an Eggs Benedict. Since we had a seafood breakfast item, we decided on the Spaghetti and Wagyu Meatballs ($17.95), which came in a spicy basil tomato sauce, topped with a blob of herbed ricotta cheese. The picture I took doesn’t really do it justice– in actuality, there was a pretty big portion of pasta, and the 3 meatballs were quite big as well. The spaghetti was prepared al dente, and there was just enough sauce for each noodle to be evenly coated–not that it’s a bad thing, but I do wish that there was a bit more. I don’t know too much about wagyu beef, but I reckon that once it’s in meatball form there really isn’t THAT big a difference from good ole’ regular beef. I’m also not a meatball expert by any means, but I did like these ones, as they were springy and light, but still substantial in size. The pasta was good overall, but I don’t know how comfortable I am with paying this much…

MenuI had a pretty average experience at Italian Kitchen: our host and waitress was pretty helpful when giving us advice about our drinks, but otherwise there wasn’t much to comment on. I realize that because of location and the brand name prices would run high, but I was a little disarmed by our $50 bill at the end of lunch, even after a discount was taken (Cynthia had a coupon). The food was adequate and was nothing too special, and the modern decor was average (I like Coast and what used to be Sanafir better). Overall, I had a good time catching up with Cynthia, but I don’t know that I would return to Italian Kitchen in the future, especially when there are so many other great Italian places to visit downtown.

Italian Kitchen
1037 Alberni St
Vancouver, BC

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Adesso Bistro

FrontSiobhan was leaving for Iceland in the new year (yes, this visit was a while ago), and so the task fell on me to choose a restaurant for our last dinner date of the term! I had scoped out Adesso Bistro as a possible location for my birthday dinner (we went with Catch-122 instead), but the restaurant and menu still stood out to me, even a few months after I visited their website. So, despite the rain and cold, we made our way to Haro Street (Haro! Love the name) for an early night out.

I tried to make reservations for a later time, but since the restaurant was flooded with Christmas party reservations made eons ahead of time, we had to settle for dinner at the really early hour of 5:30. We were the first table at the restaurant, so we did get quite a bit of attention throughout our night there.

FocacciaAfter some fresh-baked focaccia bread accompanied by the expected olive oil-balsamic vinegar dip came up, we looked over the menu to see what was being offered. At the time, they had a winter prix fixe menu which also doubled as their features sheet– each item had its own price, and could be ordered a la carte or as part of the three course meal ($32, plus $15 for wine pairing). We ended up getting an appetizer off their specials, and a pasta each.

Poached Pear ProscuittoI didn’t record the name of the appetizer, but let’s say that it’s called the Poached Pear and Proscuitto Salad ($8). This was a more deconstructed form than what I had imagined, with three little bundles of red lettuce enveloping bocconcini cheese, warm poached pear, and topped with slices of buttery proscuitto. This was all presented beautifully on a long plate, accented by a brush of balsamic vinegar dressing that we could sweep the lettuce over. I don’t know if you’re meant to eat this all together (like a lettuce wrap/taco), but I ended up taking mine apart, and just forked up a little bit of each ingredient. The pears were quite sweet, which balanced out the lightly salted bocconcini, and the proscuitto was just perfect– the amount that was served wasn’t bad either, considering each bundle had 2 slices each.

TrofieSiobhan is lactose intolerant, and she wasn’t quite sure what to get, so we asked the server to give us a recommendation. He was very knowledgable about all the ingredients in each of the dishes, and as well, gave us options for things that could be added or omitted. In the end, Siobhan decided on the Trofie ($17), a Ligurian specialty pasta (I’m not sure what this shape of pasta would be classified as) that came in a thick and chunky tomato sauce. This pasta dish also came with slices of smoked chicken and pieces of eggplant. She really liked her meal, saying the pasta was al dente and that the ingredients were prepared well– the eggplant wasn’t overcooked, and the chicken was juicy and flavourful.

Risotto FunghiAs for myself, I have a habit of looking up menus online before going to a restaurant so that I won’t take quite as long to decide on a meal (unless the features list sounds especially delicious and distracting), so I already decided on the Risotto Funghi ($16). I do apologize for the gucky picture of the risotto– I had recently received a new Canon t3i as a Christmas present, and I was still getting the hang of lighting and shutter speed and all that jazz, so some pictures definitely aren’t the best. Despite the brownish-grey appearance (due to the porcini puree) of the dish that would normally seem unappetizing, this dish was really stellar– probably some of the best risotto I’ve had in a while. Each grain was uniformly prepared, with no bites being too hard or too mushy, and this was bursting with the woodsy flavour of the various roasted mushrooms. The grana padano provided a lightly salty garnish, and the arugula helped to break up the texture a bit. This was a huge portion, and I ended up taking some home for lunch the next day (and it was just as good then).

InteriorWe were both too full for dessert (actually, that’s a lie, we went to Thierry afterwards, but that was following a long walk up Robson), so we decided to end our night at Adesso Bistro. We had a very nice time at the restaurant, even as it started to fill up as our night went on. The food we ordered was carefully and expertly prepared, so that nothing was amiss; as well, the several servers who came by to welcome us were well-versed in the menu and preparation of the meal, something you don’t always see at restaurants nowadays. I wholeheartedly recommend this restaurant, nestled in a residential neighbourhood off Denman, for its romantic and intimate feel, as well as for their stellar service and food.

Adesso Bistro
1906 Haro St
Vancouver, BC

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Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria

Of the many thoughts running through my head when I drive down Hastings Street, two are relevant to this post: first, “Oh hey, what happened to Anducci’s?”, and second, “I’m really craving some pizza”. Well, it turns out the Anducci’s on Hastings and Fell has closed its doors, and a new, rather upscale looking pizza joint has replaced it– Cotto Pizzeria.

Samson and I decided to make a visit there after work one day, since it’s so close to the skating rink. We parked on one of the side streets before realizing that the lot landmarked by the run-down ex-Subway building was actually a parking lot for the pizzeria. Oh well, it wasn’t raining (yet). We were greeted by a few hostesses at the front of the glitzy, busy restaurant, who sat us at a table near the bar (which boasted a pretty large wine collection).

We started our night with two glasses of wine from their Freshtap system– for Samson, a glass of Blasted Church Big Bang ($7.50), a red wine blend from BC, and for myself, a glass of Casa Bianco ($5), a pinot bianco-trebbiano blend from Italy. We thought that the pricing was pretty reasonable, and for me especially. It was a good way to try some wines, since it’s not like we were going to a winery anytime soon. Samson felt that his glass was lightly spicy, but didn’t have a very full body, which he didn’t mind, but he probably wouldn’t order it again. As for me… well I’m no wine connoisseur, so all I can say was that the wine was crisp and pleasant to sip at, with a bit of a citrus note. I don’t know if I’d order it again, however, since there are so many wines one can try… this one didn’t really stand out from the others that I’ve had.

I have to say, the Bread our extremely attentive waitress brought over was some of the best I’ve had, even though it wasn’t served warm. The outside was just crusty enough to emit a nice crunch when you bite into it, but didn’t explode into a pile of crumbs on the table; nor did it hurt the top of my mouth. The inside was chewy and pillowy soft at the same time, and it went pretty well with the dip they gave us (I think it was some sort of hummus with truffle oil). On the side of each table are bottles of olive oil, one infused with rosemary and garlic, and the other… well, we’re not too sure about the other one, because it just tasted oily. I’m guessing it’s supposed to be some kind of pepper, since it’s red. We obviously liked the rosemary/garlic one more, and I definitely enjoyed dipping my bread into it (the only problem is that the bottles are a bit leaky).

Good bread is often a sign of good things to come, and that it did, in the Fior di Latte ($8), which comes with your choice of ingredients–we chose Prosciutto San Danielle and Roma Tomatoes, but there’s also the choice of Roasted Crema di Balsamico and Eggplant Caponata, Cauliflower and Salsa Verde (I know about half the words in those two ingredient descriptions). We were expecting the portion size to be bigger since it cost $8, but the ingredients and presentation were superb, so I guess it justifies it a little. The fior di latte was very, very light, and was salted just a tiny bit for added flavour; it paired well with the fatty prosciutto, whereas the balsamic roma tomatoes helped offset the fattiness. I would want to order this again since it tasted so great, but the price is holding me back a little.

We also shared a half order of their Canneloni Spinaci ($12 half, $22 full) which was a little different than what I expected. Instead of the thicker, denser noodle I usually imagine as the wrapper, this was a thinner, eggier noodle, reminiscent in ways of a crepe. The ingredients in the middle (spinach, ricotta and marscapone cheese) were pretty standard, if not a wee bit on the bland side (but I like blander tasting things). I’m a little conflicted about my opinion of this dish– while I did enjoy the lighter noodle, which didn’t make me feel extremely bloated, I did wish that there was a little more substance to it, as I was hoping for more. Perhaps their regular-sized portion is a little more filling?

And to the main reason of our visit– the pizza! The restaurant boasts a lovely looking woodfire oven at the front of the restaurant, so OF COURSE you can’t pass up the chance to eat food made from it (and it is a pizza place after all). There were quite a few pizzas to choose from, and we narrowed it down between the Pizza Funghi and the Pizza Cotto (both $15), which included Yukon Gold potatoes, Sloping Hill pancetta, fried Brussel sprout leaves, gorgonzola dolce and fonduta (not sure what that last one is). Judging from the picture and the bolded font, I’m sure you could guess that the Pizza Funghi won. The toppings on the pizza we chose included a variety of roasted mushrooms (button, crimini and shitake among others), caramelized onions, goat cheese and chives, which rested on a nicely leoparded crust. I don’t believe I’ve had Neapolitan-style pizza before, but based on other food blogs’ reviews of such dining establishments, I think this one holds up. The crust was thin where there were toppings, but not too thick on the edge, and the ingredients didn’t make the pizza dough soggy or too limp. The mushrooms added a spongey texture (in a good way) to the dish. For the price, I’d say this is a pretty good deal– the pizza is cut into 8 large slices, and I was pretty full by the time I was finishing up the last piece (granted, I did have some pasta and bread).

We had originally wanted a “cheap” meal, so I have no idea why we ended up ordering dessert as well– maybe because I simply couldn’t pass up the delicious sounding combination of Panna Cotta ($8) and lemon curd. The panna cotta was full of vanilla flavour, and the lemon curd was appropriately tart but sweet. The addition of meringue reminded me of my mom’s yummy lemon tarts, and the shortbread complimented it all as only a buttery cookie can. Scrumptious things aside, we felt that this portion was a on the small side, as desserts go–I definitely didn’t want to share this one, and I probably could have gobbled up 3 more as well (I don’t know if that’s a testament to how small it is or how much of a pig I am).

All in all, I did like our visit to Cotto– the atmosphere is nice, catering to different crowds (mid-thirties set, families, couples on dates), and the food was pretty decent, though a little on the pricey side considering the neighbourhood. Since it’s so close to my workplace, I can definitely see myself making a future visit– I’d want to try out some of their other pizzas (the Pizza Cotto does sounds really good), as well as the other wines they stock.

Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria
6011 Hastings Street
Burnaby, BC

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Ark Whistler Retreat

So I haven’t done a home-cooked meal review yet, mostly because I’m hardly home for dinner– and when I am, I’m so hungry I commit the Ultimate Food Blogger’s Sin and just eat the food without taking pictures or notes (shame on me). Early in May, though, I had the pleasure of going on a retreat with my church fellowship, and so I took advantage of the large amounts of beautifully plated food, and decided to write about it as my first home-cooking post.

That being said, because of some extenuating circumstances (I was too hungry, I couldn’t find my camera because it was hidden under a pile of blankets, et cetera et cetera), I wasn’t able to take pictures of all the food from our weekend in Whistler, so what I’m about to write about is really just a glimpse of what we enjoyed…

Anyways, most of my church group (21 of us) made it up to Whistler on the 1st weekend of May for a retreat, where we learned, grew and bonded with one another. One way we did this was by preparing meals, in teams of around 4, for the rest of the group. Our Friday night dinner was made by Kelvin, Joy, Felix and Michael, and I for one was super appreciative that they cooked up such a storm, even after a tiring drive. First, we were served French Onion Soup, which was finished with a toasted baguette with Swiss cheese. This slow-cooked soup was chock-full of onions and spices that were in a light but nevertheless flavourful broth. French Onion is one of my favourites, so I definitely enjoyed this (I had thirds).

The rest of our meal was served cafeteria style, so that everyone could get their food quickly.For our main, they had prepared Chicken Linguine with Bechamel-Red Sauce, and for the side they made a Roasted Vegetable Medley, which included a colourful array of asparagus, yellow and orange peppers and carrots. The chicken was surprisingly moist, while the linguine was prepared al dente, and didn’t get clumpy while in the serving dish.As if this wasn’t enough food, their team also cooked up a delicious Apple Crumble for us to enjoy later that night.

This dessert was slightly crunchy from the toasted oats, while the granny smith apples had baked into a nice texture. This was the first time I tried apple crumble (weird, because I love apple desserts), and it was pretty much everything I imagined it to be.

 

 

Saturday’s breakfast at 9am was made by Judith, Kirstie, Josh and Angie. Presented to us when we walked downstairs was a selection of Bagels (sesame, everything, blueberry), along with paired toppings of nutella + strawberry, peanut butter + bananas, and cream cheese + honey. My personal favourite was the unconventional cream cheese + honey combination– the honey adds a little bit of sweetness, and cuts the heaviness of the cream cheese to make for a very mildly flavoured bagel. They also put out Greek Yogurt and Granola, for those of us who needed a little extra fibre 😛

Now our second lunch is where I failed a little, only managing to capture 2 shots of our self-serve taco bar. Prepared by Rosy, Jelissa, Timothy and Julianna, they set out all the fixins for a Tex-Mex Wrap and Burrito Bar: beef, beans, and an assortment of veggies. They also made some Panko-Breaded Chicken and Bacon-Wrapped Chicken (not pictured), which I actually ate on the side because my wrap was already too full from everything else I put in it! For sides, there was a big bowl of homemade guacamole and tortilla chips, as well as an enormous fruit salad, consisting of pears, green apples, mandarins, strawberries, green and red grapes. This was definitely a very filling meal, giving us a ton of energy for the rest of the day’s activities.

Our second and final dinner was made by Andy, Briony, Nathaniel and Kristen. For starters, there was a creamy Cream of Mushroom Soup and a Spinach and Strawberry Salad. The soup wasn’t what I expected at all, even though Andy’s gourmet-ness is well documented– I thought we’d just be having a flat of Campbell’s soup, which wouldn’t have been terrible– but I was pleasantly surprised by the homemade version. This soup had a ton of sliced mushrooms in it (none of the little cube bits you’d get in canned soup), as well as a bit of green onions. As you know by now, I’m a huge fan of mushrooms, so of course I loved the soup (plus, it was soup. Who doesn’t like soup?!). The spinach and strawberry salad was drizzled with a light vinaigrette, which let all the flavours shine through; I liked the sweet and vinegary mix.

The night before, the team had marinated the Honey Miso Grilled Chicken Thighs (pictured is a blurry picture of Andy marinating the chicken, and the final product), which meant that it was bursting with flavour when we munched on them for dinner. They ended up barbecuing the chicken on the grill at the house, giving it a nice blackened skin and smoky flavour. For our sides, we had a choice of three:

Mashed Potatoes, Spanish Rice and Chili Corn. The mash had a good amount of pepper and spices (as well as butter) in it, and went well with the chicken.This was my first time eating Spanish rice, and I liked the different take on rice (I usually have it plain, or fried up Asian-style). The chili corn was my favourite, though– mixed with some Sriracha sauce, the corn looked deceptively plain. I liked the slowly permeating heat that complemented the sweetness of the corn.

The next morning, my team (Janet, Kenny, Jeffrey and Mitchell) woke up bright and early to cook up a storm (I wasn’t able to take any pictures though, simply because we were too busy). We decided on Waffles, Bacon and Sausages. Let me just say that cooking bacon is the worst thing ever. I have nothing against eating bacon, but I just don’t like having to deal with the splatter and grease and bacony-smelling clothing that results from it. Anyways. The lodge we rented came with a double Belgian-style waffle maker, and this definitely helped us save time. We ended up running out of batter after 12 or so waffles, so we decided to divide them up into fours; we also had some leftover bagels, so we just warmed those up again. For toppings, we had bought some frozen mixed berries, but we also chopped up some fresh strawberries, bananas and green apples, and for garnishes we provided chocolate chips and cinnamon. I definitely had a fun time making the food, even though our team was pretty pooped afterwards (the car ride back to Vancouver was all too short for my much-needed nap).

So in the end, we left Whistler with content stomachs, happy smiles and renewed spirits, and for that, I would like to thank everyone who was there who made it such a special time, and especially those who organized the event. I hope that everyone is able to experience something like this in their lifetime, be it with their extended family, their church group, or their friends– serving each other, in a world where most people only serve themselves, is a surprisingly great way to bond.


La Villetta Ristorante

Having spent the entire day (and the day before that) studying for my finals, it was definitely time to take a break from the university food and unhealthy snackage I was ingesting too much of, and go for a nice meal with the fam. Since I was up at SFU, we decided to go to La Villetta, an Italian restaurant on the corner of Hastings and Ingleton.

I didn’t actually know which restaurant this was until I looked it up on Google Maps– turns out I pass by this place every Sunday on my way to church, but we’ve never been (probably because it isn’t open for lunch anymore… and if it were, my cousins’ picky eating would definitely prevent us from going in). The restaurant was really warm and cozy when I entered, which was great because the weather that day was supremely miserable.  The decor is reminiscent of a B&B… very woodsy and rustic, and with all the candles and couples, it seemed slightly too romantic for a family meal. Whoops.

Upon getting seated, we were presented right away with a basket of warm and crusty homemade bread. By now you probably know about my love for bread… would it surprise you that both my grandma and my mom love bread too? So much so, they were raving about how warm and delicious and soft it was all night long. My dad just sat there looking very amused, but he probably thought we were crazy.

Anyways. The four of us ordered 3 pastas and an appetizer to share. First up was the appy Vongole a la Marinara–steamed clams in a sauce made with tomato, white wine and garlic. The good thing about this dish was that almost all the clams (except for 3) were open and very fresh, albeit on the smaller side. The sauce, however, wasn’t to our liking at all as it was far too bland. It tasted like the juice from a can of diced tomatoes, only a little thicker, and I couldn’t taste the wine or garlic at all. I think we were meant to dip our bread (they had brought over a second basket) in the sauce, but all that resulted in was bland, soggy bread. Definitely not that great a start to our meal.

Our three pastas arrived shortly after the clams did, which meant that our small table was getting a little crowded, what with all the dishes and cups. We dug into the vegetarian Linguine Della Casa, which was tossed with sun-dried tomatoes and a variety of mushrooms in an olive oil-tomato sauce, and topped with fresh bocconcini. The slightly melted cheese tasted mild and fresh (as it should), and there was a plethora of mushrooms and tomatoes in the pasta. However, there was far too much olive oil used in the cooking process, so that the tomatoes ended up being oil-logged, and there was a rather unpleasant-looking thick coat of oil left in the plate after we had finished the dish. I know it says in the menu that the sauce is made with olive oil, but I didn’t think that there would be THAT much of it… so I’m not sure if it was a misunderstanding on my part, or if the restaurant overdid it. The dish definitely would have been better if there was less oil, though.

The waitress had recommended the Cannelloni to us, so we ordered that as well. This pasta was stuffed with veal, spinach and ricotta cheese, then baked in a tomato cream sauce. I thought that the cannelloni itself was well executed, in that the pasta was al dente and that the filling tasted quite good. However, this fell short again in the sauce department. We thought that the sauce had a weird, mealy consistency to it, and tasted more cheesy than tomato-y, which was a bit of a turn off. I mean, the dish was fine if we scraped off the sauce, but really… we shouldn’t have had to do that, especially if it was a recommended dish!

At this point in the meal I was feeling a little bleh about the place, but our final dish, the Linguine Pescatore, helped redeem the night a little bit. Loaded with mussels, prawns, clams, scallops and salmon and cooked in a white wine-butter sauce with garlic, this pasta was definitely our favourite of the night. In terms of the sauce, this one tasted like it should, and wasn’t too heavy despite the butter. The seafood tasted fresh (though the scallops were a little on the overcooked side), the pasta was al dente, and everything just meshed well together. I ended up dipping my bread into this buttery and garlicky sauce because it was just that good.

By the time we were done with the pastas and the 2 baskets of bread we were feeling quite full… but then the waitress came by and asked us if we wanted dessert. It turns out they had Spumoni Ice Cream, which is one of my favourites (I would buy a gigantic tub if I knew where to get it). For those who don’t know, Spumoni is a three-flavoured ice cream much like Neapolitan ice cream– both have chocolate and vanilla, but Spumoni typically replaces the strawberry flavour with pistachio. You might have had it before if you’ve gone to the Old Spaghetti Factory, but the “authentic” version of the ice cream usually contains candied fruits or nuts. Our plate of ice cream came with a little dollop of whipped cream and cinnamon, and there were candied fruits (like in a fruit cake) in the vanilla layer, and chopped nuts in the chocolate layer. The pistachio and vanilla flavours were both really light, which really let the creamy and rich chocolate layer shine. This is definitely one of the better ones I’ve had!

So La Villetta was a bit of a hit and miss. I thought the prices were pretty reasonable– although the dishes seemed small at first, we ended up getting really full off of what we ordered. The pastas themselves were alright, but there were some pretty big execution problems in terms of the sauces for most of our dishes, which to me is a bit weird at an Italian restaurant. The servers were also hit and miss– we had one who was really nice, and another who was a little brusque and made us feel rushed. Perhaps it was just that night and those dishes that didn’t showcase the quality of the restaurant (many people do like it on Urbanspoon)… in any case, I would be willing to return sometime in the future to try the other items on their menu, but I think I would try some other Italian restaurants in the area so I can get a better picture of the cuisine first.

La Villetta Ristorante
3901 East Hastings Street
Burnaby, BC

La Villetta Ristorante on Urbanspoon