3689 West 4th Avenue Vancouver, BC
Tastiness Factor: 5/5
Locavore Approved: YES (emphasis on local produce and seasonal ingredients, servers well-educated on ingredient origin)
Quercia has won multiple awards over the years for its Italian fare, including Best Restaurant from Vancouver Magazine 2011, and I have never heard a negative word spoken about it from anyone I have ever talked to. And after eating there on Saturday night, I can understand why.
Let me start off by saying that its popularity comes at a cost when trying to get a table here. On a weekend, you must reserve 2-4 weekend in advance, and maybe even longer in advance if you want to get into the coveted second seating (the 5:45pm was all that was available for our party of 6 and we booked over 2 weeks in advance). Just more proof of how good this place is.
Quercia is tucked away on the corner of Alma and West 4th (you need to look pretty hard to see the sign) and looks quite unassuming from the outside. Inside you will find a small, intimate room with a dozen tables. The atmosphere is relaxed but classy, with white linens and smartly-dressed servers. Although Quercia has typically won its awards in the "Casual Italian" category, I would consider this a bit more on the fine dining side and their service is in keeping with this also. We were served dishes simultaneously by several different servers throughout the meal who were obviously very experienced. I must applaude them on their very consistent water replenishing. As someone who likes to chase down my food with lots of water, it is not often that I get through an entire meal without having an empty glass at least once, but here my glass never got to half empty!
We had 6 people in our party and therefore were told that we would have to order the 7 or 11-course menu served family-style. There is also an a-la-carte option for smaller parties but I think that you must get the family-style menu to really get the full Quercia experience. Unlike tasting menus offered at most restaurant which are set menus, Quercia serves a different combination of dishes to each table depending on the chef's preference and imput from the guests. One of us had a nut allergy, another could not eat pork and I am mostly pescatarian so our meal was graciously planned around these preferences. Most menu items come from the Fresh Sheet created on a daily basis based on what is fresh and locally available, with a few surprise dishes thrown in. Since it was our first visit, we opted for the 7 course menu and were very satisfied with the amount of food- some of us even had leftovers to bring home (too good to leave behind!).
Here is the 7 course run-down:
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Dish 1: Heirloom tomato and peach salad- Holy summer! Simple and refreshing, this dish made highlighted local tomatoes at the peak of their season. They were so sweet and delicious, I could have easily mistaken them for candy. This salad was all about not messing with a good thing and these chefs passes with flying colors!
Dish 2: Parmigiano Sformato- A sformato is basically a more dense type of souffle and this one, made with was delicious but surprisingly light. Following with the tomato theme from the first course, there was a candied tomato served along side which balanced the saltiness of the cheese perfectly.
Dish 3: Salmon roulades with beet- This next dish brought us from summer to fall with the taste of delicious local pickled beets. Although I am not a lover of cream cheese, I happily polished off my share of the cream cheese-stuffed salmon accompanied by delicate pea shoots.
Dish 4: Stinging nettle agnolotti- I suspect that some at our table (including my dear husband) were somewhat skeptical of eating stinging nettle but after one bite, everyone was digging in with gusto! After experiencing the tender pasta stuffed with this underutilized vegetable, we are all stinging nettle converts!
Dish 5: Gnocci, mushroom ragu- This dish, which was a veggie take on the fresh sheet's gnocchi with lamb ragu (thanks for accommodating!) brought us even further into fall with its earthy flavors and textures. The gnocchi were light and fluffy. A very comforting dish.
Dish 6: Whole roasted branzino- This last dish finished off the meal which a "bang". The whole fish on the plate was quite a show-stopper. The simple accompaniments of tomato (bringing us back full circle to the first dish), radish and cucumber complemented the fish beautifully. We were served one fish per couple which was a very generous-sized portion and quickly made me forget that my belly was getting full! It would have been an absolute crime to leave a bite if this magnificent fish behind!
Dish 7: Dessert- The dessert plate was composed of three different desserts- a fig tart, a custard and a chocolate cake. Although we were all a bit underwhelmed with the desserts as compared to the rest of the meal, I enjoyed the fig tart and appreciated that we were served a selection of desserts to suit everyone's tastes.
And as we started to mourn the end of our Quercia experience, there was one final pleasure- a pleasantly sweet and light meringue cookie for each of us.
This meal at Quercia was truly exceptional and surpassed even my highest of expectations. Quercia is really in a league of its own when it comes to Italian food and I now understand full well why reservations are so hard to come by. Luckily, I have secured my next visit with them already, for when my parents come to visit from Newfoundland at the month's end. Are they ever in for a treat!
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