Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Siena- Bringing a Little Piece of the Mediterranean To Vancouver

1485 W 12th Ave  Vancouver, BC V6H 1M6
(604) 558-1485

Tastiness Factor: 8.5/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore Approved?  YES (Although Siena does have some elements that go along with its casual Mediterranean theme, including a wine list featuring European wines and some imported delicacy items, they also add local flair with a significant portion of their menu that changes daily depending on what is seasonally available.  If only more restaurants would use this approach!)

I love summer.  Warm temperatures, sun, lots of great fresh produce, drinks outside on a patio.  There are so many reasons, but one of my very favourite things about summer is the long days, when there is still several hours of sunshine left after the workday is done.  And with those long days comes the desire and the sense of obligation to make every last minute of sunlight count and I seem to forget the fact that I have to get up for work the next morning.  And what better way to celebrate these long summer days than a weeknight out with friends?  In the winter, when it is cold and rainy, I could not be bothered going out after 7pm, but in the summer, it seems almost wrong to throw in the towel so early!

It was these sentiments that led to our recent visit to Siena on a Monday night.  For us, and our great neighbours who we dined with, Siena is the perfect summer restaurant because it is within walking distance from our condo.  This is especially important when visiting Siena on a Monday night which just happens to be 50% bottles of wine night!  So not only could we soak up the last bit of sunshine on the way to our 8:30 reservation but we did not need to bother with a cab home.  How perfect is that?!

Siena is located just off Granville St., a street that is notorious for having a high turnover rate for its businesses.  Siena has been open now for a little over a year, and fortunately, there are no signs of it going away any time soon.  Quite to the contrary, it appears that it is getting busier than ever, as it continues to introduce new ideas to attract customers, such the amazing 50% off wine bottle Mondays that we took advantage of, the 50% off pre-theatre dining at the Stanley and their relatively recent addition of weekend brunch.  Its successes can at least in part be attributed to its owner Mark Taylor, who closed down the very successful Cru restaurant on Broadway to open Siena.  The lessons he learned at Cru through his years there are obviously coming in handy!

The atmosphere at Cru is casual and laid back, and at the same time, quite sophisticated.  I liken it to sitting in a little hotspot in the centre of Barcelona.  There is a nice bar as you enter, and then the room opens up into a relatively intimate space with the kitchen sitting at the back.  On the back wall, there is also a chalkboard listing all of the night's features.

Service stays true to the casual yet sophisticated vibe.  Although our server seemed a little flustered when we first arrived (it was a packed house even on this Monday night, glad we had a reso!), he composed himself as the meal went on and was joined by a lovely female server who made us feel like guests in her home.  The male server was also extremely attentive to our needs and obviously wanted our visit to be perfect.  When Hubby spilled some of his coffee on his side place, he quickly ran over and offered to replace the coffee for him.  It is quite obvious why Siena seems to have a lot of regulars who have joined the Siena "family".

As previously mentioned, the wine list is composed of selection of European wines to accompany its food's Mediterranean flavours.  Because it was 50% night on bottles of wine, we decided to get  bottle of white for the ladies and a bottle of red for the gents.  The initial plan on the ladies side was to drink half and bring the rest home (it was a Monday night after all!), but it ended up that not a drop of wine was left at the end of the evening.  Good intentions anyway!  A big thanks to our server for his wonderful wine suggestions (loved the Gwerst!).

The menu is split between a dishes served nightly printed on a menu and a number of special dishes that change from night to night based on availability of ingredients.  For me, this is the mark of a truly great restaurant as it shows that the chefs is constantly challenging himself to use seasonal ingredients  in new ways rather than just serving the same food night after night.  And it is indeed true that Siena has a wonderful chef (Tim Evans, former sous-chef at Cru), as was demonstrated by the wonderful food that we enjoyed on our visit.

We began with the Antipasti plate for Two which is a wonderful way to sample many different nibblies created by the chef.  The components change on a regular basis, and include a variety of different foods, from meats to fish to veggies to spread, etc. etc.  On the night of our visit, it included gorgonzola-stuffed figs, roasted pepper jam, orzo salad, soppresatta, smoked salmon, bread and a few other goodies.  All were made with top quality ingredients.  With this variety, there is bound to be lots for everyone to enjoy! The portion is quite sizeable and we easily shared it between the 4 of us.

My dining companion had ordered the Panzanella salad on her last visit and suggested we order again since she had enjoyed it so much the first time.  It was a great compliment to our antipasti platter and shared nicely between the four of us.  The greens were wonderfully fresh and sweet (as they are right now at the farmer's markets) and the heirloom tomatoes were beautiful (just starting to make their summer appearance!).  Although I have not normally been a huge fan of bread in salad, I must admit that these large focaccia croutons coated lightly with olive oil and a hint of butter were addictive!  What a lovely representation of summer on a plate!

The Ricotta Gnudi was the obvious choice for me as it contained many of my favourite ingredients all on one plate- artichokes, spinach, basil and chevre.  It was like they read my mind!  The gnudi (like gnocci except bigger and made with less flour) were plump and pillowy.  Although this is a vegetarian dish, it is quite heavy and I found myself getting a bit overwhelmed by the richness as I ate the last quarter or so.  Although I love chevre, this dish may have been equally successful, or perhaps even more successful, without its added creaminess.

My friend chose the special pasta of the day, the Seafood Stuffed Ravioli, stuffed with smoked salmon and shrimp with cream sauce.  It is hard to believe that so much goodness could be stuffed into a piece of pasta, but Siena pulled it off beautifully.

The men ordered the Grilled Flat Iron Steak, served with salsa verde, arugula, parmesan and fingerlings.  This was a fairly simple but perfectly executed with perfectly cooked steak (medium-rare), a light and summery salsa and a bit of contrasting tang from the arugula.   This is the classic steak and potatoes kicked up to a whole new level.

This is my second visit to Siena since it opened, with my last visit being about a year ago.  Age has obviously served Siena well, as, although we enjoyed our first meal last year, it did not have us yearning to come back for more like this meal did.  Siena has the goods to compete with any other great restaurant in Vancouver and I feel very fortunate to call them "neighbour".

Siena on Urbanspoon

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