Monday 29 October 2012

Pizza Perfection At Nicli

Nicli Antica Pizzeria

62 East Cordova Street  Vancouver, BC V6A 1K2
(604) 669-6985 

Tastiness Factor: 5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Locavore Approved? YES- although their flour and some of their staples are imported from Europe for authenticity sake, many of their meats are made in-house from local meats and they offer seasonal items made with local ingredients

After my recent trip to St. John's to visit my parents, they are now returning the favor and paying me a visit here in Vanny (so great to have them!!!).

My mother is a huge pizza fan and my parents go to their local St. John's favorite pizza joint, Pi, on an almost weekly basis.  They have also visited the new Piatto Pizzaria in St. John's which has been awared the Verra Pizza Napoletana.

Because they are such pizza fans, I knew that I had to take them to Nicli to try their delicious pies. My husband have been there multiple times and have never been let down (see my review on Urbanspoon from last year).

The outside of Nicli is quite unassuming but the inside is very "clean" looking with mostly white decor.  Very sharp.  It is a very friendly space, always abuzz with many happy pizza-eating diners. How can you not be bursting with excitement while eating pizza this good???


At the very back of the restaurant is the open kitchen that houses the star of the show, their 900 degree wood fire pizza oven that cooks pizzas in just 90 seconds.  


The kitchen is also home to a lovely little herb garden, guaranteeing the very freshest basil and arugula you can get.  Love it!!!




Because we had learned on previous visits that there is often a wait to be seated (no resos allowed), we had planned in advance to go to the nearby Irish Heather Pub to get a drink.  Before doing so, we dropped over to Nicli to get our names on the list.  I was excited to learn of their new texting service, wherby you give them your cell number and they text when your table is ready.  Not only that, but they send you an inital link via text that you ca use to see the status of your table and how many are ahead of you to be seated.  Genius!

Service is friendly and unpretentious. Our server was knowledgeable about the ingredients and was obviously passionate about the food they produced.  She was very helpful with menu selection.


Now onto the best part, the food:)

We shared two appies for the table.  The first was the Antipasti Misto, a selection of house-made and imported meats and cheeses, veg and bread.  It changes up nightly based on what is fresh and seasonal.  They also add special meats and cheeses that are imported from Italy.  On this particular rendition, there was a lovely fontina cheese, Italian and French salamis, house-pickled mushrooms, roasted red peppers, artichoke and anchovy, served with a side of bread.  A great sharing appie to suit all tastes.  The parts are all very simple and therefore perfect executed was a must- and these guys nailed it.



 The second starter we shared was the Insalata, made simply with crisp romaine and and fresh tomatoes, and dressed with olive oil and balsamic.  Again, simple yet delicious.


Now onto the pizzas.  Their crust is quite unique.  Crispy and charred on the edges, soft and doughy in the middle.  It is served uncut and meant to be eaten with your hands (the chewy center makes it quite a challenge to cut!).  The pizzas are served straight out of the oven so the crust maintains its intended consistency. 


The special pizza tonight was their usual Diavolo (pomodoro, fior de latte, sopresetta, basil and chili oil) with the addition of roasted red pepper.  My father and husband both opted for this one.  They loved the spicy meat and the added kick of the chili oil. 



My mom chose the Margherita (pomodoro, grana padano, fior de latte and basil) from the Classic part of the menu.  Great ingredients, plain and simple.


Finally, I chose the Pesto from the Contemporary section (pesto, olives, capers, tomatoes, fior de latte) and topped it with that beautiful fresh arugula picked right from the plant in the kitchen (yummmm….).  I loved the pesto as a base, especially with the saltiness of the capers and olives in top.  I did not leave one bite.


Although there have been many new pizza joints open after Nicli's initial success, one can argue that Nicli is still in the #1 spot.  Others may rival them based on pies alone (Farina, Novo), they still have the bext overall package- great atmosphere, top-notch service and mouth-watering starters to round out the menu.  

Thanks for showing my parents such great Vancouver hospitality!

Nicli Antica Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Friday 26 October 2012

A debut night out at Tapa Bar in Victoria

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Tapa Bar

620 Trounce Alley  Victoria, BC V8W 1K3
(250) 383-0013

Tastiness Factor: 3.5/5

Service: 2.5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Locavore Approved? Probably not…large menu, no seasonal specials.  Did have a nice selection of BC wines.   


My first week in Victoria has been quite busy so this was really my first chance to get out with my hubby and some friends to unwind a little.  I happily assumed the task of choosing the restaurant.  I was looking for a fun place, not too expensive, that offered a wide variety of dishes for different tastes since we were a party of 10.  I perused the internet to search out such a locale and came across Tapa Bar that I remembered seeing downtown when we had first arrived in the city.  The menu looked quite elaborate, with lots of veg options (<a href="</p>


Tapa is tucked away downtown in Trounce Alley, a little lane near View and Government, although its neon sign makes it visible from either side of the alley.  It has a small exterior, which gives way to a cozy little restaurant that was quite busy for a Thursday night.   The décor is decidedly Spanish, with bright colored walls and lots of big bold paintings. 


We had a reservation for 8:45, but showed up a little early so we had a seat at the bar while waiting for our table. They had a nice cocktail list with many creative drinks (would have loved to try one if I did not have to be at work at 7am the next day!).  They also had a nice wine list with many BC wines (love that!).


 We were seated about 15 minutes after our reservation.  Our servers were quite friendly though so that was forgiven but there were a few other service blunders.   First of all, it took quite a while to get our order taken, and then another long time before we were actually served.  We chose to order tapas to share amongst the whole table (about 2/person).  We were served all of the veggie dishes first, then all of the fish dishes, then finally the seafood dishes.  We would have preferred to have more of a mix of dishes coming out, as the meat eaters had to wait quite a while for their food and the vegetarians in the group had nothing left to eat mid-way through.


Although I usually comment on each dish individually, I will pass on it time as we had a total of 16 dishes, some of which I did not try (chicken, meat).  I will just highlight my favorites and some of the table favorites:


Kale- was grilled, giving it a lovely smoky flavor.  Simple but delicious!



 Eggplant- lightly covered in goat cheese in a very flavorful tomato sauce.



Cold marinated artichokes- these are the real deal, not just the jarred ones. Nice spice combination with garlic and cumin.



Pesto pizza- topped with pear, brie and walnuts on a crispy thin crust.  Vegetarians and meat eaters alike loved this one!



Almond stuffed dates- Wrapped in bacon, the sweet and salty combo was a hit.  The touch of almond gave a bit of a twist to the usual stuffed date.



Cubanette Con Pollo- This open-faced sandwich was a bit difficult to share but the flavours packed quite a punch.



Pollo Al Ajillo- My husband is a connaiseur of chicken wings and this version with white wine, butter and garlic certainly satisfied him.



And now to some of the less successful dishes:

Rice and beans- Bland, bland, bland, even for a bean lover like me.



Chorizo Fondue- While it may sound tasty, this dish just did not work.  And it really looked quite unappetizing.


Mahi-mahi tostada- While the flavors worked OK, something was missing.  Where was the fish???  I think I may have tasted one miniscule piece...


A few more general comments on the menu.  Although the food above was tasty, I think their menu needs a little makeover.  It should be MUCH shorter (so many choices are quite overwhelming).  Also, their plating could use a little more pizazz- it seemed as though everything was served on a bed of lettuce.  I also think they could make the portion sizes a little smaller so that a greater number of dishes could be enjoyed.



Overall, we had a great time at Tapa.  Although the menu could use a little work, most of the dishes were pretty tasty and we did not leave much behind.  We loved the atmosphere and the ability to order a selection of dishes to share.  The service was sub-par at times, but always friendly.  It was a entertaining first night out in Victoria! 

The Tapa Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday 25 October 2012

Forming new "Habit" in Victoria

I am now happily exporing the city of Victoria while here for the next month for work.  So many great new foodie destinations to discover!

I have been pretty busy with work since I have arrived so have not had time to do too much in the way of exploring, so when I found myself with a bit of free time this afternoon, I went on the hunt for th city's best coffee shop hangouts.  During my a quick Internet search, the place that got the most hits was Habit, located in the heart of Chinatown, the more "hip" part of downtown Victoria.  

Habit's exterior is rather unassuming and you would likely walk right by it if you did not know it was there.  Inside, however, is another story.  It is a big space with high ceilings that give it a very welcoming allure.  The walls lined with mega-sized pieces of art.  The bar is lined with benches so that customers can sit and chat to each other while watching the baristas work their magic.  There is lots of additional seating for custumors to sit and take the time to enjoy their drinks, as is certainly recommended for coffee and expresso of this quality.


I chose the plain latte to really see what this place is made of.  Lattes from the run-of-the-mill coffee shops are almost always tasty, but the greatest baristas, like those at Habit, now how to take the simple latte to the next level.  This latte was so smooth, with the perfect amount of light-as-air foam. I sipped at it slowly for over an hour, savoring each last drop.


Habit also has a remarkable selection of baked goods, many of which are vegan and/or gluten free. Being the baked goods nut that I am, I purchased a selection of their offerings:

The energy bar- raisins, nuts, seeds and puffed rice:


The peanut-butter oat bar (I cannot resist anything with PB!):



The sesame square- puffed rice, kamut, peanuts, raisins, sesame seeds:


The pumpkin square- creamy pumpkin filling in an oat crust- sorry no pic, I devoured this one!!!


All of the above baked goods were delicious (yes, I have eaten all of them already!).  Just the right amount of sweetness and baked to perfection.  I will certainly try their selection of muffins on my next visit!

There is no doubt that Habit is doing it right- quality coffee prepared by expert baristas and a nice selection of goodies, served in an inviting space where you feel that you can really unwind.  What a perfect way to spend a late fall afternoon.

Habit Coffee on Urbanspoon

Saturday 20 October 2012

Au revoir Van Farmer's Market!

It is with much sorrow that I write this blog post, on this, the last weekend for the Van Farmer's Market for the summer/fall season:(

I visited the West End Market today, which will be my last as I am off to Victoria for the next month. It is an absolutely beautiful fall day, sunny with a refreshing nip in the air.

The market was filled with beautiful fall veggies- I just love all of the fall colours!  Here are some of my picks of the day:

Squash galore!  Love to bake the acorn or turban variety and then stuff each side with apple sauce and raisins.  Easy to prepare and yummy!



Brocolli, among my favorite veggies!  Gently steamed or raw- leave it simple!


How about some vibrant red beets?  Borscht anyone?


And for the sweet tooth- how about some Bosc pears and Granny Smith apples?  Don't you just love a green apple with the little blush of red?  


And for my "pick of the day"- brussel sprout stalks!  How cool is that to be able to buy them in their native form, as though you had just picked it yourself.  



Although I am very sad about the end of the summer/fall market, at least I still have the winter market to look forward to!  It starts in 2 weekend's time (Nov. 3) at the Nat Bailey Stadium (30th and Ontario). Hope to see you there!


Friday 12 October 2012

Seriously Good Java at Matchstick

I do not consider myself a "coffee snob" by any means.  I use soy milk and Splenda in my daily Starbucks which I am sure is frowned upon by those who can truly appreciate coffee in its naked simplicity.  However, I do know a good cup of coffee or expresso when I have one.

My friends who are more knowledgeable in the coffee realm than myself have been singing the praises of a new kid on the East Van block, Matchstick, deeming it the "best coffee in town". Although I really like the East Van vibe (hip, edgy), I rarely find reason to go over that way.  So when I found myself at Mount Dt. Joseph's Hospital recently with some time to spare, I took a wander over to Matchstick to see what all of the fuss was about.


This place screams hipster through and through, in a good way. The decor boasts is clean, crisp and minimalist.  It has 2 large communal benches which were full of people working away at their laptops the day we were there.  There is also a stand up bar for those who wish to stay for a shorter time.  Behind the bar, there are many coffee contraptions that a non-coffee snob like me could not recognize but they looked pretty fancy!  By watching those behind the bar work their magic, it was obvious that these guys are serious about their craft.


Because they pust a lot of love into each cup, expect to wait a little longer than you would at Timmy's or Starbucks.  Otherwise, the service was very friendly and the baristas were obviouly very knowledgeable and skilled.  

And the wait for my Americano was well worth it!  Smooth as silk!  Something so simple, prepared so perfectly.  I savoured every last drop!  For those who like bit of added creaminess, there is milk and cream as dairy options, as well as Almond Milk as a non-dairy option (no soy).  

Although the star is clearly their beverages, they also sell a variety of baked goods.  Being the sucker for baked goods that I am, I got both a muffin (cranberry-orange) and a scone (honey).  Both were very light and fluffy, with just enough sweetness.  My friend had the savory scone and really liked the addition of dill as a twist on the traditional cheese variety.  

Now that I have been to Matchstick, I find myself trying to come up with excuses to make the trip over to East Van on a more regualr basis.  Who knows, they may even make a "coffee snob" out of me yet:)

Matchstick Coffee on Urbanspoon

Monday 8 October 2012

Perfect Timing

After a bit of a slow long weekend with my poor hubby in the hospital, I decided to really make the most of my last day off.  Since the weather today was AMAZING (is it really October?) and had been inside St. Paul's Hospital for the afternoon, I headed out to the Grouse Grind for an end-of season go at "Nature's Stairmaster".

The gate apparently closes now at 4:30 but luckily at 5:30 when I got there, it was still opened.  If you have similar plans, just make sure you leave yourself enough time to avoid stubbling through the end in the dark (or bring a headlamp!).  The nights are noticeably closing in earlier every night now!

Tonight ended up being perfect for the hike- nice and cool, not many people on the mountain and, best of all, I made it up to the top just in time to witness the most beautiful sunset.  It made me really put everything in perspective and recognize that, no matter what the circumstances, I always have so much to be grateful for.  What a way to end this Thanksgiving Day weekend.


Sunday 7 October 2012

A Quiet Thanksgiving Weekend

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I wish that I had some new Thanksgiving resto weekend reviews to post but, with my husband in the hospital this weekend, it has not exactly been the time for new Vanny food scene discoveries. Fortunately, he is on the mend so we will be back in action soon!

Instead, I will gladly admit to eating at the Naam, my comfort food go-to, for the last two nights in a row.  Buddha's Feast one night, Naam Bowl the next.  How can one go wrong?  I have yet to come away dissapointed at a time when I need a little cheering up.

What also brightened my day today was a trip to the Kits Farmer's Market.  That always does the trick!  Here are the honourable mentions from my trip:


Juice Caboose- this truck' menu caught my eye at last week's Kerrisdale FM so I had it on my to-do list to try before the end of its season.  Sadly, this is coming fast- their last gig is at the UBC Apple Festival next weekend:(


     Today, I tried their Feature Smoothie, the Pumpkin Spice, made with avocado, carrots, spices and a hint of agave ($5- what a price!!!).   After taking my first sip, I had to double check the ingredient list- from the taste, I could have sworn they had just put a huge slice of Pumpkin Pie into the blender.  The spices were incredible and it had just the right amount of sweetness.  What a tasty (and healthy!) fall treat!  

Can't wait to sample more of their creative concoctions when they are back on the road next summer!


Bean Boy- I discovered this vendor selling his only product, hummous (95% organic), early in the season and I have been hooked ever since!  He makes three very original flavours (smokey chipotle, chili lime and curry currant) which are all wonderful.  It has a nice and thick consistency, which makes it ideal for dipping your favorite dipper (I love it with raw peppers and cucumbers).  He always has samples available so you can pick your flavor of the week (chili lime for me today!).  I was relieved to hear that he will be at the Winter Market so you can check out his stand there!


Klippers Organics- this is my go-to place for most of my market veggies, especially for my cherry tomatoes since they always seem to offer the best price and a great product.  Two pints for $8 today!  I plan to bring them with my lunch and pop them into my mouth just like candy.  Ummm so sweet!



Friday 5 October 2012

Italian Brilliance at La Quercia


3689 West 4th Avenue  Vancouver, BC 
(604) 676-1007

Tastiness Factor: 5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 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!

La Quercia on Urbanspoon