by Andrew Morrison | I’ve known chef/restaurateur Pino Posteraro for many years now, but I knew of him long before we ever met. His reputation as a fiercely exacting leader preceded him, and it still does to this day (as I’m sure most people in the local trade will attest). He worked in the same Toronto neighbourhood that I did in the 1990′s, and was already a legend in Vancouver when I returned home in 2001. We’ve teamed up on several projects since then (Vancouver Cooks 2 cookbook, Spot Prawn Festival, Senza Frontiere, among others) and have judged the Vancouver Gold Medal Plates together, so I’ve seen his dedication from a few different angles. He’s also either personally cooked or helped to shepherd some of the best meals I’ve ever had and remains – hands down – one of my favourite chefs in town.
Which brings me to say that I don’t eat at his Yaletown restaurant, Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill, anywhere nearly enough, and whenever I do I generally eat the same thing. If you’ve ever tried his Fettucini Bolognese, you know why (it’s that good). Pino and I joke about this whenever we see each other, because ordering a Bolognese in his restaurant is kind of like asking a Ferrari to drive you through a school zone during rush hour in 1st gear. It’s a memorable experience, yeah, but without reaching those other gears and letting it loose, you aren’t really getting the full measure of the machine.
So when I popped in the other evening (just to say hi because I had a dinner engagement elsewhere) and he offered to “show me a few new things”, I wasn’t about to say no. A couple of mutual friends of ours landed at stools next to mine at the bar and Pino cooked for them as well. I won’t go into too much detail about what followed, except to highlight the three items shown in the photographs above. The first  was a delicious “last of the spot prawn” tasting plate that included a plump prawn sausage that looked just like a proper banger and had the same texture (but all the prawn flavour – wow!); the second was a little crepe stuffed with eggplant, parmesan and mozzarella cheese and generously topped with a pile of shaved black truffles and a spoon of truffle foam ; and the third was a flawless souffle, the best one to cross my plate in over a decade . Needless to say, I was late for supper.
With a monthly battery of new restaurants to check out, I don’t get to eat out like that very often (granted, more often than most people, but you know what I mean — these days it’s more soup and sandwich than sous vide and sabayon). There are thousands of restaurants in the Lower Mainland, but I can count on both hands – with a few fingers to spare – those kitchens that are in the same rarified league as Cioppino’s, where everything you eat is either new, different, or perfect (oftentimes all three) and the service doesn’t miss a single beat. That isn’t a put down of other restaurants, but rather an observation on how the landscape has changed in this post-Lumiere, post-recession, post-formality city. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t pine for any halcyon good old days, because those days evidently haven’t gone (if you know where to look). What I’m trying to say is that every once in a while it’s an awesome, re-affirming thing to get a mouthful of reminders of how good and complete a dining experience can be from entry to exit, and Cioppino’s offers that up every night.
So if you’ve never been before or haven’t been for a while, you should definitely go. It might be expensive (the old joke: “Cioppino’s is where expense accounts go to die”) but the experience and the expertise on display is worth it. It’s like a rite of passage, only in a Ferrari.
by Claire Lassam | I wish I could start this off by telling a sweet story about my Italian grandmother teaching me how to make potato pasta, or even of my non-Italian mother who embraced my father’s heritage with gusto by showing me how to push the yukon golds through a ricer and carefully fold in just the right amount of flour, but this is not the case. I do vaguely remember my Nona’s gnocchi, but in a far off, nostalgic way that makes me wonder if I’m not just exaggerating them with a trick of memory. Mostly, I remember reading and re-reading Thomas Kellers recipe, and all the worrying and fussing and time it took the first time I made his gnocchi. I could never forget the overwhelming relief that came when I took that first bite. It was not just relief, but also happiness, the slightly awestruck feeling that I had done it right (I think I was only 15, so there were more misses than hits at this point).
Anyway, it was in that instant that I first fell in love with proper gnocchi; little nuggets of potato that were soft and fluffy with just enough bite that they held together for a magic instant before melting away entirely. They required time, energy and a little finesse, but they were worth it. When bound – typically – in a little tomato sauce, they make the perfect comfort food.
The trouble, for me at least, is always the time and the lack of space. I find myself eating them out more often than making them in, and so my mission this week was to find Vancouver’s best gnocchi dish. I needed the soft, ethereal little dumplings to be served in a sauce with character; a real exemplar that would inspire me to return again and again. It wasn’t easy.
Most classic Italian restaurants get the texture right, so I began with Il Giardino and Cioppino’s. Both produced lovely versions (I have it on good authority that it’s the same recipe at both), but Cioppino’s won hands down in the tomato sauce department, what with their delicious addition of mozzarella di buffalo. Still, at $25 a bowl, I felt a little gouged, even with the wonderful cheese.
I went to Campagnolo for a different experience, and found a tantalizing, Roman-style gnocchi made with semolina flour (not potato). Sadly, the texture was disappointing (the dough was over-salted) and the sauce lacked punch. Boneta’s was a big improvement, and thus far my favourite. They were tiny and covered in a wild mushroom cream sauce with a wonderful lemon juice zing. It was so good, in fact, that I went twice. The gnocchi themselves could have been a little softer (they had a slightly gummy texture, probably from working the dough just the smallest amount too much), and on both occasions the sauce was split (the bottoms of the finished bowls were all oil with bits of white sauce trapped within). Imperfect, but still very good.
The best was found by accident. I didn’t expect to find any gnocchi on the menu at Tableau, the French bistro at the foot of Coal Harbour’s Loden Hotel, but when some friends and I popped in for a drink and I saw them on offer, I had to give them a try (I was feeling lucky, and lucky I was). These were flawless, placed as they were atop a pool of pesto cream sauce and dotted with wild mushrooms (not getting soggy underneath). Every time the dish would begin to seem too rich, I’d get a bite of a roasted tomato – still sharply acidic – and it would make me start craving the cream again. They were pan-fried to finish, and despite the resultant, crisped exteriors, they were still meltingly tender. They were thus endowed with more flavour, allowing them be the star of their own show. And in this girl’s opinion, that’s exactly what they should be.
Claire Lassam is a baker, blogger, and freelance writer based in East Van. She has been cooking and baking her way through the city for nearly five years, working in restaurants ranging from Cioppino’s to Meat & Bread. She currently toils at Beta 5 Chocolates and runs the baking blog Just Something Pretty.
News from Scout supporter Cioppino’s
Vancouver, BC | Pino Posteraro, Executive Chef/Proprietor of Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill & Enoteca in Yaletown, has been selected to join the Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA) Hall of Fame. He becomes the first Vancouver restaurateur, and only the third in Canada (after Jacques Landurie of Les Halles, Montreal, and John Arena of Winston’s, Toronto) to be so recognized. In its citation, DiRoNA spoke of Posteraro’s “reputation, culinary achievements, and community involvement, particularly with Chefs Table Society of BC,” and lauded his longstanding commitment to his industry. Read more
Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill is now a proud member supporter of Scout. We will be publishing their news and releases on our front page, and hosting an individual page for them on our list of recommended restaurants. Scroll below for a taste or visit their Scout page here:
Together with his staff, owner/chef Pino Posteraro (interview) of Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill in Yaletown will be travelling to New York to cook for the James Beard Foundation on July 2nd.
Have a gander at his menu after the leap… Read more
1133 and 1129 Hamilton St, Vancouver, BC | MAP
Tel: 604-688-7466 for Cioppino’s | 604-685-8462 for Enoteca
Giussepe (Pino) Posteraro was born in Lago, Italy March 22, 1964. At the age of twelve he came to Canada to visit his brother not realizing at the time that later in his life he would be making Canada his permanent home. After beginning training as a medical student, Pino changed track and decided to come to Canada to work for his brother in his restaurant. Pino later returned to Europe to study with Armando Zanetti, who became his mentor. Before returning to Canada he worked in several well known restaurants in Europe and Singapore.
In 1999, Pino decided it was time to venture out on his own. He opened Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill in Yaletown in September of that year, providing Vancouver with an outstanding Italian-Mediterranean restaurant which has gained many awards for its food and wine. Year after year, it is classed as one of Vancouver’s top fine dining restaurants.
In addition to his duties at the restaurant, Pino sits on the Board of Directors of the Chef’s Table Society of BC, a non-profit group of Vancouver’s top chefs who are working to foster the development of new talent through scholarships and bursaries.
Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill & Enoteca are pleased to give you a fresh perspective on Mediterranean cooking with chef/owner Giuseppe “Pino” Posteraro, the 2008 winner of Vancouver Magazine’s Chef of the Year and gold medal winner at the BC Gold Medal Plates (2007).
The critically-acclaimed restaurants, favourites of celebrities, oenophiles, and food lovers, are consistent award-winners that are always looking ahead and staying fresh. Widely acknowledged as the best expression of Mediterranean cooking in British Columbia, Cioppino’s and its sister restaurant next door, Enoteca, offer two large patios, two open show kitchens, two full-service dining rooms, as well as several private rooms for corporate and special functions. Both meet the high expectations of thousands of diners every week.
Let Pino surprise and refresh your palate with “Cucina Naturale”, a classical style of cooking that emphasizes the use of only the freshest of ingredients. Its lightness of taste is derived from minimizing animal fats and creams in favour of low cholesterol olive oils. To make sauces without flour he uses vegetable purees and reductions of seafood stocks. Wine sauces are kept in the fridge overnight to eliminate the fat layer formed on top. Pino believes in balance in all dishes, and strives to achieve the cleanest of flavours by letting his ingredients do most of the work. “I respect the nature of my ingredients, and I try to bring out their natural taste,” says Pino.
Pino is perhaps best known famous for his exceptionally light pasta dishes. Much attention is paid to the pasta itself, made in house from traditional recipes. But both the lunch and dinner menus are exceptionally versatile, featuring a wide variety of both large and small meat and seafood dishes that represent the very best of Pino’s extensive repertoire, always reflecting the seasonal availability of fish, game, fruits and vegetables.
Whatever your pleasure, come let us please you as never before.
Cioppino’s & Enoteca boast one of the largest wine cellars in Vancouver, with thousands of bottles available, among them many of the best ever created. For the experienced wine lover, the full list is a wonder to explore, while casual sippers will appreciate the many well-chosen labels available by the glass. We are proud that our wine list has been acknowledged by the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival with a Gold Glass Award for the last four years in a row, and either given a “Best of Award of Excellence” or an “Award of Excellence” designation from Wine Spectator every year since 2001. Wine is an integral part of the Mediterranean dining experience, and we take it just as seriously as we do our cuisine. To view the entire list in .pdf format, click here.
Mia Stainsby – Vancouver Sun | At Cioppino’s Enoteca, you can heap adjectives upon chicken that it usually doesn’t deserve. Succulent. Melodiously flavourful. (In this case, with rosemary butter, lemon and garlic notes.) It’s erudite comfort food. Enoteca is the “casual” option to Pino Posteraro’s more formal Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill, just as some of New York’s hot restaurants have down-market “next-door” siblings, Enoteca is also right next door. It’s scaled down, but still elegant with light woods a gallery of oil paintings and a lovely wine room for private parties.
Gary Faessler, Vancouver Lifestyles | For close to two years now he has been skilfully turning out beautiful plates of classic Mediterranean food with an emphasis on local and seasonal fresh ingredients. Classic yes, but Pino has the experience, the heart and the creativity to reinvent these dishes into contemporary versions which have a spirit and style all their own.
Andrew Morrison, Westender | One of the hardest things about reviewing a restaurant is understanding the standard it aspires to. Cioppino’s in Yaletown leaves little room for doubt about this. It has won “Best Italian” at the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards four years in a row and been recognised for its excellent wine cellar with even more accolades. Everyone knows it’s good. Not long ago I jumped into a cab in front of the restaurant and the driver said “Cioppino‘s. Nice.” I asked him if he’d ever dined there before and he said no, but insisted he knew all the best restaurants from years of tuning in to post-dinner conversations. “West, Vij‘s, Lumiere, and Cioppino’s. I never hear a complaint.”
Steven A. Shaw, Weekend Post | Perhaps most humiliating for me as a New Yorker was the slow realization that the general level of Italian cuisine in Vancouver is now higher than in New York City. Leading the charge is the dynamic Pino Posteraro, who used to cook for Frank Sinatra. I can’t recall a better Italian meal than the one I enjoyed at Cioppino’s (which everybody calls Pino’s)…
The New York Times | Cioppino’s, is a bustling Italian restaurant in Yaletown with brick walls and an open kitchen…the spring risotto with peas and crab was warm and comforting…
James Barber, Vancouver Sun | The food is terrific, the service is not only bright and well-informed but (that wonderful rarity) unobtrusive. Nobody flat out asked us how we were enjoying our dinner or how things were, but there was the occasional fleeting smile from a passing server, a smile of confident complicity that said “pretty good, eh?”
Jamie Maw, Vancouver Magazine | On any given night, one of the city’s top two restaurants. The results are often most astounding in classic dishes: a casarecce with duck ragout and oranges that just goes on and on; a perfectly cooked Dover sole served off the bone; an understated spaghetti Bolognese. Wine list is extensive but can get pricey. Long Friday lunches here are becoming a welcome salon of good food and conversation.”
Zagat | “As good as Italian gets in Vancouver” is how partisans praise this “sexy”, “happening” Yaletown magnet where “sublime”, “imaginative” creations are served in an “elegant” room graced by an open kitchen; a few claim that service “depends on whether or not you’re recognised”, and ornery oenophiles would like lower prices, but those “on expense accounts” agree that this “high-end” spot is “worth it”; N.B. wallet-watchers may want to consider the adjacent, less formal Enoteca.