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.