Cioppino's Mediterannean Still At The Top


Since opening it's doors in 1999, Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill has been on top of the Vancouver culinary scene. Under the diligent guidance of chef and owner Pino Posteraro who consistently delivers his best to ensure a memorable meal for all his guest. Italian cuisine was a cuisine that I had great affinity too since I was a child. So it was one of the first cuisine I tried to learn. Whilst working at an Italian resto in the 90's, I really wanted to better understand the finer aspect of this cuisine, I asked my Italian chef what restaurant or whom was the best in Vancouver. Without hesitation he declared that 'Pino' was the man. That was a remark that has stayed with me through the years. Chef Pino arrived in Vancouver in 1996 to work for the Vancouver's original food don, Umbertho Meghi. I'll save stories about Umbertho Meghi for next time. Chef Pino had previously worked in Toronto, Singapore and Itay. In Singapore while at the Marina Mandarin Hotel he learned and master sous vide cooking under Michelin star Chef Jan Gundlach.

Cioppino's features an open kitchen and you often see Pino conversing with his dining guest. The menu is seasonal but some item like the Pappardelle with 4 hour braised veal cheeks and porcini mushrooms stay on throughout the year. On this evening that I visited the restaurant I was noticeably under dressed. Which is what happens when you live in Vancouver long enough. Well actually it was because we haven't made concrete plans. Was meeting a friend that was leaving for Amsterdam the next day. And she asked me about this Italian restaurant that I had talked about. "Cioppino's!", I proclaimed.  Never one to turn down a good dining experience, I gladly agreed.

Restaurants in Vancouver generally do not enforce dress codes, but tonight I felt under dressed in my jean and polo t-shirt. Tip: professional waiters immediately figure out who you are and what you want in seconds. For various reasons, most notably to best served as you would expect. But more importantly for their bottom line, better tips. :-D . Despite feeling rather grubby, I stayed focused on my mission. Which of course is always, good food. Service at Cioppino's is very good. All night we were well taken care of and given proper attention. I was happy they didn't ask me to put on a coat or blazer to enter the dining room. We decided on white wine and left it at the sommelier's discretion to decide what was best. We had two dry whites, the first was an easy drinking northern Italian, the second was more full bodied, southern Italian. Sorry but i didn't get the names of the wines. They were both very good. It matched and paired well with what we were having.

We were served some bread and rillette. I  couldn't make out what rillete it was as i couldn't understand what the bus person was saying. I asked twice, but still failed to make out what he was saying with his heavy accent. Neither the bread nor the rillete were impressive. On to ordering and the food. Started with the classic lobster bisque served with crab-apple-celery root remoulade. I almost never order lobster bisque anywhere but at finer restaurants. Mainly because it is almost always artificially flavoured with some stock base. Lobster shells are not always readily available. There are lots of 'cheating' that goes on in a professional kitchen for different reasons. Safe to say Cioppino's is NOT a restaurant that would take the easy way out. Contrary, Pino runs his restaurant like a big tight knit family and holds everyone accountable to ensure you have the best experience possible. The bisque was the best balanced lobster bisque I ever had. While the lobster flavor wasn't dominant, it was enough that I really enjoyed it.

Next, I had the seared Qualicum Bay diver scallop with roasted porcini and black truffle vinaigrette. I read that this is one of the dish that the Sedins like. Not sure which one. The scallop was fragrant, sweet and tender. With the middle just slightly raw, which contrasted well with nice searing on the outside. The roasted porcini gave this dish some 'oomph'- a fuller bodied flavor and the truffle vinaigrette just perfectly lightly scented and completed this dish. For my main course I choose a flavour I was familiar with, Milanese Veal 'osso buco' with safron risotto. Having made osso buco numerous times and eaten osso buco in Milan, I wanted to taste Pino's version. His presentation of the dish was clean and easy to eat. The meat was just tender and I could be detach the bone off the meat easily. The veal texture was similar to a nicely braised beef. I like it but not blown away. The risotto was cooked perfectly. My dining companion had the Risotto with dungeness crab and herb peas. This was one of the best risotto we both ever tasted.

After the meal, as Chef Pino walked by I smiled and said "Hello Chef", he looked right at me and followed by giving me a very welcoming and friendly hand shake, to my surprise. We proceeded to chat for a couple of minute. Chef Pino has a very humble demeanour, but commands respect because he would only ask of you what he would only ask of himself, to work to the best of your abilities. His dedication and hard work has earned him national and international accolades. All very well deserved, imho.

2 starter, 2 main, 3 glasses of wine - was about $200 total with tips. Not cheap for sure. And certainly not within the means of your everyday meal. Perhaps a special occasion. It is still the best Italian restaurant in the city. There were no food-gasm's or epiphany on this night. Even if I could fly to Italy, there are not many places that will serve a better meal than at Cioppino's. And it shows, they are always busy everynight. Certainly, there are better value elsewhere. Reservation is recommended. Definitely will return.

Pro's
Very good service. Pino understands that you have to staff accordingly to serve his guest.
Very consistent high level of food execution.
Over 200 wines. Easy to find that perfect complement for your dinner.

Cons:
Many will find his prices too expensive.
I don't think so - but some have found the service pretentious
Parking is limited most nights - may have to use the valet service

Ratings:
Food:              8
Ambiance:        7
Overall:            7
Value:              6.5


Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

26 comments:

Anonymous

Very enlightening and beneficial to someone whose been out of the circuit for a long time.

- Kris

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