Hot Concept: Italian Culinary Inspirations
Three Italian chefs share their menu inspirations
CinCin Restaurant and Bar, Vancouver
Executive chef Andrew Richardson serves contemporary Italian cuisine at CinCin Restaurant and Bar on Vancouver’s busy Robson Street. “We cook seasonal and fresh ingredients without over-complication,” he says. “Our focus is to accentuate the flavours of the products with an authentic Italian inspiration. Our handmade pastas are always popular, especially our ravioli, which changes seasonally.” Main dishes feature local delicacies, such as wild B.C. sablefish ($33.50) with maple vinegar, honey and mustard, served with brussels sprout leaves and wood-ember-roasted onions; and wood-fired oven-roasted Haida Gwaii halibut ($34.50) with mushroom crust, castellucio lentils and mushroom essence. “We’ve been experimenting with the wood we use to fuel the oven,” Richardson says. “Traditionally we use alder wood, but recently we tried applewood. It’s amazing how we can infuse different flavours into our products.” Naturally, the wood oven is used for pizza, with mouth-watering topping combinations such as wild and cultivated mushrooms, fennel salami and tomato ($18.50). A rustic wood-fired grill does a fabulous job with meat dishes. “People love to order the meat cooked on our wood-fired grill, such as veal chops and the rib eye,” says Richardson. Wood-grilled lamb rack ($45) with polenta alla griglia, zucchini, roast vine-ripened tomatoes and balsamic vinegar is another customer favourite imbued with fragrant smokiness.
Situated on Lower Water Street in downtown Halifax, DaMaurizio has been serving fine Italian food for 22 years. After a decade working in the kitchen, executive chef, Andrew King, took ownership of the restaurant in 2007. Today, he honours the traditions of founder, Maurizio Bertossi, while adding his personal touch to the menu. “My philosophy is to obtain the highest quality and consistency of product while ensuring our clients receive the utmost professional service they expect and deserve,” he says. Shifting into autumn, braised meats become a popular choice, including locally sourced lamb shank ($29.95) with grilled polenta and rabbit ($32.95) with applewood-smoked bacon, white wine, tomato and fresh sage, served with truffle mashed potato. “Italian food isn’t exactly trendy, as it’s been around for centuries, but we have found a happy medium of incorporating trends into the menu,” says King, noting dishes such as Panko-crusted haddock with lobster sauce as well as whole-wheat and gluten-free pasta options. In addition to new favourites, classic DaMaurizio creations keep customers coming back, including flash-fried calamari ($12.95) with roasted tomato, sautéed garlic, crushed chilies, lemon and parsley; and grilled eggplant layered with prosciutto and bocconcini, baked with tomato, béchamel and fresh basil.
La Vecchia Ristorante, Toronto
North meets south at Toronto’s La Vecchia Ristorante. Brothers and co-owners Ciro, Massimo and Filippo Philobes hail from Italy’s Piemonte region, near France, while chef, Aurora Stranges, is a native of Calabria, the region forming the toe of the boot-shaped Italian Peninsula.The lauded authentic Italian menu draws customers from across the Greater Toronto Area. “In the north, there’s more cream in dishes, whereas in the south it’s more tomato sauce,” says Stranges, who has been leading the kitchen for 17 years, since the restaurant opened. “I’m very picky and health-conscious. In real Italian cooking there are no processed foods and things take time. I make the food I grew up with.” Stranges focuses on using the freshest ingredients, as well as premium products imported from Italy. Signature dishes, such as the Zuppa di Pesce ($30) with lobster, calamari, mussels, shrimp and clams in garlic, white wine and tomato broth; and Risotto Porcini ($20) with wild mushrooms, roasted garlic, truffle oil and shaved parmiggiano, lure guests back time and again. “Some restaurants have created an unrealistic picture of Italian food, serving pizza with dip [for example]. We try to teach our customers about true Italian cuisine, made from scratch with Italian ingredients.”