Monday, March 05, 2012
My New "Secret" Spot - Adesso Bistro
I realize I've been a bit out of touch - just a natural combination of dieting, slipping deeper into aging homebody mode, and being occupied by other things, but this restaurant is good enough that I would have expected someone to have clued me in, even if they had to knock on my door and drag me over there. And yes, this restaurant is so good, it warrants resurrecting a sleepy blog just to fuss over it too.
Adesso Bistro is in the cosy west-of-Denman hideaway that used to house Parkside and later, L'Altro Buca, at 1906 Haro St. at Gilford St. (604.568.9975). It certainly has already captured the attention of several restaurant reviewers, but this little gem somehow managed to slip past the radar of myself and perhaps many other folk; it was pretty quiet the night that I went, and a small poll at a party didn't get any signs of recognition). Though as I write, there is an active Groupon that will no doubt draw the ravaging bargain-hunting hoards to descend upon it (no disrespect intended, as I am speaking as one of you).
One night this week, I was just driving around looking for free parking, intending to grab a quick bite to eat on Denman. The spot I found was right across from Adesso, and decided to check it out since I was in the mood for pasta anyway. I wound up having the best meal I can remember in the last few years. Every detail seemed absolutely perfect. I imagine that this is what it's like to be a piano teacher for beginners in a small town and getting used to listening to pieces mangled day in and day out, and then every year or two making it in to the city to hear a masterpiece by a visiting maestro tackling a difficult piece with seemingly effortless grace. There were no trade-offs in this meal - quite rare in my recent dining. Mind you, this sort of dining isn't cheap, but honestly I found the regular pricing very fair, and they even had a lovely three course prix fixe for $32, and I've seen not only the Groupon offer, but also a website discount, so there's not even a complaint there.
So I'll list the notes that they hit so well.
Location - it feels so tucked away and off the beaten path, but it is right downtown, so it should be easy to get there. It's in my neighbourhood, which I love. I managed to even find free street parking across from the restaurant for those of you who live farther away and like that.
Greeting - friendly and welcoming, and he gave me a choice of spots available. This is significant, as I came in alone, female, Asian, and without a reservation and although you might imagine that most of these things should not result in a less than welcoming reception at restaurants, it far too often does in this town.
Decor - as I mentioned, I've been a fan of this cosy location in the past, and whatever they've changed or not changed in the decor makes for a beautiful, relaxing room in classic style with paintings referencing Italy and a patio to look forward to when the weather warms. It's nicely lit so that it's worthy of any special occasion or full-on romancing dinner while not being too dark to see what you're eating. The tables are spaced apart enough for those intimate dinners too. You would feel at home dressing up here, but it doesn't have an overly formal feel, and the "bistro" name feels appropriate. I was completely comfortable.
Menu - there were many enticing things on the menus to choose from. There were plenty of wines by the glass to choose from. Prosecco cocktails and other cocktails were all there too. There was also a great prix fixe $32 that night that featured salmon or veal for the main course which seemed like a great deal, and I was just in the mood to try other things. I wound up choosing a pizza with roasted mushrooms, truffle fonduta, and fontina cheese to start. Braised duck and gnocchi dish with mushrooms, tomato and parsley for a main. And a steamed lemon cake with yoghurt sorbe. Shouldn't all the food sound like it will be delicious when you're reading the menu? That's what I liked about their menus.
Olives - I was given a little dish of tiny olives right away that were remarkably delicious.
Bread - there seems to be a bit of a trend for places that are expensive enough to have a bread basket to skip the complimentary bread offering. Here, you get a wonderful warm focaccia with that yummy crunch of salt on top, served with very tasty olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Service - this is a big one. The service was flawless throughout. And charming. And helpful. My server even suggested that I might take home some of the pizza when I ordered, foreseeing that there would be too much food for me, and that it would be a shame to be too full for the duck and gnocchi dish. He was always available, checked on me often, but not in any sort of overbearing way, and generally anticipated every possible need. Dishes were whisked away at exactly the moment I would want them to be. It's the type of place where they offer to arrange a cab for you afterwards too.
My savoury food - the restaurant focuses on the Ligurian region of Italy, home of pesto and full of seafood. I started with the mushroom pizza ($13) that was so fragrant and delicious. The edges were very crispy, the crust was very thin, and yet it was hugely satisfying. I could only eat half. Then I had the beautiful stewed duck, tomato, mushrooms with gnocchi ($20). Gnocchi were soft and lovely and mixed in with the luxurious, rich "pulled duck" braise. Mmm, mmm, MMM, pulled duck and potato dumplings (I'm so excited, a bit of my hillbilly is showing through).
(edited to add: My wine - I chose a glass of Santa Christina Chianti, $10, which was delicious alone and went very well with my duck and gnocchi dish, but not as well with the mushroom pizza, I thought. I am sure that I would have had extremely skilled pairing suggestions from my server had I asked. There were also pairings laid out right on the prix fixe menu, and I think the menu with the pairings was only about $45).
My Dessert - now I don't know what's actually happening in the back and who's doing what, but because restaurants often have separate chefs and pastry chefs, sometimes one outshines the other. In this case, I can't even decide whether the savoury or sweet shows more talent, because the dessert was just as delicious as the rest of my meal. I was surprised by how good it was. The steamed lemon cake ($8) was beautifully delicate, warm, and tasty. The frozen yoghurt and berry sauce complimented it very well. I might have been anticipating a clumsier cake, because I was so delighted by the unexpected airiness that is uncommon with a cake that is served warm. Great texture. I could have that dessert over and over again (yah yah, I mean on different days, of course).
Branding/Concept/Restaurant Name - Adesso means "now" in Italian, and knowing that, the name of the restaurant feel perfect too. As their website says, "now", as in today...modern...fresh. With fresh, organic, and local ingredients.
Okay, now to qualify some of this gushing. I want to make it clear that I have only visited the restaurant once. I have no idea if I just happened to luck out and get a fleeting perfect storm of events (maybe I got the very best server who doesn't work other days, maybe I chose the absolute best on the menu, maybe the unexpectedness of the meal heightened the effect of everything, etc.) to produce this wonderful meal. Having read some of the reviews after my meal, I suspect not, and am hopeful that they are consistently great. I am visiting again soon (having gushed to other people and demanding to drag them there myself just before the Groupon magically appeared hours later). I wasn't able to take any decent photos as the camera that I usually have on me (you know, the one I'm always lugging around just in case I run into circumstances like this) was not on me that night. I'll update with my second impressions, and hopefully photos. Buon appetito!