Late last week, I headed downtown to meet up with other media attendees to dine at several of the restaurants that will be participating in this year’s Taste of Yaletown event. Running from October 16-27, this will be the ninth annual TOY celebrating the phenomenal level of hospitality in the Yaletown area.
For those not familiar with the festival, Taste of Yaletown is essentially a two week festival meant to showcase local restaurants by offering featured prixe fixe menus and special events. At three set costs, diners will have the choice of selecting meals at the $25, $35, or $45 price point. It is worth noting that a portion of profits from each meal is donated to the The Greater Vancouver Food Bank and since the festival was founded, Taste of Yaletown has raised over $100,000 in support of the GVFB.
In the interest of covering as many participating restaurants as possible, we were broken up into four groups and taken to two restaurants each. Before heading to our first restaurant, the entire media group was taken on a quick tour of the local farmer’s market. Halfway through the tour, we were surprised by a welcome party comprised of chefs participating in TOY 2013. We were all given tote bags filled with local produce and promo materials and wished well as we split up to head to our respective restaurants.
The first stop on my small group’s tour was La Pentola at OPUS Hotel. I had been to this restaurant quite recently to try their weekend long table series so was quite familiar with their menu. Instead of individual meal settings, La Pentola emphasizes the concept of dining “alla famiglia” or sharing food which allows parties to try a variety of dishes.
We started off the tasting with a couple of ‘antipasti’ or starters before digging into the heavier mains. I really enjoyed the simplicity of the seafood ‘saor’ and how crispy the deep-fried polenta was.
One of the most popular dishes at La Pentola is their Soufflé di Parmigiano served with zucchini crudo. The crudo is sharp and snappy which contrasts nicely with the feather soft soufflé.
You cannot visit a rustic Italian restaurant and not order pasta so I was very pleased to try the taglierini with squash which is listed in both the $35 and $45 dining packages. The pasta was cooked perfectly and went beautifully alongside the rich, creamy pieces of squash.
The first of our two meat mains or ‘secondi’ was a massive cut of ham. Normally I am not a big fan of eating ham like this but the cut was gorgeous and I appreciated the tempered saltiness. By itself, it might prove a bit overwhelming but when eaten in conjunction with an assortment of other dishes, it proved to be quite enjoyable.
The second of our two ‘secondi’ was a massive lamb shank ‘osso buco’. I preferred this dish to the previous as the lamb meat was markedly more tender and flavorful to me than the ham. This ‘secondi’ is definitely recommended to be shared as the portion is quite substantial.
To wrap up the amazing meal, we were served a delicate lemon cream dolci for dessert. This was arguably my favourite offering of the entire day as it was subtle in sweetness and remarkably fragile. I would return to La Pentola simply for the amazing Soufflé di Parmigiano and this dessert.
You would think with all the food pictured above that this was the end of the tour. We actually had one more restaurant to try so we thanked our hosts at La Pentola and headed down to Provence Marinaside. To tell the truth, I was pretty full even before stepping into Provence but thankfully there were only a few dishes to try.
Waiting for us as we sat down were small tasting plates of Tomato & Bocconcini served with fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This starter was a beautifully simple yet appetizing way to start a meal as the flavours were all fresh and wholesome.
One of the most well-known and requested dishes at Provence is the west coast-style Bouillabaisse. Made up of prawns, scallops, mussels, clams, fish, saffron potatoes and gruyère et la rouille, it is not difficult to see why this homestyle bowl is so well liked. The base is infused with flavours of each seafood type and blend together so effortlessly into a rich and indulgent stew.
The last dish we tried before dessert was fennel pollen dusted Lois Lake Steelhead served with bamboo rice and sautéed spinach in an anise sauce. The cut of fish had an addictively crisp exterior skin which gave way to a gorgeous flaking of meat that melted in the mouth. As full as I was at this point in the tour, I easily cleaned my plate and marvelled at how quickly my appetite returned for the concluding platter of sinfully sweet desserts.
As stated above, Taste of Yaletown 2013 runs from October 16-27 and you can find a full list of restaurants and menus at the main site here. Look through the list of 30+ restaurants and support this rapidly growing festival by heading out to a meal or two in the coming weeks, enjoy!