Posts tagged ‘l’abattoir’

August 11, 2011

Is Nicli in Vancouver the best pizza in Canada?

Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Vancouver

A pie with capricciosa at Nicli Antica Pizzeria, which is a wonderful new spot in Gastown.

VANCOUVER — Vancouver already is home to Canada’s best Indian restaurant (Vij’s), probably its top sushi experience (Tojo’s), unmatched Chinese fusion (Bao-Bei) and some of the finest seafood restaurants in the country. And you just might be able to add best pizzeria to the roster of greats.

Nicli Antica Pizzeria opened six months ago and the initial response was so strong the restaurant once ran out of dough to meet the demand, wine director and assistant general manager Matthew Morgenstern told me last week.

When a contact strongly suggested I try the new pizza place in Gastown, I expected to walk into a New York-style parlour with an oven burning in front of me and a mustachioed guy in a checkered apron waiting to take my order for a slice. Gastown has some Brooklyn edginess to it, of course, and Nicli’s location at 62 Cordova Street East puts it just a block and a half northwest of the notoriously drug-riddled Main & Hastings intersection. So walking into an establishment with pristine walls and tables gleaming white and lit with candles may make you wonder for a moment if you’re tripping out too.

For one thing, Vancouver just doesn’t do pizza well. Everyone from eastern Canada has complained about the poor choices available when they live or visit here. Second, if this city were to have a pizzeria that offers a fine-dining experience, you’d think it would be found in Yaletown, among the $15 martinis and $5 lattes and $200 jeans. Instead, former St. Thomas, Ontario resident Bill McCaig opted to open his authentic Neapolitan pizza place in a former RCMP riding stables, with a vaulted ceiling and spacious main hall on a downtrodden stretch of the city.

“It was kind of a scary proposition,” he says of deciding on the address. “I had some second thoughts that people would come and then they did.”

Taste for yourself and you’ll know why. The thin-crust pies are made in a wood-fired Gianni Acunto oven imported from Italy and specifically designed for pizza. It heats up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, which creates the delicate texture of the crust. The sauce on the Capricciosa pie ($20) was so deliciously sweet it offered an instant realization of what pizza should taste like.

“A lot of people told me why don’t you use a gas oven? But if it’s not a wood-fired oven it’s not authentic Neapolitan pizza and the whole point of this is to make it authentic,” McCaig told me, adding that he had to go through some hurdles to get Vancouver politicians to approve the oven for use. “You can use all the same ingredients and make a pizza that’s kind of like mine, but without the oven it’s not going to be the same.”

McCaig went into the culinary business after retiring from the waste-management industry in the early 2000s. He studied French cooking and visited Naples, where he had pizza “that was so much better than anything I had ever had.” He worked in Calgary restaurants before coming to Vancouver and taking notice of the awful state of pizza making in the city.

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August 8, 2011

Inventive L’Abattoir a true star on Vancouver restaurant scene

Paul Grunberg of L'Abbatoir

GM Paul Grunberg of L'Abattoir shows off the restaurant's Warm Steelhead and Potato Salad.

VANCOUVER — It’s when you attempt to describe Lee Cooper’s cuisine that you realize the uniqueness of L’Abattoir. The year-old restaurant in Gastown has been called French-influenced, inspired bistro fare, contemporary and nouveau West Coast. Some associated with the restaurant even call the L’Abattoir experience “post-fine dining.”

It might be all of those things but perhaps finding the right category for the food isn’t as important as the adjectives to describe how you feel when you taste it. In a word, L’Abattoir makes life more pleasant. The dishes coming out of Cooper’s kitchen are so velvety smooth in texture and flavour you can get lost in deconstructing it. Whether it’s the silky mushroom and bacon blanquette (a kind of stew typically made from white wine) that covers the delicious Rabbit Cannelloni ($17) or the exquisite flavours from the Warm Steelhead and Potato Salad ($15), L’Abattoir leaves you feeling not only satisfied but mesmerized by dishes that are hard to imagine being replicated in another kitchen.

“You’re not going to find cooking like this anywhere in the country,” general manager Paul Grunberg told me when I dropped in the other day. “I believe so passionately in what Lee Cooper is doing and in his talents as a chef.”

Grunberg and Cooper worked at Market, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s celebrated restaurant in the two-year-old Shangri-La in Vancouver’s wealthy west end. Cooper also worked for a year at the Fat Duck, the English restaurant that perennially ranks in the top five of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The results of that pedigree are on display in a restaurant that’s wonderfully laid back in attitude and ambience but isn’t loose in service or gastronomical ambitions. Located in a historic building that was once home to the Irish Heather whiskey bar (now moved across the street), L’Abattoir can seat diners in its loft area highlighted by exposed brick or the slender rear hall that faces the rejuvenated Gaoler’s Mews square.

READ A REVIEW OF VIJ’S IN VANCOUVER

Meat Hook from L'Abbatoir

Have a few of the Meat Hook cocktails from L'Abattoir and you just may be down for the count.

L’Abattoir is one of a handful of high-quality, independently owned restaurants recently opened in Gastown. Those restaurants, which include Bao-Bei and Nicli Antica Pizzeria, are surprisingly affordable for the level of the cuisine they offer. No entrée on the L’Abattoir menu is above $30 and most cocktails from renowned mixologist Shaun Layton are in the $10 range, a fair price when you consider they’re some of the best drinks you’ll find in the country. Layton and his bar staff match Cooper’s unique dishes with inventive flavours of their own. The Donald Draper, named after the “Mad Men” character, is a whimsical take on an Old-Fashioned that balances the sweet and sour tastes of the ingredients: Buffalo Trace bourbon, Pineau De Charentes apertif, Abricot de Rouillson, Peychauds bitters and a rim of Absinthe. The Banana Daiquiri is far from the sweet, dessert-like flavours most people associate with that drink. Layton’s take is a … pleasant surprise. It’s a boozy version of the drink and after one sip your thoughts about what a daiquiri should taste like change forever.

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