Monday, March 12, 2007

La Buca (March 2007)

Two reviewers: ts and js; no review by csc

A couple of notes:

First, we need MORE of these places in Vancouver. Fantastic -- and it really is fantastic! -- food,
reasonable prices, casual service, convenient location (ie 10-15 minutes away from home).

Second, the food they serve at La Buca is the food that I want to eat all the time. In my head, this is what food at home should be: nothing too fancy, that is, basic but good ingredients simply prepared. The Italian aesthetic of "simple perfection" is closest to my heart and my stomach.

On to the review.

In usual fashion, [js],[csc] & I ordered "a lot." We each had a starter, a full-serving pasta course, an entree and dessert.

The server informed us that we could actually get a half-size portion of pasta. I was considering this, but while CSC & the server were in discussion, CSC concluded that she would order the full size. JS and I followed suit.

The server (and soon, Chris Stewart as well) was a little concerned about the full-size serving, but were mollified when we mentioned we could always take the leftover pasta home.

Cuori di lattuga
Hearts of romaine lettuce, lemon, anchovy and parmesan dressing 8.5

Cozze con salsiccia del finocchio
Steamed mussels with fennel sausage, white wine and fresh bay leaves 11

Daily Special
Grilled squid stuffed with crab meat, tomato-saucy-thing, arugula salad, salsa verde

I had the squid. First bite: sooo good!

The grill aroma & taste were good; the squid was perfectly done, the crab stuffing was excellent. Everything on the plate was soooo good.

Tasted the others as well:

Salad: Crunchy romaine! Nice dressing. There was fried anchovy on the plate (woohoo!), as well as parmesan frico. Again, good.

I don't normally like mussels that much, but this was good. The sauce and all the stuff in it were good. I liked how the fennel sausage was sliced thinly (a departure from the usual thick slices or cubes of sausage).

I'll leave JS & CSC to fully review their starters.

The salad was PERFECT. Hits the spot. Crisp, crunchy romaine hearts in a fabulous dressing with just the right amount of parmesan cheese. Again, nothing complicated about this dish. We can all do this! LOL

I'm glad I ordered this salad instead of the other salad that TS kept pushing on me. Which would have been good as well (buffalo mozzarella, grilled radicchio, pine nuts, olives) but I was
really jonesing for just a very basic, very well-executed salad.

I tried TS's squid and I also tried CSC's mussels. CSC's mussels came with GRILLED BREAD (YES!) that was oh-so-good. It might have been a tad too long on the grill and could have used some garlic but IT'S GRILLED BREAD! So huge bonus points from me. The mussels were big and well-done and by itself it could have been a meal. It was certainly substantial enough.

The real star of the APPETIZERS though -- the superstar among the other stars -- was TS's squid. I had a piece of the squid and was I glad I was sitting down! Because, really, it was THAT good. It was a morsel of perfect happiness: I felt that that squid just fired all the right neurons, because it was bliss.

- Puttanesca: Olive, caper, anchovy, red onion, garlic, chili 14.50
- Gamberi: Rock shrimp, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, fennel and herbs 17

- Bolognese: Rich meat ragu 16

Gnocchi con pollo alla cacciatore
Potato gnocchi with hunters-style chicken ragu 17

I actually wanted the puttanesca. But I thought I'd go for the gnocchi since not a lot of places have that on their menus regularly.

JS actually ordered the puttanesca, but the server made a mistake and gave her the tagliatelle bolognese.

I thought my gnocchi dish would be more like the usual pasta dish: pasta + sauce. But it turns out, the gnocchi was more or less an accompaniment to the "sauce". The "sauce" was chicken cacciatore! So it was actually the stew/ragu that was the main component. The gnocchi itself was very good! So pillowy and soft, and good flavor. The ragu was a but too much for me, flavor-wise. That is, it was very "strong" and meaty. Otherwise, it was good; just a bit too husky/burly.

Tasted the tagliatelle: the pasta seemed hand-made. It had a very nice consistency. The sauce itself was good, too, but again, HUSKY! I guess am still tired of that "braised meat" flavor.

No ragus for me then! And since JS was denied, I think the next time we go there, Puttanesca it must be!

Anyway, since I was not in the mood for too-meaty flavors, CSC's Gamberi spaghetti was spot on. I will leave her to describe it.

Pasta: I had the tagliatelle Bolognese, which I didn't order. I had ordered the puttanesca, but our server made a mistake. I felt she was too concerned about our stomach room. I could have told her, "Don't worry; we know what we're doing; we do this all the time!"

The pasta was very good as well, given that this is a dish I would *NEVER* order in a restaurant. Points for having FRESH pasta. The meat sauce was very meaty, very hearty, and indeed, this pasta dish was very filling, a substantial meal in itself. The meat sauce could have used a couple of brighteners (too much meat) and I felt it was not seasoned enough (could have used more salt).

I had a taste of CSC's spaghetti gamberi and TS's cacciatore. Both were good. The cacciatore was too meaty and earthy for me as well, but Claire's spaghetti was light and perfect.

I WANT MY PUTTANESCA! Anyways, I can't really regret the tagliatelle because of THE FRESH PASTA. CSC's spaghetti is the dried kind and there is a difference.

At this point, we had our unfinished pasta set aside (still on the table) when we requested our mains to arrive. We were saving room, see.

Also, there was this older couple beside us who kept looking over at our table. As in, they looked like they were watching a show, almost. Teehee. We were speculating that, perhaps, they were aghast and felt compelled to watch and see if we could actually finish what we ordered.

Pesce del giorno
fresh fish every day: chef's preparation or simply grilled with lemon, olive oil and herbs AQ

Pollo arrosto
Crispy chicken roasted with lemon, rosemary, garlic, black pepper; olive oil mashed potato 19.5

Scallopine di vitello
- Marsala
milk-fed veal scallopine with Marsala wine sauce 22.50

JS got the fish. It was ling cod, with seafood (mussels, prawns, etc), bouillabaise-style. It also had vegetables in there, some pasta (more pasta!), etc.

I had the fresh fish, as mentioned above, chef's preparation (as opposed to grilled). I wish I had the grilled version though 'cause I was really hoping for something lighter and fresher on the palate. Not that the ling cod in the bouillaibaise (sp? too lazy to spell-check) wasn't delicious -- because it was and the sauce/broth was just spot-on, with notes of fennel and parsley, and would have went great with some grilled bread. What I probably found too "heavy" about the dish was the fried/pan-fried ling cod. If it were steamed in the broth, I think I would have liked it even more.

My veal: so very tender. Like a little behby (baby). Haha. (Which it is... a baby, ie.)

I've had scallopine before but I don't remember them being tender. Usually they were sort of tough. The Marsala sauce was "sweet" (not sugar-type sweet) and fragrant. The dish smelled like french toast! (From the butter.) It had green beans and asparagus, and a baby carrot. It also had polenta. The polenta was so good! It was crisp on the outside and really soft and creamy inside. Very good flavor by itself too.

Mineral water, still

Since we didn't order any alcohol and Chris knew who I was, we had to at least give them some sort of beverage money. Hehe. So mineral water it was! Still (ie, flat), though. Sparkling water is just yucky.

(Oh, JS ordered coffee too.)

Panna cotta with blueberry sauce
Dark chocolate tart with sundried cherries & whipped cream

Tiramisu -- EXCELLENT. This is what I want in a tiramisu.

Tasted the tiramisu. Good! Although, I was already swimming in Marsala, so I only took 2 bites out of this. Besides, I was concentrating on the panna cotta, since both JS and CSC didn't seem to want to try/have it.

Panna cotta: good! The blueberry sauce I could've done without, but then, that's because I really just like the panna cotta's inherent nature. So milky and such. =)

Tasted the dark chocolate tart. It really was a dark chocolate! Good too, but it was a "dry" dessert -- I guess because I didn't want to eat it with the cherries (they were stewed in some liquid, probably some sort of liquor). But as I mentioned, I was concentrating on finishing the panna cotta.

I found my dark chocolate torte a little too hard for my taste. I think if they microwaved it a little bit then it would have been better. But hey, it's DARK CHOCOLATE -- so points for them. The sun-dried cherries, which I thought I wouldn't like, were actually quite perfect with the dark chocolate.

All in all, once again, as per usual, this was GOOD!

To quote Frahnk from _Father of the Bride_, they are "gehnyuses and we need their MAHHHnd!" I mean, really!

Usually my comments for anything is just "OK", "not bad"... but this, one really must say GOOD (in caps lock, no less.)

Rating: umm... I guess this meal is about 8 or 8.5/10... (The HUSKY stuff brought the score down. But that's just my personal preference; or actually, just my mood.)

So THIS IS THE PLACE -- my home kitchen HAHAHA. Or what I think my home kitchen should be like. LOL Go to it. It's excellent food.

My score is 9 out of 10.

Oh, there was nothing leftover from the meal. We finished it all!


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