La Quercia, Vancouver.

September, 2017.

In years gone by we went to this place regularly, and it was briefly a darling of Vancouver Magazine’s annual restaurant classification. I’m not sure why we haven’t been there for six or eight years, except that it’s halfway to UBC so quite out of the way of where we live now. On this occasion there were three of us and we were reminded of a certain humourless arrogance of service that we used to put up with as eccentricity forgivable because of the wonderful cuisine. But this time this attitude was accompanied by very spotty food quality.

You have to sign up for one of their two sittings, and there’s a big deal made of needing to be out of there in time for the subsequent one if you opt for the 530 start. We arrived at six and only two of the dozen or more tables in the long, pleasant storefront room were occupied. The place filled up but it’s pretty clear nobody pays any attention to the legislated two sittings. Noise developed into a moderate roar. A middle-aged front-of-the-house guy seated us at a nice table and made some comments about there being some specials but then scurried away. A slightly anxious lady arrived and perched a tiny blackboard with a handwritten menu on the table. We needed help deciphering two or three of the Italian dishes. The menu was set up in classic Italian style with starters, pasta, and mains.

It was part of the general self-importance here that servers made a mistake I see too often: they arrive to ask how things are going, bring food, etc. verbally cutting straight across the middle of a diner’s sentence. When a server brings a plate in front of your face and starts talking in a loud voice as you are saying something to your companion, you have to choose, quickly, between raising your voice and continuing, or just shutting up and letting the royal agenda supervene. It puts me in mind of Ruth Reichl’s wonderful book Garlic and Sapphires, where as the New York Times food critic she went to an important restaurant and was treated like a queen, then did herself up as a dowdy little old lady, returned to the same place, and was treated like garbage. I’m not saying the people at La Quercia would fawn on on some bigshot, but there’s never any question who’s the important agent in transactions here. To me this is contemptible. We go out for dinner not to worship at the altar of some cathedral (no matter how fabulous or not), but to be treated nicely and feel comforted. Not here…

The wine list is short but pretty comprehensive in major and minor Italian regions. We went for a non-Barolo (they were all $150 plus) nebbiolo which at $90 was respectable but left me hoping for a little more fragrance and mouth feel excitement.

We shared two starters. A tomato and bread salad set up as a cylinder was just lovely, sweet with dressing contributing moistness and flavour but well in the background. The croutons imbibed the dressing but somehow remained crisp. Deep-fried stuffed zucchini flowers were next, with feta cheese inside and crispy breadcrumbs outside. Satisfying, but we all agreed they would have benefited from a dip of some kind.

I had “tongue and cheek” which was a veal combo with potatoes. It really was delicious, the two meats complementing one another and beautifully moist and flavorful each with its own consistency. This was set up with a respectable port wine reduction, and nicely-roasted potatoes.

Unfortunately the fun ended there. The ladies’ pasta dishes were poor to dreadful. Penne carbonara was a bowl of shockingly undercooked barely-warm pasta, covering three or four just-discernible shreds of pork, and minimally moistened with nondescript sauce. When Robin mentioned this to the server, the response was, “Oh, no. The chef said it was perfect. You should have let us know at the beginning and we could have done something about it.” Like fire the chef? The other pasta dish was tagliatelle bolognese, the pasta a bit better cooked but not done with enough added pasta water and with the meat pretty well without flavour.

We had a lemon blueberry dessert that was very tasty.

They didn’t charge for the carbonara. The three of us were out the door for about $370 including the expensive wine and a 20% tip.

Won’t be going back. This is an Italian restaurant with no idea how to prepare pasta, and a staff of a has-been eatery that patronize and walk all over you as if they were still the toast of the town, but at the same time handle unhappy diners with arrogant defensiveness.

Food 5.0/8.9 (pasta/much of the rest of the menu), service 5.3, ambience 7.9, value 6.5, peace and quiet 6.5.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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