Ask For Luigi, Vancouver

January 2018

This little place reminded me of the MacKenzie Room, perched on a corner in a similar neighbourhood. Approaching it, I walked on the road briefly to avoid a homeless person’s elaborate structure on the sidewalk. Luigi is pitched as Italian-West Coast fusion and the food is reasonably good, but I did have a similar sense to the one that grabbed me at MacKenzie: an expectation of cutting the management and staff some slack for braving the downtown Eastside, and I can’t quite escape worrying that some people in the place are slumming, masquerading as lovers of economic multiculturalism.

The restaurant is in an old building completely renovated to upscale inside. It’s a checkerboard floor with wooden tables and chairs, and an open kitchen at the back. They don’t take reservations; I met a friend for dinner at 530. He brought a terrific barolo cool from his cellar which was big, chewy, and nebbiolo-fragrant even in the tiny dollar-store tumblers they served it in.

The menu is interesting and mouthwatering, with starter-main-desert sections, and a couple of specials. I started with crispy tripe and anchovy mayonnaise, a lovely-sounding idea. It arrived as deep-fried crescents, beautifully tender and tangy with the mayo, but for some reason I thought it was an amuse-bouche and didn’t figure out it was my starter until somebody told me. My friend had a green salad with chestnuts and pecorino which was completely respectable with a nicely set-up vinaigrette.

He also had the special as his main course, and the bite I had of it was delicious, but I’m not sure quite what it was. I believe there was a fish component and a dark-coloured pasta but can’t be certain. My main was oxtail risotto with bone marrow butter. This was tasty, but the risotto was soupy, preventing me from being able to distinguish one rich interesting flavour from another.

We were looked after by a nice young girl who seemed not to be accustomed to the place and may have been a new server. The room filled completely during the 90 minutes we were there, and clatter and shrieking forced me to take out my hearing aids. It was an attractive young crowd obviously enjoying the otherwise pleasant ambience and the food. I’m not sure what the corkage was but I’d guess $20, and the bill was around $120 pre-tip.

I think I would go back, if only because the food was intriguing and just a bit better than comparable places in that pre-gentrification part of town. Smart faux-downscale little restaurants like this are numerous around town these days. I wish somebody had the  skill and money to launch a class restaurant serving real haute cuisine.

Food 8.9, service 8.5, ambience 8.4, value 8.4, peace and quiet 6.3

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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