La Pentola, Vancouver.

February 2018

I’d been to this restaurant with our wine club a couple of years ago when we took the place over for one of our evenings. I have no recollection of food from that event, and our experience this time, overall, was consistent with its being forgettable. I’ve said many times that, either because I’m starving and not in a mood to delay gratification or for some other reason that I find hard to imagine, first courses always seem to be better than what follows. Here, the voltage drop was breathtaking. Our entrées were lovely and we were all set for similar mains, only to have our expectation pretty convincingly dashed.

It’s a noisy indifferently-decorated little spot and we were catching the tail end of Dineout Vancouver which probably accounted for some of the exaggerated hilarity and clatter.

Robin had the squid and I the grilled octopus to start. The squid was terrific, succulent and crisp with beautiful contrastingly sour mixed vegetable accompaniment. I was really pleased with the octopus which I’ve taken to ordering since we were in Apulia where it is often a house specialty. These little tentacles were tender and delicious, contrasting with bland chickpeas and a nice variety of other vegetables. Again the dressing was just slightly sour and everything added up to an interesting satisfying mouthful.

Then came the mains. My lamb sirloin was a big plate with overcooked but still reasonably tender lamb pieces, accompanied by a disorder of indifferently-prepared potato, grilled carrot, cauliflower, and rapini (which is a broccoli-like item) here way undercooked in the pre-millennium style of chefs still preoccupied with imaginary cancer prevention. The other vegetables were less crunchy but still undercooked and so-so flavourwise. Robin, poor girl, had a crab pasta on a similar level to our experience at La Quercia: no discernible crab, and a gooey apparently warmed-over taglierini. Calories empty enough of satisfaction not to be worth piling onto the day’s total.

Our waiter was chatty and engaging, letting us know he worked at several of the allegedly high-end spots in town. We sprang for a $95 2013 Barbaresco which was about at-expectation for the price: a classy nose and nice balanced mouthful of nebbiolo. Two hundred dollars pre-tip with the expensive wine.

There are too many creative bistros in town now for us to give this little spot a second chance. Food (on average; widely variable) 7.7, service 8.5, ambience 7.3, value 7.4, peace and quiet 6.2.

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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