Dishing: Ask for Luigi
Here’s what happens when you visit a review-worthy restaurant shortly before leaving on your summer holidays: the blog post you wrote sits in your draft folder for months and months until you completely forget about it. We ate at Ask for Luigi on a beautifully hot summer evening last August. Here is what I wrote the next morning.
Note to the host of Ask for Luigi: ignoring the woman for the guy she’s with is not smart in the current century, especially when the gentleman in question is crouched down and clearly pre-occupied with his phone.
That ten-second encounter almost put me off, but I set my ego aside and told the host my name and the number in my party. Ask for Luigi takes walk-in guests only, but anyone not accommodated in the first seating ― we managed to snag the last table ― is texted when their table is ready.
Voted one of Vancouver’s best new restaurants when chef and co-owner J.C. Poirier opened in late 2013, Ask for Luigi is one of the bright spots in Vancouver’s transforming Railtown. Once we were seated, the service was beyond attentive ― our table was wiped down after each course and the reflexes of our server were quicker than all three of us combined when yours truly clumsily knocked over her Spritz ― the Venetian-style aperitivo made with Aperol, Prosecco, and soda water that is the only option for a before-dinner drink.
The antipasti orders came almost too quickly ― with only 36 seats the emphasis seemed to be on turn-over ― but nothing was going to make us wolf down these delectable platters of perfection. We savoured every bite of anchovy-infused octopus carpaccio, sliced paper thin and liberally sprinkled with baby basil. Luigi’s famous golf ball–sized meatballs were dense and chewy. Smothered with a rich, smooth, crimson tomato sauce and accompanied by toasted Tuscan-style bread, they were marred only by the crunch of eggshell in my first bite. Geometrically correct cubes of crispy pork ciccioli, moist and wet on the inside, crunchy on the outside, were served with canary-yellow saffron aioli and deep-fried shishito peppers — a sweet green pepper about the size of my little finger. About one in ten shishito peppers are spicy — my sister was the lucky one in our group.
On to the next course. Tagliatelle with rabbit and olives was flawless, the olive taste subtle but present, and the shredded rabbit liberally coated with a creamy sauce. The rye penne, on the other hand, was overcooked, although not the creamy egg yolk placed on top, nor the gently sautéed broccolini and perfectly crisped guanciale. The pasta special ― conchiglie with garlic sausage, pale kernels of organic corn, and black summer truffle ― was the surprise of the night with its spicy kick and sweet taste of summer. All pasta is made fresh daily and served family style. (Gluten-free options are available.)
Two courses would be enough to fill any sane person, but we soldiered on. The vanilla-bean panna cotta was particularly creamy and made complete by almond biscotti and delicately stewed prunes. Chocolate budino ― a flourless cake with 70 percent chocolate ― was as intense as you would expect a flourless cake with that much chocolate to be. A mini loaf of warm olive oil cake, topped with a quenelle of rich ricotta cheese, was nestled on a bed of glazed orange slices.
The rustic décor was pleasing ― the desserts were served on mismatched china and the wine in small juice-sized glasses ― but pity the poor sods stuck in the back corner, too far from the wide-open windows or floor fans to get any respite from the August heat. Extra entertainment (in addition to yours truly spilling her drink at the start of the meal) was provided when my dining companions recognized a well-known actress sitting behind my right shoulder ― although, she wasn’t so famous that they were sure of her name. Each then whipped out their respective smart phones to check if they were right, while I remained focus on photographing our food.
We’ll go back to Ask for Luigi, but I’m thinking only if we can squeeze into the first seating again; I’m not convinced it would be worth an hour or more wait.
Note: The benefit of waiting three months to post a review is that I can change my assessment: I have decided I do want to go back to Ask for Luigi, regardless of the wait time, as long as I am with people whose company I enjoy. (Which is usually what happens when I eat out, so I should be all right.)