Friday, August 15, 2014

[Updated Aug 18, 2014] Caffe Roma

August 15, 2014

[Update] - Aug 18, 2014
I just learned that Delbert is no longer with Caffe Roma, so the items on the menu I tried on the 15th may no longer be the same since the restaurant now has a new chef... bummer...

Brief note from J
I was invited by Delbert, the manager and chef from Caffe Roma, a new sports bar / Italian casual bistro on the Drive to try a sampling of their menu, hence the pictures of the dishes below are not the actual portions offered straight off the menu, but I did ask what the actual portions are for some of them and will point out what the actual expectations are - their website gallery actually has a number of dishes there all portioned 'correctly' so you can check that out too. More details on my chat with Delbert after the dish reviews below.

Cheese & Charcuterie ("C & C") Plates w an arancini ball

Highlights (2+)
Arancini ball: Deep fried rice ball w cheese, mushrooms, sundried tomato & zucchini

J's comment > lightly and thinly crisped all around; soft melty cheese oozing from the center, covering the firm but soft  rice (I know, oxymoron); decent mushroom flavor; reminiscent of the Roaming Dragon ball, but I was more impressed w this one because of the thinness of the exterior

Chili Jam

J's comment > definitely spicy but also sweet; this is a strange one - I kept 'nibbling' at it for the contrasting flavors - nothing really goes per se w the chili jam on this plate, but jam could work as a palate cleanser between the cheeses and meat; regardless, this is one jam I'm happy to eat straight off the spoon (keep some water or liquid handy though) with or without the C & C plates

J's comment on the other items > notable mention goes to the soppressata which had a really good texture, not chewy or stringy at all, not too dry nor fatty, yet still retained the basic salami texture; could have been a tad more flavorful though

Delbert advised that the usual C & C plates come with about 250g (1/2 lb) net weight of the cheese and charcuterie; the arancini ball is another item on the menu that doesn't come w the C & C plates; all the charcuterie come from a local butcher in East Van and all cheeses are imported from Italy (all the cheeses tasted fine, but none particularly stood out for me)

Prawns Camicia: Prawns wrapped w smoked pancetta, topped w breadcrumbs, balsamic reduction - 2+

J's comment > prawns perfectly cooked, not even the slightest bit overdone as I so often see, the prawns were translucent!; pancetta the thinnest bacon blanket ever, yet w the strongest bacon flavor impact - the pancetta slices were actually more fat than meat, but therein the flavor punch; a really good meld of the two flavors, this isn't just a prawns and bacon dish, it's a PbRaAcWoNn (read the caps and then the lower case if you didn't get the previous word); actual portion is 5 PbRaAcWoNns

Another impressive factor is that the seafood (on this dish and the others below), whilst obviously not out-of-the-tank-swimming fresh quality à la Chinese style, for seafood that came out of the freezer, they were very well done

Roasted calamari drizzled w olive oil black pepper and cherry tomatoes - 2+

J's comment > fun! That's the word that came to mind in eating this dish; not much grill nor squid flavor but it really didn't matter, this is all about playing w textures; perfectly cooked, very bouncy, kind of like the Chinese style cooked jellyfish but without the crispness and thicker pieces; a dab of the vinaigrette gives this just the right touch

Zucchini Roll: Roasted zucchini, prosciutto crudo, smoked mozzarella, arugula-almond pesto - 2

J's comment > not bad; a near-perfect balance of zucchini & prosciutto, just a tad more zucchini than prosciutto 60/40; would have been even better if the prosciutto was thicker or the zucchini sliced even thinner (basically if both items were the same width, would have worked better); mozarella almost runny and gooey (not thick and chunky like the stuff on pizza), this texture worked best for this dish, but would have liked just a bit less as it stole some of the spotlight from the zucchini & prosciutto

Rustic Bruschetta: Toasted Baguette w fresh roma tomato basil, sundried tomato pesto & gorgonzola cream - 2

J's comment > not bad; very thin and crisp baguettes slices that went very well w the gorgonzola cream (ohh.... the cream...); the other two toppings were OK, not bad either when you load on all three together, but the gorgonzola definitely steals the spotlight and you can do without the other two for 80% of the same flavor; would have loved just a touch of honey to give this dish an extra 'oomph'

Spaghetti w lemon & prawns, scallops, saffron - 2

J's comment > not bad; strong saffron flavor (FYI, I really dislike the 'detergent-y' flavor that saffron offers) but this saffron pasta somehow made it tolerable (yes, tolerable as opposed to toss-it-to-the-side-at-once, sorry Caffe Roma still not sold on saffron at this point but one step closer!); this item isn't actually on the menu, it's actually offered in risotto form, but I'm sure the kitchen would be happy to switch the carb if asked nicely; seafood cooked well despite being of the defrosted variety

lemon and cream actually worked OK together, at the very least better than Belgard Kitchen's risotto which has lemon even though its not in the description of the dish, but definitely there when you bite into the dish - that was one dish I definitely won't be going back for (yes, yes, apples to oranges but same fricking orchard)

the pasta (house made), was unusual in that it was square and not round; as Delbert informed, this made it more difficult to cook actually but it goes to show that despite its questionable vibe, Caffe Roma does not take the easy route w its food; personally I thought the texture was a tad undercooked, but Delbert affirmed that that was the actual texture the kitchen was going for; portion-wise, the usual portion is what you see x 2 and a bit

Last note on this dish: We were also given wine pairings w the courses and whilst they were all OK pairings, the 2012 Californian Spin the Bottle chardonnay that was paired w this pasta elicited a very creamy mouth feel w the saffron taking a subtle yet definite presence for me; my dining partner didn't taste this, but instead felt this wine elevated the lemon-y flavor

Gnocchi al pomodoro w gran padano cheese - 2

J's comment > another house made pasta; texture firm - I later found out from Delbert that this was because he did not have time to make a fresh batch that day so the quality was of course slightly compromised; I think the message here is, if pasta freshness is very important to you, please ask before you order; could have used a stronger flavor of some sort, not necessarily more tomato sauce, more herbs maybe? 
portion-wise, the usual portion is what you see x 2 and a bit

Fior di latte - 2

J's comment > your avg fior di latte that you can ask for as an upgrade to pizzas at gourmet pizza joints; flavor terribly mild, not even the herb oil and pesto could save this; texture avg

House made focaccia - 2

J's comment > sponge-cake like texture; a tad firmer than I like my breads; a decent focaccia probably by all counts, just not my type of dough - I like 'em soft as a pillow that bounces back slowly when I poke it

Prawns and avocado salad w tomato cherry & lime - 2

J's comment > more 'shrimp' than 'prawn', definitely the same quality as the Shrimp Platter w Cocktail Sauce from Superstore; avocado of the 'watery' species, would have like the Haas variety; either way though, overall this dish was, dare I say, boring...; surprisingly, Delbert confided that this dish is a winner w the majority of the clientele that pop in... ... ...

House made tiramisu - 2+

J's comment > light, fluffy, creamy w moist lady fingers drenched in coffee (not too strong though) and some form of liquor (also quite light); similar flavors and texture w Croissanterie la Marseillaise's version; again, would have loved just a touch bolder flavor on both coffee and liquor counts

Pannacotta - 2

J's comment > not bad; creamy and thick but not heavy; blueberry compote OK; looks practically the same as La Buca's which I just had last Tuesday, but the texture for this one didn't have the gelatin-base (think Jello texture) that I'm not fond of in my pannacottas; flavor of pannacotta inherently subtle already as it is, even more so in this version

Martini Rose sparkling wine - 2+

J's comment > mmmm! So bubbly and fruity, but not too sweet; essentially the Western version of Indigo Wind (sparkling sake that I discovered @ Miku & Minami); would drink this over Champagne any day

Schofferhofer Grapefruit Radler - 2+

J's comment > exactly as described - strong grapefruit flavor without the bitterness and very little alcohol (2.5% only); extremely easy to drink - love it

Strawberry mojto - 2

J's comment > not bad; not a lot of ice (big pet peeve of mine), hence drink wasn't over-diluted when the ice all melted; good balance of sweet and tart at the get-go

2012 Escorihuela '1884' Reservado, Mendoza Argentina: Malbec - 2

J's comment > strong chocolate notes on the inhale, but not so much on the palate, slightly present but not as strong as the vapor; an OK wine

2012 Spin the Bottle, California: Chardonnay - 2

J's comment > avg white wine... until you pair it w the saffron pasta above! :D

2011 Rocca delle Macie, Italy: Chianti - 2

J's comment > bold flavored red


Wine menu also coming soon, esp the moscato which Delbert emphasized on several times and which I'm crossing my fingers to be the 2010 Californian Flip Flop moscato

Menu w nutritional value posted coming next month!
Calorie counts and all that good stuff, sneak preview:

Interior shots
At the entryway you're greeted by two Grecian beauties (?)

Walls of TVs for the sports bar factor

Tribute to the World Cup fever (check out those flags!). Oh, and the dude in the white shirt is Gino, one of the owners of Caffe Roma, good to see owner presence.

Live band

Grecian chick hanging out in the middle of Caffe Roma

Caffe Roma on Urbanspoon

Extra Comment
The vibe is 'slightly' confusing (is this a sports bar or an Italian casual bistro?) and the Grecian statues (?!) at the door don't make this restaurant's concept any easier to understand, but the menu has heart and at the very least, has not given up on trying to be something other than you 'average' chicken wings and burger pub. According to Delbert, all ingredients are sourced locally (except the cheeses and flour for the house made pastas which are imported from Italy), nothing from Sysco or one of the other big groceries' suppliers. In addition to the local initiative (an economically friendlier alternative to the 'Syscos' actually, who knew?), the dishes focus on simplicity and Caffe Roma isn't afraid to warn its customers the nutritional value of their meals if the upcoming menu is any indication.

The staff were all very friendly and Delbert would be more than happy to help navigate the menu, although personally I think the tapas are the name of the game here if the amount of tapas we tried today was any indication - I think we tried everything on that side of the menu except for the meatballs and sausage!

Although Caffe Roma is still in the midst of figuring out its identity crisis, in my hour + long chat with Delbert, I have come to believe that the food will continue maintaining its integrity as long as its patrons still care about what they eat.

Labels: commercial, italian, pasta, tapas

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