Thursday, January 8, 2015

Al Porto Ristorante, Vancouver (Canada) by Bureaucrat

Gastown is the arty-bohemian precinct in Vancouver.  It has that quirky, hipster-y vibe that you find in Fitzroy and Brunswick but with less gentrification and more starving artists begging/sleeping on the streets and lots of shops selling tacky tourist stuff and hordes of tourists in search of said tacky tourist stuff.  Which is how I came upon Gastown - we had arrived in Vancouver late in the afternoon and I needed to stock up on some tacky tourist stuff for my loved ones back home (only the best for my kith and kin!).

Given that the tourist guidebooks point to Gastown as a place to find good eats, I was confident that we'd stumble across a nice place for dinner.  However, what we didn't know was that we had arrived on a public holiday - so places were either closed or were completely packed out.  The first three places that I wanted to try turned out to be either tapas/drinking places or had at least a 30 minute wait for a table.  With sore feet and rumbling bellies, we made an executive decision to eat at the next place we saw.  Thus, we found ourselves at Al Porto, a semi tourist-trap sort of restaurant.

The place is a little bit pricier than what I wanted to spend for a non-splurgey meal.  Plus, I was mindful that in Canada it's expected that diners tip a standard 15 per cent.  As our waitress who was wonderfully friendly, prompt, knowledgeable and well presented, I knew that she was gunning for an 18-20 per cent tip and not the 'expected' 15 per cent.  It's times like these that I wish the service was crap so I could justifiably tip much, much less.

We chose the Insalata Bistecca to share as our entree (CAD$16.95).  The waitress showed great initiative and had got the kitchen staff to serve the salad on two dishes so that we could each have our own mini salad.  The grilled tenderloin beef medallions were beautifully tender and flavoursome.  The salad was fresh and tasty and had toms, cukes, toasted pine nuts and balsamic vinegar.  Tasty and appetite inducing.

We were really pleased with the salad and were looking forward to our main dish.  We both chose the seafood risotto (CAD$18.95).  Unfortunately, the risotto was rather unimpressive.  It was obvious from the mushiness of the risotto that it had not been made from arborio or carnoli rice - it was simply short grain rice.  There was a nice mix of seafood - prawns, mussels, clams, scallops, salmon and halibut - but they all had this weird artificial fragrant flavour (kinda like diluted detergent).  

Verdict: we liked it.

It's kinda hard to give a verdict for a place where one dish was done very well and the other done quite poorly.  Service was impeccable (...and yes, I did tip more than 15 per cent).

Al Porto Ristorante on Urbanspoon

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