May 25, 2012

Pagliacci's Restaurant, Downtown Victoria

One of my friends remarked to me the other day that he wouldn't bother going to Pag's (as the local's call it), as he can make great pasta at home.  He's right, he can make pasta dishes at home.  Knowing his culinary skills, he can probably make very good pasta at home.  That doesn't make Pagliacci's something to pass by on.  It's great pasta dishes, a Victoria institution and it's own special atmosphere of organized chaos.

I believe the Siegel's, owners of the restaurant, were aiming for the vibe of Italian rural dinner.  Masses of people in a small space, the buzz of conversation, no frills on the decor, with lots of memento photo's, caricatures, newspaper clippings, the typical stuff you see on small diners.  A signed photo of a minor celebrities, a picture of the owners wearing Pag's t-shirts in some foreign locale.  The front page of the Seattle Times on the day Nixon was impeached (I have no idea why, that pre-dates the place opening by about 5 years).  A big high ceiling and huge arched window give plenty of light and some feeling of space. It's crowded, not claustrophobic.

The tables are small, and they'll put as many folks around one of them as they can. You'll be sitting right next to the table, and if you want, be part of their conversation. Getting to your table will be take you squeezing between chair backs, and ducking past waitresses. Not a place for a candle-lit tete-a-tete with your secret lover. But get a group in, get the wine and beer flowing, and a good time is had by all.

I last went there around 6pm, and the queue, as normal was up Broad Street.  A quick word with the lady in charge of crowd control and we got our names down for a table for two in 45 minutes, and went for a walk around downtown.  Back in time to see an ambulance arrive and a poor lady being taken to hospital after taking a fall in the entrance way.  Obviously this caused a bit longer of a wait, but I can't complain about that.  While we waited, a couple asked if the place was worth eating at, which was a resounding yes, but they were scared off by the 45 minute wait... thinking that the queue was actually for the place top open.  Their loss.

We got shuffled into a small table right by the counter, and quickly offered water and menus.    The fmaily gathering next to us was about to finish, and the small child right next to us was obviously bored with proceedings, but was hardly a distraction.

The menu has a long list of pasta dishes, coupled with a dozen of so Italian-style meat dishes, all with names from Hollywood films or actors or some literary reference I was missing. For example : "Prawns Al Capone" - prawns in white wine and butter - Untouchable. Or : "Dish with No Name" - Linguine with with sweet Indonesian sauce, shrimp, mushrooms and bell peppers - Like that dame you met in the bar, goes best with wine.

I've never had the steak or other meat dishes. I go for the pasta, so I can only guess how good it is.  I assume as good as the pasta dishes. I've had the Lasagna (aka Dempsey's Lasagna - I’ve eaten lasagna all over the world and this is the best I’ve ever had - Peter C. Newman/Bob Dylan) a couple of times, and it's a huge dense, cheesy, savoury pile of awesome.  I can make Lasagna, but if I could make it this good, I'd quit my day job.

But first the bread.  They cook fresh bread all day, all the time.  It's normally fresh, moist, seasoned with herbs and a sprinkle of rock salt.  The downside is often it gets finished before the main courses arrive, and you end up too full.  That was the plus side of the bread on this visit being a little dried out.  I suspect due to the medical emergency earlier schedules in the kitchen might have been knocked off a little bit.  But the full basket was finished. Leaving room for the main course, enjoyed with a bottle of Phoenix Gold Lager (for me) and a glass of an Okanagan Merlot (for my friend).

I had the Sophia, a crab and shrimp fettucine dish smothers in a white wine cream sauce, with pine nuts and some subtle spicing.  There was a small rose of smoked salmon garnishing it.  Apparently the large size is enough for two women.  Probably true, as I failed to complete it myself.  It's incredibly rich, but with the tasty sweetness of fresh seafood coming through the cream sauce.   Probably best eaten with a white wine rather than a lager (or a good, hoppy west-coast IPA), but I don't mind, I really enjoyed it.

My friend had the Cabinet of Doctor Capellitti.  I have no idea who the doctor was (yes I suppose I could look it up, but I'll leave this as a mystery for another day). But the half portion was still a big pile of stuffed tortellini, with a rich tomato sauce and baked with cheese on top.  Excellent, was the vote, and even the half portion was a bit too much to eat in one sitting.

The service was good, but not excessively fast.  Your quite likely to get served by everyone in the restaurant at some point.  Getting to pay the bill and get out took a bit longer than I'd like (once I have the card out on the table, I'm looking to be gone as soon as possible). But worth the money and time, and I did need to digest.

Final Bill :
The Sophia, $18.00
The Cabinet of Doctor Capellitti, half portion, $11.50
Phoenix Lager, bottle, $4.75
Glass of Red Rooster Merlot/Cabernet, $8.00
Total - $56 with tip and taxes.

Phone: (250) 386-1662
Location : Broad and Fort Street, Victoria, BC
Website :

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