I first ate in Zambri's when they ran out of space next to London Drugs in the Harris Green strip mall. Bare bones set up selling authentic Italian food. The only ornamentation I recall was tins of tomatoes stacked up in one corner. Like hundreds of catering sized tins of real Italian tomatoes. The food was good, and the prices reasonable, and it was good enough to take my folks to once. And good enough they'd would have gone back again had we had time on that trip.
Then they moved into the BC ferries building, swanked the joint up and I've been there once for brunch since. So, dine around came up, and instead of going to a Chinese joint I'd never heard of but wanted to try, we ended up in Zambri's. My fellow challenge blogger doesn't like Chinese food, and does like the new surroundings a Z's. Meanwhile, the gorgeous Brunette of My Acquaintance doesn't like Zambri's(*), so I could try it out and see what I thought now they'd moved.
Firstly, the place is a lot more open. Three sides are glass, one looking out on the excitement of Yates and Blanshard. Not the best view in the world, but it's better than the backside of a drugstore. The bar looks amazing, with a fine array of aperitifs, sodas and liquers. The barman rustled up me a non-alcoholic cocktail, with blood orange and bitters. And it was excellent. Bitter, sweet, a veritable symphony.
As luck would have it, there was two options for starter, pasta and mains on the dine around $40, and we both wanted different things. So we could cover the whole shebang and give an honest review. Of course, Dine Around is now over, so these things may not be available, but it gives you an idea of what to expect.
Starters I had the Palotte : little fried dumplings on a sea of rich tomato sauce. The dumplings were dense, roughly textured morsels that drank up the sauce. A sauce that I believe is a super simple recipe of olive oil, garlic, tins of tomatoes (I assume they still have left overs from the old place) and a long simmer on the stove. Super simple, super flavourful. Got things started right. Andrea went for the Tonnato.
I've never heard of it before (minus street cred, I'm sure). Pork loin cover in a tuna mayonnaise. It tasted... okay. We thought some sort of tahini or chickpea was involved in the sauce. Not tuna. It however looked incredibly unappetizing. Thin (and not quite cold enough) slices of meat covered in a shiny beige sauce. The words I used to describe it afterwards was 'cat vomit'. Unfair, perhaps, but there we go. I asked Andrea for some quotes for this article and she said this about the starter: 'it was tasty but unexpected, cold when I wanted warm, chickpea flavour when I wanted anything but chickpea.... I've had way better food there than that'.
Moving swiftly onwards... pasta. For everything bad I can say about the tonatto, let me say the Braised kale and sausage pasta was incredible. It had the rich flavour of kale, mellowed by the application of the savoury sausage and being braised in (I guess) butter. Leaving this easy to eat dish. Slightly salty, very savoury and married to the al dente pasta just perfectly. The pasta had all the bite in the dish, with the sauce covering and enveloping it. Really good. If this was on the regular menu, I'd probably be trying to go back again this month.
Andrea's Gorgonzola and Pea pasta was by comparison just good. Zambri's were giving a good portion for your money, but this would have to be half the size for me. The bit of the cheese was strong, contrasting well with the fresh pop of the peas, but a whole plate of this would have been too much for me. A half portion as a warm up to meat dish (or after a salad, say) would have been just right. The Kale and Sausage? One bowl is not enough. Our guest review said about it 'I barely even remember it, I think it would have tasted better with kale'.
Meat course! Starting to food fade at this point, as we both discovered our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, despite both coming fresh from a run (Andreas was probably three laps of the city after fifty reps on every machine in the gym). But, I muscled onwards and upwards into the beef strip loin.
Served again on that thick tomato sauce with a stack of potatoes, this was a thin flat cut of meat, minute grilled long enough to get a little bit of the brown crispy fat, but not long enough to toughen up. Just enough protein to rebuild my muscles from my tiny run. The potatoes seemed a little salty to me, but the sauce was a perfect compliment to the beef. The salmon Andrea ordered was hot, fleshy and also cooked very well. Most of it went home with her for the next day's lunch: 'almost better reheated in the microwave'.
Dessert was Cannoli. I have no idea what to expect (and it was the only choice) and had to look it up after the meal. It was a crispy filled and rolled wafer on a bed of black cherry and dark chocolate sauce. I expected the filling to be like ice cream, from the look of it. Instead it was a thick porridge like filling. Neither hot nor cold. No sweetness, just a mushy mouthfeel. It looked like it had bits in, but no idea what those bits were. The sauce was just not for me, as I'm not a big fan of black cherries (unsugared anyways), but it combined well with the chocolate. But that filling was disconcerting.
In summary, I had three excellent courses, and poor dessert, good service, good surroundings and good catch up with Andrea about her adventures in Qatar. It broke my run of very average (or poor) dine around meals, and got me excited about a spot that I had forgotten.
I should mention that she got the bill for this meal, but as she's not employed by Zambri's, I don't think that is a conflict of interests. But I will leave her with the final word: 'Honestly the meal I had there would not make me eat there again, yours on the other hand...maybe. I will eat there again because I love that place, but if that was a way to showcase their food to new people - FAIL'.
(*) probably another whole entry, but the Brunette and I did discuss, how if your first experience of a place is bad, you are very unlikely to go back even if others rave about it, while if your first experience is good, it can take two or three bad meals before you stop going there again.