Archive for ‘Italian’

July 20, 2011

Alexandra’s – Sean’s review (aka “He said”)

by HeSaid

With all the enthusiasm of a yawning sloth, I open Google and type “Nanaimo restaurants” into the search box. It’s not that I’m bitter, it’s just that I fully expect everything to suck.

I’m eyeing up the map listings in front of me. and it looks like a lot more of the same. Fail. Fail. Fail. F… wait a minute – what’s this? Alexandra’s? I jump to the website, and like most restaurants it’s nothing to look at – but the menu is there. It’s close, the price is right and the food is just what we’re after. (No joke, Alex had been talking about wanting some lasagna with g-toast not five minutes before – and they HAVE IT ON THE MENU!).

If I have a single criticism, it’s that “someone” should order a hit on the flower-peddling clown that stands on the corner. I know I usually keep driving just so I don’t have to look at him, so I can only imagine I’m not alone.

Alexandra’s is as dead center as a restaurant could get. Everything from the menu, to the decor to the mural on the wall screams “We’re average, and that’s ok!”. While it’s quite big, the owners make a smart move of closing off half the restaurant behind a heavy curtain, which creates a much cozier atmosphere for the smaller lunch crowds.

Our waitress serves us with amazing efficiency. Never too close to be a bother but never too far when we need something at the table. It’s apparent that she’s been waiting tables for a long time and knows her stuff, a real lifer.

The baked spaghetti arrives within moments of ordering and tastes like most restaurant baked spaghettis taste. Noodles. Meat sauce and cheese. Nothing to write to mama italiana about, but for $10 I feel like I definitely got my money’s worth. I couldn’t have made better in less time for less money, and that’s what really sticks out with Alexandra’s; price and product in perfect balance.

These folks have lunch nailed. Fast, affordable, tasty, meaty, cheesy lunch for a sawbuck. One dollar more and they might have lost me, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better meal for $10 in this town.

Food or fail rating: Food.

July 20, 2011

Alexandra’s – Alex’s review (aka “She said”)

by SheSaid

I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven by the Bowen & Northfield location of Alexandra’s.  The sign always catches my eye but I’ve never actually gone in, probably because there’s something I find totally repugnant about the particular mini-mall it’s in. Maybe it’s the proximity to one of the gnarliest intersections in town; turning in and out of the parking lot is an exercise in squeeze-your-eyes-shut-and-hope-for-the-best driving.  So that’s why I’ve never visited Alexandra’s but when I was seized by a powerful craving for pasta, well, go we did.

The storefront is large but we arrived to a space that was quite intimate. This wasn’t a cavernous room but a welcoming bistro-style space with a large curtain along one wall.  A peek behind that curtain revealed another, much larger room that I imagine opens for dinner.

Scanning the menu made me feel warm and happy: all the usual suspects were there but not an overwhelming array and prices were perfectly reasonable for lunchtime with entrees in the $10 range. What I wanted, what I absolutely craved, was standard-order lasagna with meat sauce and garlic bread. It’s a comfort-food classic with memories of childhood pizzeria visits with my dad. The garlic bread should be soft and squishy, made with a fresh traditional french loaf, and if they offered it as an entree you’d gladly take it. But of course they don’t because that would be nuts.

What I got, after only a brief wait, was pretty much just what I’d hoped for. The lasagna was warm and gooey and delicious and flavourful.  There was no skimping on the cheese. I will say that the day’s batch was a little on the salty side (fine for my palette but maybe not everyone’s). The portion size seemed a bit small to the eye but I was perfectly, comfortably full by the end of it. Sure, I could have inhaled an entire loaf of the garlic bread but that’s neither here nor there.

I plan to head back to Alexandra’s in the evening some time to suss out the vibe of the full-sized room.  And that keyboard in the corner?  I bet they roll out some great Manilow covers on that baby.

Food or fail rating: Food

May 19, 2011

Cucina di Casa – Sean’s review (aka “He Said)

by HeSaid

Until recently, I figured the only place in Nanaimo to get anything close to traditional Italian was Little George’s, so I was excited to discover an Italian eatery so close to home.

Cucina di Casa, previously the Grapevine Trattoria on Wesley street, is a (relatively) new Nanaimo restaurant specializing in Italian cuisine. The name, promisingly, means “home cooking” in Italian and I’m a BIG fan of traditional home cooked Italian cuisine so I was really looking forward to rockin’ a little lunch at il ristorante.

It was lunchtime when we arrived, and the Casa was casa-non-grata save for a single family seated across the room from us. The first thing that stood out for me (aside from the wrinkled tablecloth) were the menus. They offered a nice selection of dishes priced between $10 and $13 with a nice variety of pasta dishes, panini and other Italian classics. I opted for the polpetta (meatball) sandwich with a side of… fries? Not really traditional, but I do like a good fried potato so what the heck.

Food came quickly and didn’t disappoint. The meatballs were well spiced and cooked perfectly. Juicy, fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic and Italian spice adorned my sandwich along with a smattering of savoury red sauce. Not so much as to drown the meatballs, but just enough to add a bit of extra flavour.

Fries were quite tasty, crispy and seasoned to perfection, though I feel they could have used another minute in the fryer.

After thoroughly demolishing my sammich, I found myself desperately wanting for an espresso. Sadly, I managed to pick the day that the machine would explode. It’s like the song says, you can’t always get what you want – but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.

And that I did. While Cucina di Casa isn’t a traditional Italian diner as much as it’s a restaurant that serves Italian food – the service was adequate, the food was fantastico, and I’ll definitely be going back to try more. You should too, it’s totally buona.

Food or Fail rating: Food

May 19, 2011

Cucina di Casa – Alex’s Review (aka “She said”)

by SheSaid

I used to enjoy the Grapevine Trattoria in the Heritage Mews so walking into its new incarnation, Cucina di Casa, was like a flashback, bathed in a cream-coloured makeover with the same tables, chairs, and  layout exactly the same save for the fresh cream textiles.  The menu layout is strong, clean (is that Helvetica?) with a reasonable (read: not too large) choice
of the usual suspects for an Italian restaurant at lunchtime.  The price point is also good for the Nanaimo market ($10-15 range or $15-$25 for dinner).

The panino of bocconcini, prosciutto, tomato and lettuce with a side of mixed greens catches my eye.  Yes, it’s tasty.  Very tasty.  But I’m perplexed that it’s only grilled on one side.  In fact, the top piece of focaccia is toasted while the bottom is raw.  So I ask our waitress, “Is it supposed to be grilled on both sides?”  She answers, “No, it’s only grilled on one side.”  Which leads me to The Panini Thing:

1) Note: the oft-used term “panini” is actually the plural form of sandwich in Italian.  The appropriate term here, for a/my single sandwich, is “panino”.

2) I asked an actual Italian and apparently panini, when grilled, are customarily grilled on both sides.  A quick online search didn’t yield a single panini press with just one grill-plate.  Don’t have a panini press?  Grill one side then flip it and do the other.  (Suggestion of the same actual Italian).  Think about it: would you have a grilled cheese sandwich that was grilled on just one side?  No, you would flip it.  (That one’s from the wife of the actual Italian).

For a quiet Monday lunchtime (read: one other table) the service is actually pretty lackadaisical.  Hypothesis: the waitress, confronted with such an effortless shift, slipped into a mindset where she actually forgot she was working at all.  That said, she was friendly and we got what we needed without a long wait.

Notwithstanding the Grill Fail, I enjoyed that panino and cleaned my plate.  It won’t be a hard sell to get me back there for dinner but I’ll probably stick to the pasta.

Food or Fail rating: Food