Vancouver's Adesso Bistro does its pasta proud
At chain restaurants and all-you-can-eat pasta bars, pesto has been desecrated. The classic basil-based sauce has been laden with cream, butter, even cream cheese. At Adesso Bistro, in the hands of chef Sean Sylvestre, pesto is perfect: a mellow blend of the finest, freshest ingredients—just five; you know them if you love pesto—nothing more, nothing less, all pure and simple.
A gently tossed dish of delicate green beans, tender baby potatoes, and pesto, Sylvestre’s Linguine Genovese is, for pesto purists and fanatics alike, bliss. The verdant green of the hills of Cinque Terre, five seaside towns connected by vineyards along the Italian Riviera, the pasta is also a journey to the heart of Liguria.
A narrow strip of land in northwest Italy, Liguria is nestled between sea and mountains, bordering France and Tuscany and facing the Ligurian Sea. Luciano Loi, who co-owns the Adesso with Carol Gadsby, was born in Sardinia and grew up in Liguria. Its capital, Genoa, claims pesto as its own. Adesso—which takes its name from the Italian word for now—once had a home in Kits but now occupies the former Haro Street spot of Parkside, L’Altro Buca, and, back in the day, the original Delilah’s.
Peaceful and pretty, Adesso’s patio is impossibly large for the neighbourhood—800 square feet, it’s surrounded by hydrangeas, rhododendrons, grape shrubs, and thick yew hedges. The setting invites the kind of unhurried dining that comes naturally to native Italians.
“Slow food began in Italy,” Sylvestre says in a phone interview. “It’s about taking the time to enjoy the food, enjoy the moment.”
Sylvestre has worked at some of Vancouver’s top spots, including Il Giardino, Lumií¨re, and the Beach House in West Vancouver. But he’s spent the majority of his career at Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill, where he trained with celebrated chef Pino Posteraro.
“The man is such an incredible wealth of knowledge,” Sylvestre says of his mentor. “I learned from him to appreciate and understand not just the value of using the best ingredients in the proper way, but also why certain ingredients go together and how to balance them without convoluting them.
“I’ve always appreciated the Mediterranean diet, as well as the whole Mediterranean philosophy,” he adds. “The importance of food, dining, culture.”
Posteraro taught him well. At Adesso, Sylvestre plays with flavours but never overdoes things. The contrast of the black-olive vinaigrette and candied pecans, for instance, gives the Watercress and Goat Cheese Salad ($12) a bold jolt without overpowering the leafy greens.
The Pizza Margherita ($13) doesn’t have much going for it visually: the menu description brings to mind whole Campari or cherry tomatoes, when in fact they’ve been reduced for the sauce, and the four basil leaves appear shrunken and almost black after baking. But the appetizer’s aesthetic blahs belie its vibrant flavours, which positively bounce off the thin, crispy crust. Meanwhile, the more handsome Pizza Prosciutto ($14) proves yet again the power of simplicity and balance, with Fontina and Parmesan cheeses complementing the salty, paper-thin ham and pungent, peppery arugula.
The bistro’s diverse menu offers pasta and rice dishes in two sizes so that diners have the option of enjoying them as either a first course or a main. Risotto al Radicchio e Gorgonzola ($14/$20) is quite possibly the richest and most gratifying arborio-rice dish in town. It makes for one of those rare wow dining-out moments. Spaghettini Carbonara ($13/$19) is made with guanciale—unsmoked bacon made in-house from pigs’ jowls. Dried, cured, and aged, the meat gives the pasta an earthy depth.
There are plenty of choices for meat lovers (Cornish hen, braised Berkshire pork ribs, and Pemberton Meadows strip loin among them) yet enough options to satisfy vegetarians. Every ingredient in Fritto Misto di Mare, a mixed fried-fish appetizer, stands out—prawns, clams, scallops, squid, and halibut seasoned with a house-made mix of dried and finely ground oregano, parsley, and chives, then cooked with lemon zest, anchovies, garlic, and sea salt. Similarly, Mixed Seafood ($20), a main that includes octopus, squid, and oysters in a light tomato broth, encourages you to savour every distinct ingredient, while Pacific Halibut all’ Acqua Pazza (meaning “crazy water”, $22) has teeny olives and fragrant cherry tomatoes to enhance the mild, flaky fish.
Desserts (all $8) are worth saving room for. Fragola features airy macerated strawberry and light mascarpone mousse. Fleur de Cao is a handful of small dark-chocolate profiteroles filled with chocolate cream and served with an orange reduction.
The wine list includes organic offerings and one red and one white by the litre. Service is professional and attentive, if a little cool. The value is undeniable. Nothing on the menu is over $22, and through the summer, Adesso has a daily three-course early-dinner prix fixe for $30. Dinner for four—with wine, sparkling water, and lattes, including HST—came to $200 before tip.
Was this the best Italian meal I’ve ever had in Vancouver? No. But it was very, very good. And once you’ve had pesto here, you won’t want to order it anywhere else.