I’ve been very bad about writing to the blog in the last few weeks – I’m sorry folks! First I had to go to Ontario & Quebec for a funeral, then I got very sick for a week, and next I’m about to leave town again for a short vacation; if I don’t write tonight, I don’t know when I’ll have time! Sadly, my absence has brought my Urbanspoon rating down a lot, but I hope to climb the ranks again in late November with more regular posts!
For now, let me tell you about Anton’s Pasta Bar. About 9 years ago, when I visited Vancouver with some colleagues for a conference, we ventured to Anton’s all the way out in Burnaby at Hastings near Gillmore. We were all in our early 20’s then (do the math folks!) and thought this was the greatest place to eat: huge portions, a ton of options to choose from, and look at the lineup – it must be good! I remembered that meal as pretty great…
Visiting Anton’s now, it looked pretty much the same – a neon-red hue tinted the busy dining room, plates piled high with food were being delivered by waiters who had no time for people asking about reservations. On one late Friday night, we waited about 30 minutes for a table – on a second visit, we had a much shorter wait of 5 minutes inside the cramped lobby. Was the wait worth it?
I was actually a little dismayed when I reviewed the 40+ options on the menu. Most of them were based around one meat ingredient and the sauce. Very few seemed to draw me in, or, if they did sound interesting, I wasn’t keen on a huge plateful of, say, gnocchi or carbonara style pasta. It just seemed like I’d get fatigued by the same texture and flavours very quickly. As a result, I chose something that sounded quite interesting: Penne Alla Pastora which came with “italian sausage & bacon in a white wine, egg & cheese sauce”.
I was very surprised when the above came to the table. It didn’t have big chunks of sausage and the bacon was non-existent. The white wine, egg & cheese sauce was either fully absorbed by the pasta (which, I will give them points for providing fresh-made, rather than dry – though more on that later), or something went wrong. To make this dish even more bizarre, there was a ton of nutmeg sprinkled all over the dish. I called the waitress to see if this was normal (I mean, it was the most prominent flavour – and it wasn’t listed in the menu); her response was underwhleming: she didn’t know and didn’t go check to see if this was right. She did offer to replace my dish (which I should have done), but I stuck with it.
Chris, true to form, ordered something that looked way yummier: Penne All’ Emiliana featuring “Italian sausage, bacon, fresh tomatoes, basil, black olives & feta cheese in a light extra virgin olive oil.” Everything about his dish worked. The ingredients were nicely cut up so that they distributed well throughout the dish, the salty components played well off of the tomato and basil, and overall his dish was “saucier” than mine. When we took our leftovers home; we swapped – Chris was fine with the nutmeg madness, but I was much happier with the Emiliana.
Because we had such a dichotic experience, I felt a revisit was in order prior to writing up this post. I took advantage of a Living Social coupon, and also approached our revisit with a more pragmatic “stick with the traditional red sauce options” strategy.
On our second visit, we got seated more quickly as I mentioned above, but service was much slower and less perky. I swear we waited 30 minutes for our pastas, nearby tables who arrived after us got served before we did too. Perhaps it was our choices, but we should have been told if a particular dish takes a lot longer…
Chris picked a “red sauce” option – he asked the waitress for her opinion between two dishes; she honestly replied that she didn’t like the ingredients featured in both (probably the anchovies), but suggested the Linguine Alla Sicilliana as it was more popular. Smothered in a spicier than I had expected tomato sauce were capers, anchovies and olives – all very salty and similar in flavour when simmered together. Chris liked his meal, but definitely preferred his previous choice better still.
As per my game plan, I chose the most basic thing I could find on the menu: Linguine Con Polpette. Straight-forward noodles & meat sauce with meatballs, this was a make-or-break dish for me: it was good overall. The sauce was very tomatoey, but thick with ground beef and probably some veal. There were two large meatballs hidden under the sauce. The meatballs were tender and moist, but I’d have liked if they were browned a bit (or browned more?). The parsley garnish was a strange choice, but like I said, overall good.
I hate to pick on something I previously said was good; but I found the linguine noodles to be very soft, and easily broke. I don’t know if it was a bad batch, or if their extruded penne is a different dough than their rolled & cut pasta – the linguine we both had on our revisit was not great (and it fared worse in our left-over reheating too).
So – what are my final thoughts? I guess Anton’s is great when you’re a university student who is thrilled when a mountain of food is presented before you. I sure was back then! I think now though, it isn’t really what I’m after anymore… If we do go back, our next tactical plan is to split a salad and a traditional pasta, and avoid leftovers (and maybe linguini noodles…)