Cin Cin -
My anticipation of eating at Cin Cin had been built up quite high prior to visiting it for dinner for the first time. It wasn’t that I was expecting to have an earth-shatteringly good meal, it was just that I had come so close to having a meal there so many times that I really, really wanted to be able to finally eat there. I had made reservations there three weekends in a row but had to cancel three times in a row. The first time it was because the my son was too tired. Then the next week it was because we were stuck in Richmond doing something that I have since forgotten. And last week, when I finally thought that we would be able to eat there, we ended up not going because of the horrendous traffic jam that stretched from Taylor Way in West Vancouver all the way over the lion’s gate bridge into downtown Vancouver.
Though I really wanted to eat there again this week, I didn’t even bother making a reservation there because I expected another unforeseen situation to crop up. Nothing did. It had been a rather uneventful Easter Sunday and we were looking to make an event of dinner. The first restaurant that popped into my mind was naturally Cin Cin. I made a quick check of possible circumstances that might prevent us from going. Were the kids tired? Nope, they were full of energy. Were we stuck anywhere? Nope again, we were free to leave our house anytime we wanted. Was there a traffic backup on the lion’s gate bridge? According to the Ministry of Transportation’s webpage that monitored the traffic conditions on the lion’s gate bridge, there was a zero minute delay. Okay, nothing’s stopping us. The only possible obstacle remaining would be if Cin Cin was fully booked. I brought up the open table app on my phone and saw that there was indeed a table for four available at 6:45 P.M. I tapped ‘reserve’ and hurried everyone out the door and into the car.
It took us a surprisingly fast 10 minutes to arrive at the restaurant. We went up it’s stairs and stepped into the restaurant 15 minutes before our scheduled dining time. Stepping into the restaurant was like walking into another world. The rustic Italian setting and the terra cotta tiled floor was a stark contrast to the contrived boxes of American Consumerism that was Robson St.
The restaurant was around half empty so they had no trouble accommodating for our earlier-than-expected arrival. We were quickly seated and almost immediately greeted by our server. He was very friendly and even took time to share a little tale about his family’s annual Easter exploits. I then asked if they had a tasting menu available because there were several items that I wanted to try on the menu. He offered that although they didn’t have one, they had no problems making half-portions of their pastas if I wanted to try several of them at once. That sounded like a good idea and that was exactly what I did. I ordered three half portions of pasta, one half portion of risotto, one pizza, one appetizer, and one soup.
We first got complimentary bread and dip. The bread tasted very good by itself and with the dip. But it was even better when dipped into the pasta sauces
The soup we had was the oxtail soup.
The pizza we ordered was the prosciutto di parma pizza.
The appetizer was the daily special: Red tuna crudo with bottarga.
The risotto we had was the risotto with prawns.
The first pasta we ordered was the reginette bolognese.
The second pasta was the orecchietti with veal cheeks.
The third and final pasta was the fusilli with crab.
The fusilli with crab was my daughter’s favorite pasta of the night, but it didn’t appeal to either me or my wife. I could see why my daughter liked it. It tasted exactly like macaroni with cheese. I could see the crab and feel the texture of the crab, but it’s flavours were covered up by the cream sauce, which I felt was a disservice to crab meat. The fusilli was also as soft and limp as the macaroni in your everyday mac n’ cheese.
We felt that the reginette bolognese was much better. The bolognese sauce had a sweet and spicy punch unlike standard bolognese. The flavour of the tomato was really made to shine through the sweetness of the sauce. The reginette was wide, curly, and cooked to a perfect al dente. It became the perfect vehicle to transfer a large amount of the rich bolognese sauce from the plate to the mouth. The lone misstep in this dish was the beef. I felt that it was a rather pedestrian minced beef. I realized that the beef was supposedly naturally raised, but that designation didn’t mean anything when I couldn’t get any flavour from the beef.
The orecchietti with veal cheeks was the best and most complete of the three pasta dishes. Like the reginette, the little orecchietti shells were cooked to a perfect al dente. The veal cheeks were so tender that they not only fell apart, but they melted once they entered my mouth. The contrast of the tender veal and al dente pasta was as close to perfect as could possibly be. The sauce was also savory and rich, but not too dense. It paired very nicely with the veal and pasta. The sauce reminded me of a beautiful, aged bordeaux that paired nicely with bold but tender red meat.
I also felt that the risotto with prawns was expertly prepared. The risotto had an al dente firmness in the middle and a creamy, porridge-like softness on the outside. The tomato and mascarpone sauce had just the right amount of richness and creaminess. I was never overwhelmed by the richness of the sauce and could eat bite after bite without resorting to a sip of beverage to temper any perceived creaminess. The pieces of prawn were spread evenly throughout the dish, providing a surprising crisp and a burst of juiciness in every third bite.
The pizza was smaller than expected. It was meant to be more of an appetizer dish than a main dish. As an appetizer, it certainly served it’s purpose nicely. The pizza was a nice combination of the ultra-crisp texture from the bottom crust, with the beautifully flavoured prosciutto on the very top, and the sweet, melted peppers between them. This combination of texture and flavours really did it’s job in getting our attention for the pasta dishes that came later on.
The oxtail soup also had a nice combination of textures and flavours that grabbed our attention. The clear consumme had nice, refined flavours. The oxtail ravioli was a study of contrasts much like the veal and the orrechietti. The ravioli skin had an al dente bite that, when bitten through, revealed the tenderness of the oxtail contained within it. Combine these with the refined flavours of the soup and you get a soup dumpling that rivals the best of the Shanghainese and Cantonese versions.
The red tuna crudo was more understated than either the oxtail soup or the prosciutto pizza. The tuna was silky smooth, with only hints of the briny, saltiness of the bottarga. This would be a very nice dish if it was eaten as a lone appetizer. But since we were sharing many and we ate it after both the soup and the pizza, we were having a hard time getting any flavours from the dish. That was entirely our fault and not a problem with the dish at all.
After eating everything that was mentioned above, we were each pretty full. But I couldn’t resist taking a look at the dessert menu. I have a rule to always order dessert – no matter how full I was – if the restaurant had a dedicated pastry chef. Cin Cin did have it’s own pastry chef so I ordered two desserts to be shared between the four of us.
We ordered the chocolate purses:
And, of course, we had the tiramisu:
The tiramisu had a bold, bitter coffee taste but no flavour of alcohol. I was on board with the bold coffee flavour, though I felt like there should’ve been a little more alcoholic kick as well. I also would’ve liked a more soaked texture to the lady fingers as opposed to this version’s drier texture.
The chocolate purses was the better of the two desserts. The phyllo pastry ‘purses’ were hot, flaky and crispy. Biting into them, I experienced an initial rich, chocolaty burst followed by the familiar texture of carmelized, cooked apple.
Overall, the meal was a pretty good one. There were definitely misses, but there were also more hits. I thought that Cin Cin definitely merited at least a second visit so that I could try the various meat dishes. As I was sitting there thinking about what I would order when I visit this restaurant for a second time, I witnessed our server bringing an amuse-bouche of sunchoke puree to the table next to us. Then I overhead our server giving a description of the amuse along with his comment that he preferred the sunchoke over the artichoke. Interesting, I thought. A sunchoke puree, what a nice and inviting first offering from the chef….wait a minute…why didn’t I get an amuse bouche? Was it because they ordered a bottle of wine and we didn’t? The chef probably won’t discriminated based on profit-per-table, I thought. Was it because we didn’t ordered any secondi dishes? Was it because we had kids with us? That didn’t make sense because I’ve been to many a michelin-starred (or ‘fine-dining’) restaurant where my daughter was offered several courses of amuse-bouches when we only ordered one dish for her. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been to a restaurant where I was passed over for amuses when they were offered to other patrons.
I felt a bit offended. Just a bit. I didn’t bother to ask the server why because I didn’t want to create a situation where he or his superior(s) would have to offer me an apology, explanation, and possibly even compensation. I liked my meal experience as it was. The food was generally good and the server provided us with excellent service. It’s just the last part…I wasn’t amused by the last part. Hopefully next time, if there is a next time, I’ll somehow be deemed worthy to be ‘amused’.
Oh, by the way, we did get petit fours before we got our bill: