Monday, November 7, 2011

Italian/Opera Buffet at Cafe Pacifica

Cafe Pacifica on Urbanspoon

Walked out of the Pan Pacific Vancouver on Saturday night with a $144.42 bill (before tip). Yoicks!
Was it worth it? Yes, but for inobvious reasons. Anyway, here's how the bill (before 12% Harmonized Sales Tax) broke down:

  • $9.50 one brandy alexander
  • $11 one glass of wine
  • $4.95 one peppermint tea
  • $5.50 one mocha latte
  • $98 two Italian Buffet

The Saturday-only reservations-definitely-required Italian buffet features almost more types of (made in-house) desserts than hot and cold buffet items. Nothing particularly imaginative on the menu here. Quality is good considering it's a buffet -- which means the hot food sits in buffet servers and cold items sit exposed for way too long. This situation can't be helped and is a common malady of any buffet anywhere, so you must expect a deterioration in quality if you go even one hour later. Happily, the dessert selection of mostly light cakes and is generally unaffected by this, although ham-fisted diners may butcher a cake into an unappealing roadkill.

The best solution is probably to go right at 6pm when they open, to get the freshest food. If you go later, you may want to think twice about picking up certain things, to avoid disappointment. For example, there was a plate of bruschetta with melted cheese. Sitting out in the open obviously means the cheese has solidified, and in any case, cold bruschetta isn't exactly the most appealing thing. If you are not dining alone, someone will have to take one for the team and report on its palatability.
Something else you should look carefully at is pasta, especially lasagne. The lasagne on Saturday night was thin/flat and little better than sauce smeared between lasagne layers. Maybe it was somehow better and tastier when it first came out, but closer to 9pm it looked like something an amateur chef slaps on your plate at a cheap diner.
Not all the hot food items are write-offs, however. There were still-tender medium-rare cuts of meat sitting in sauce that were still decent even at the late hour.

The desserts -- mostly light cakes -- are worth a very close look and as it is all-you-can-eat here too, it's easily worth the $49 on its own. It's made in-house, so there isn't that distinctive aroma (of preservatives?) that's common to most shipped-in desserts. And dessert being what it is, the excellent quality will hold steady throughout the night (except possibly the chilled cream-in-a-cup items).

Most people will have two heaping plates of dinner and regret not having room for dessert -- big mistake here! Also, sneak over to the main course tables and grab a large plate instead of the small tea cup plates to assemble your dessert so you get a good selection. It's best to have a buddy here to share so you can try more items. Careful about the cakes when you cut and move them over because they are delicate, and most fell apart on me.

If you are still around after 9pm there is a chance that a kind server will agree to give you a doggy bag for a modest amount of dessert if you haven't finished it -- which was our case when my dining companion asked. It all gets tossed anyway, according to food service rules, even if no human hand has touched it. Once it's served, it's either eaten or thrown out.

It'd be poor form if you asked for this earlier in the night with lots of diners around, however. A small amount isn't bad and not a big deal for a guest or two, but it's a bad precedent to set at a buffet as it could lead to everyone heaping their plates after they were full and asking for doggy bag. You might feel justified doing this at $49 per person for the buffet dinner, but it's really gauche.

There's a pianist and two opera singers -- it's not called an Opera Buffet for nothing. If you are thinking of front row seating, you should consider that carefully. If you've never heard live opera, you'd be surprised how far they can project their voices, and if you're front and center, you may end up trying to talk over them (which would be awkward) or do the polite thing and listen attentively until they are done before getting in snippets of conversation in between or during their intermissions.

If you're really just there for the opera selection (which, sadly, seems to be easily recognizable favourites, including a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, of course), you don't even have to be in the Cafe Pacific to enjoy it: You hear it just fine from the neighbouring bar, Cascades Lounge. Plus you'll have the freedom of comfortably chatting with your companions as you please.

In case you're wondering, you can't pay for the buffet and take it at the bar if the Cafe Pacifica is full. That's just the policy, although apparently some people have gotten away with it before. If you ask the bar staff they may initially assure you that you can be accommodated that way but they'll have to apologize and about-face if they hit the restaurant manager. Be kind to your server and don't put them in that awkward position.

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