Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Modest-looking pasta portions at Cosca

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As I mentioned in the previous post, the Food Bloggers had another dinner outing to Cosca on Tuesday night. I touched on the appetizers there. On to the pasta!

The regular price of the pastas is $14-16, and the portion you get is maybe two measuring cups worth of pasta.
No, really. Two measuring cups.
It looks like about a half litre in volume. If your pasta was $15, you might just balk at the portion size, especially if you're expecting something like what you might get at Spaghetti Factory or chow mien at a Chinese Restaurant. Pasta (and noodles in general) is cheap filler and anyone can cook it al dente. But what you're really paying for is the sauce: For the chef to know what they are doing and to put together a combination with tasty ingredients.
They can throw in more pasta to make volume, but if you think about it, that's not going to really be worth an extra $2 or so. At $14-$16 a plate, even if you think that is a bit on the pricey side, getting more volume isn't the real issue here. It's whether they did a good job with the sauce and ingredients -- i.e., how good does it taste?
Also, you may only *think* it's a small portion, in comparison to what you've had elsewhere. But for how it turned out, read on...

At Cosca, there is a "Pasta Platter" option -- instead of ordering an individual dish, you team up with someone else and put together three or four pastas to try. This works out to $16 per person for three types of pasta, or $18 per person for four types. We were three persons and we ordered three types of pasta.
Stop to think about this before you jump on the platter option. Three people could separately order three items at $14-$16 -- instead of being charged $16 (high end of their menu price) three times. Each of the three portions was about the same as an individual portion, from what I could tell looking at the other table of Food Bloggers. *Possibly* slightly less.
If we were two persons and three or four pastas, this might have worked out better and fairer for both restaurant and patron because the restaurant is now making only two meal portions, but has to do more work to pump out four types of pasta.

For food bloggers, this can be a particularly bad setup if you have too many people sharing because all the pasta comes side-by-side on the same plate. Depending on how carelessly your dining companions grab food, you can end up with a mix and mess on the plate where the flavours get mixed up. Finally, you get one plate where you put the food you scooped up. Sauce and stuff will end up as "residue" on that plate, so your next food item will sit on it and might have the flavour confused. Some of the dishes come with a LOT of marinara or tomato sauce.
If you find yourself in this position, one tactic would be to get a bit of everything at the start and keep them carefully separated on your plate. That, or ask for a new plate each time, which might seem really petty.

Finally, when it's just the one server trying to get God-knows-how-many orders from 15 people organized, mistakes can happen. And it did. The various platter orders got mixed up and one of the three pastas wasn't what we ordered at all. We didn't want to send the whole thing back to the kitchen (where they'd probably chuck it all), so we accepted the order anyway.
Our server, Wheldon, offered to make it up to us with extra servings after. We got what amounted to three orders of pasta, for free, on top of what we ordered -- including a repeat order of Taliolini Nero, which was correctly ordered and did appear on the initial platter.

What ended up landing at our table, make-up orders included, was:

  • Cannelloni Cosca ($16; roasted veal and root vegetable stuffed cannelloni, marinara, fonitna [fontina?])
  • Linguini Pesto e Gamberi  ($16; shrimp, sundried tomato, pesto-cream sauce)
  • Orecchiette Aspargi ($15; sauteed asparagus, prosciutto, fresh tomato, extra virgin olive oil, parmigiano)
  • Rotolo Carciofi ($15; pasta sheet medallions with artichoke, goat cheese stuffing in a sundried tomato and pesto sauce)
  • Tagliolini Nero ($16; squid ink pasta, diver scallops, pesto cream, BC salmon roe)

Cannelloni Cosca was surprisingly good. Too much marinara sauce provided, so go easy on that if you want a good taste of the tasty meat. You get two spring roll sized tubes slightly less than 1 inch in diameter.

The Linguini Pesto e Gamberi (pesto and shrimp linguine) was one of the make-up dishes, so we may have gotten a less-than-normal portion -- especially on the "shrimp", which turned out to be decent sized prawns, but only two of them. The few slivers of sundried tomato had very nice sweetness to them, but without it, the linguini and sauce was surprisingly bland. Almost like having no sauce at all, but not quite. Not enough pesto? Try to get sundried tomato with every bite.

On the Orecchiette Aspargi, I really shouldn't say anything because I don't think I got a proper scoop of it. It's small pieces of pasta and chopped up ingredients, and probably between using tongs and trying to keep enough on the plate for everyone to share, I didn't get a proper enough sample. I didn't find the asparagus , prosciutto, or tomato made a reasonable presence, but they may have just fallen off or gone off with someone else's tong portion. Yet another reason to get your own plate of pasta.

The Rotolo Caciofi ("artichoke rolls") I didn't like much, in part because I don't like goat cheese much. It's not very strong here, so if you're normally averse to pungent goat cheese, this may still be palatable to you. I found the taste of the cheese dominated everything else.

Tagliolini Nero ("black noodles") was my pasta choice for the platter, and only because it was, to me, the most interesting thing on the menu. The squid ink used in the making of the pasta makes the noodles come out very, very, black. Slick with sauce, from a distance it might look like very dark seaweed. The squid ink didn't seem to make a difference to me in taste, however. Two scallops. No sign of salmon roe, curiously enough. It's possible the menu is outdated and that ingredient has now been taken out of the recipe entirely.

As for how the portions turned out, we had leftovers on the initial platters. It wasn't clear whether people were carefully saving room for dessert, daunted by the messy leftovers on the platters (another reason to get your own order!), didn't like it enough, or genuinely had enough. Since a dessert portion is pretty big, the half-litre serving size may in fact be a good size -- if you are staying for dessert.
Still, if the price is going to be as high as $16, they could at least throw in some extra filler -- er, I mean pasta. As it is, my first instinct would be to say it's overpriced by about $1 to $2.

Finally, on to desserts in the next post!

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