Tuesday, July 1, 2014

La Pentola Famiglia Supper Series

La Pentola della Quercia on Urbanspoon The last time I was at a "communal table" dinner was waaay back in 2009, at an Irish Heather Long Table Series. Back then, it was $12. They are still doing it, though at $18. I was recommended La Pentola della Quercia and managed to find a few friends to join me for their Famiglia Supper Series. The website blurb reads:
La Pentola’s Famiglia Supper Series is a multi-course event hosted the last Sunday of each month by Chef Lucais Syme.Join us at 6PM to dine family style at a communal table with your neighbours and friends as we serve 10 + courses featuring a different ingredient each month.
If you have been to the Long Table Series, or are expecting some sort of long communal table where you may be seated next to complete strangers, then (for better or worse), you might want to sneak a peek first at what the Famiglia Supper Series looks like. (And it's easy to peek in from the corner of Davie and Hamilton because of the way the street slopes up; it's equally a great place to watch the foot traffic go by, including a veritable parade of Yaletown hotties).
On the night we were there (just this past Sunday), there were two larger parties, seated separately at table arranged to accommodate them. Two smaller parties (ourselves) and I think one couple. The smaller parties were also arranged into their own dining tables, by moving about the large square tables in the dining room. The layout of the place doesn't really allow for a single very long table.
The good news here is flexible seating: If you are really looking for a venue to host a fairly large dinner party, you can just sign your group up for the Famiglia Supper Series and expect to get your own large table. If they are not too busy, you might even be able to get away with a table for just two.

You can also expect conversation to be tricky beyond the person adjacent or opposite you, in part because of the noise level, but also because the tables are generously wide (around 1 meter). Depending on the attendance level, you might have just two persons per table, which means a lot of elbow room but possibly also a lot more reaching for the food and futile attempts to talk to anyone who isn't your neighbour.
If you are dropping in for dinner or are hoping for a quieter time, you could possibly ask to be seated at/near the bar, which is a separate section from the dining area.

What's for dinner varies, but sometimes (as it was on Sunday), there is a theme to it:
This 10+ course dinner pays homage to Italian Summer grilling, and will feature a nose to tail boar dinner from the grill, alongside farm fresh vegetables, pasta, and grilled seafood.
So, really you should call ahead if you have allergies or particular preferences (e.g., if you really don't like pork and it happens that they will be putting things together from a boar). That said, there is apparently some flexibility here because the kitchen very helpfully arranged for one of our party to receive an individual plate of non-pig items whenever the course served had some part of the theme animal.

Dinner is scheduled for 6 PM, but the food doesn't roll out till much later (estimated 6:30 PM), so there is some leeway for being late, though the restaurant will doubtless be somewhat anxious if there are a lot of potential no-shows. There's a lot of mass cooking and plating going on, so time can drag between courses. In the end, we were there till almost 10 PM, if I remember correctly. And since you are at a "communal table", there's no rushing ahead if you are in a hurry. Everyone more or less gets out at the same time, depending on how quickly you finish your dessert.
Which also means if you wait too long, you might be stuck in a long queue for individual bills. You may want to ask for your bill ahead of time.

Food is plated "family style", meaning instead of individual plates, they brought out plates where 2-4 portions are arranged, or a single plate with a heap of stuff. There's a roll of bread for the table as well, but don't load up as soon as it comes out -- you might be too full to finish the dinner, and in any case you might want to use some of the bread to get at any tasty sauce or jus left on a plate.
At 10+ courses, each plate can look really stingy -- invariably your fair portion is gone in two or three bites. The features of each plate are portioned out for the number of persons at the table (e.g., 1 scallop per person), but the rest is up for grabs, and there's not a lot to go around. At 10+ courses, however, it all slowly adds up, so you really have to discipline yourself to share and to trust that the restaurant will feed you properly for the $55 per person they are asking for.

Our dinner had some mundane items (antipasti platter to start), some token items (pasta with "smoky" flavour), and some experimental items (bitter burnt cherries to go with a burnt lemon sorbet?). The rest of the dishes were very nicely put together and the worst you could possibly say was that the food was good, if not very good.
Price for value is also pretty decent at basically $5 per dish. It's like putting together dinner with a bunch of appetizers -- it will cost you more, but you get to try more items.

Service was friendly, patient, and pleasant. Bussing was efficient and you never wanted for water.

The announcement for the month's Famiglia Supper is typically announced online in the second week, along with something about the menu. However, you can call before then to get your name in early.

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