Downtown’s new dish

Cucina adds flavour to 8th Avenue

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Fans of Teatro will be happy to hear that the restaurant group has opened a new spot. Cucina, located across from Holt Renfrew on Eighth Avenue S.W., is a charming new bistro and market concept that’s bound to be a hit.

Open all day, Cucina features breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, plus to-go options with a full coffee bar serving Phil and Sebastian coffee (a particularly delightful part of this service are the clever “draft taps” that offer milk, cream and water.)

The décor is a welcoming mix of chic meets rustic, with beautiful black-and-white tile, reclaimed wood tables and benches, turn-of-the-century china cabinets and airy light fixtures.

Meeting two friends on a chilly Tuesday night, we’re seated at a large communal table near the open kitchen. As we’re settling in, our server brings us water and relays the evening’s feature dishes — Cucina offers a daily risotto, market fish and soup option.

The dinner menu is split into two categories, primi and secondi, plus dessert. To start, we order the antipasti plate ($19) with an additional serving of crostini ($4) and the delectable vitello tonnato ($14).

Served on a large wood platter, this antipasti plate is loaded with goodies like thinly sliced strip loin topped with fresh horseradish, house-cured pastrami, Broek Acre’s pork, a fantastically fresh chicken rillette with parsley, Gorgonzola, a variation of provolone, fresh honeycomb, olive tapenade and a house-made apple mustard. We love every bite — from the great pairing of Gorgonzola and honeycomb, to the country pork with apple mustard.

The vitello tonnato is simply stunning. Featuring thin slices of a milk-fed veal strip loin prepared sous vide, the tender meat is topped with an emulsion of tuna and olive oil, fresh arugula and fried capers. The textures are sublime — the fried capers provide a light crunch, the arugula offers a fresh peppery pop, and the emulsion is rich and creamy.

For our mains we decide to share two dishes family-style. The first is the beef osso bucco ($26). Osso bucco is Italian for “bone with a hole,” which is why our Silver Sage beef shank is served with the bone — complete with marrow and spoon. Braised to a perfect tenderness, the savoury beef is complemented by a creamy Parmigiano polenta and fresh red pepper gremolata for contrast.

Our second secondi is the spicy broccolini spaghetti ($21), a dish comprised of Korean chili-cured broccolini, pancetta and Italian parsley. Packing a piquant punch, the Korean chili plays nice with the fatty goodness of the pancetta and fresh parsley. I like the heat of this dish, but it can be intense — I’m glad that we shared it rather than having a full portion to myself.

For dessert we share bites of the chocolate cake ($9) and the apple thyme tart ($9). Topped with a salted caramel dark chocolate icing, the rich chocolate cake is perfectly sweet with nice pops of salt and fresh raspberries.

The apple thyme tart is a light and tasty slice of heaven. Even though I’d love to experience a hint more of thyme, the overall tart and its accompanying cinnamon Chantilly cream is exceptional.

Cucina is a vibrant new offering for those who love to explore great cuisine, or are just looking for a new to-go option in the downtown core. But they don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait when things are really hopping.

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