A Kits spot abuzz with satisfied customers

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Good food, great service, everyday prices spell success

Mia Stainsby


1850 West Fourth Ave., 604-732-1441.


Open for lunch and dinner, 7 days a week.

No reservations.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone.

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In the first few weeks, Trattoria Italian Kitchen buzzed like an apiary, with people on the street waiting for a table. Inside, it was even more hive-like. It takes something special, beyond the no-reservations policy, to cause this kind of kerfuffle in a restaurant.

At the Trat, the fourth (and not last) of the Glowbal group of restaurants, it comes down to good food, great service and everyday prices for yummy, yummy food.

On my first visit, I thought I’d been outed. The attentiveness! The friendly staff! The eagerness to please! The jovial chatter! It was abnormal.

I soon saw it wasn’t just me. Everyone was treated equally well.

People waiting for a table, both indoors and on the street, were offered nibblies and were chatted up by one or other of the senior staff.

Emad Yacoub, head of the Glowbal empire (Glowbal, Coast, Sanafir, Italian Kitchen), is smart. Some of the managers are allowed to invest in his restaurants, so what’s good for the restaurant is good for them.

And while some of the buzz is the rush to check out the sexy newbie in the neighbourhood, this place will be a thriving neighbourhood trat for some time to come. And, you know, it’s not just locals that it attracts. I can see myself coming from a distance after being struck by a craving for the Kobe beef meatballs (baseball size, $2.50 a pop) or the papparadelle with lamb sausage ($13).

As I said, the food is a big part of the success. Chef Jeremy Atkins rose up through the ranks of the Glowbal restaurants. He’s delivering great quality for the prices.

Glowbal’s got the advantage of buying in volume and getting a price break. I expected the kitchen would focus on pizzas and pastas (thumbs up on both) and that the entree-style dishes would be so-so. Well, not so. My half-chicken ($13) was juicy and flavourful. A forno-roasted whole trout stuffed with anise, lemon and herbs ($14) was rustically prepared and spot-on.

Note, however, that there isn’t much in the way of side dishes on the menu — they’re $6 apiece, if you want, but the cost of a meal is still very reasonable.

I loved the antipasto misto. It’s a $28 platter for sharing, and my share would have been enough for a meal. It was an uber-plate filled with roasted asparagus and mushrooms, Kobe meatballs, eggplant parmigiana, osso bucco croquette, forno-roasted clams, caprese salad, tiger prawns, and calamari with spicy tomato fonduta. Atkins uses dried pasta, but I would have sworn it was housemade. He divulged his pasta cooking technique: “You can’t cook too much at a time. If it says cook for 12 minutes, we cook it for six. And cool it properly, on a sheet tray with oil. And don’t rinse the starch off. It’s important! And you’ve got to let the noodles cook in the sauce for 30-ish seconds.”

Hey, I thought. Forget about about making my own pasta and drying the noodles all over my kitchen and dining room. I’m going back to dried De Cecco.

And the chicken isn’t organic or free-range, although it measures up, flavour-wise. He takes it off the breastbone and dries it on a sheet tray for 12 hours, “seasoning very aggressively with lemon zest and rosemary,” he says. Thus, the crispy skin. The wine list, with well-chosen Italian selections, is strong for a casual restaurant.

Yacoub says the next two operations will be a “sporty lounge” where Coast currently sits. And Coast will move to Alberni Street, next to Italian Kitchen. Beside Coast, a lounge called O.

And that’s it, as far as his expansionist moves go. “I promised my wife I’m going to stop,” he says.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

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