1130 Mainland St.

Signature Drink: Va Va Voom
Signature Dish: Paella Cakes
Rating: **** 1/2
Dinner & drinks for 2: Less than $100

It’s a simple little name—R.TL. It’s not even really a name, more like a monogram off a hotel’s towel. It stands for Regional Tasting Menus. What, you were expecting something else? Something like, say, Red Tarragon Mozzarella? Or maybe Real Tasty Meat? Sorry to disappoint, but it’s all about simplicity here. And what could be more simple than a name that describes precisely what it is that you do?

It’s a simple concept for simple times. Two theme regions every three months, plus B.C. as the permanent third region. Prices are also simple at $9 to $14 a plate. Portions are generous and the room is just peachy, with comfy white banquets and chairs, dark wood tables and some interesting art. Not to mention a huge bookshelf at the back, filled with—wait for it—reading material! Cookbooks, photo collectives, you name it, they have it. Can I get a library card?

M. was late, so my charming server offered me a tome while I waited. Hmm, I suddenly have a vision of singleton dining having a renaissance. Plus, the auto-sensor sliding glass door is Star Trek über-cool.

The two theme regions when we visited were the Middle East and Spain, which turned out to be a great little combo. There are about five to seven selections per region, but it’s a well thought out menu.

We started with some Lebanese flatbread ($5) that came with a lovely little yogurt, raisin and mint dip, as well as a garlic humus-style spread and some spiced butter. Yum. From the B.C. menu, chia-seed (no, not chia pets, chia seed) crusted scallops ($14) with carrot puree and quince. The some port-soaked black figs and goat’s cheese on crostini ($11), which could have used a little more goat’s cheese for our taste, but was happily heavy on the figs (I like my sweet), honey and balsamic. Paella cakes ($11) were delicious, crispy on the outside, meaty on the inside. The fried haloumi cheese ($12) with dates and pears was worth a loud encore. The Berkshire pork belly ($13) was a rich square stacked over braised purple cabbage, cipollinis and an aromatic apple compote. We were too stuffed for the saffron ice cream, but I will be back and next month I’ll be visiting France and Portugal. Jealous?

The Many Sides of Pinot: Pinot Noir
Pinot noir is one of the most popular varietals in the world and is used to produce some of the best wines on the global marketplace. It is most commonly associated with the Burgundy region in France, but here in B.C. it has no lack of growers, either. One to try from the Oliver area is Church and State’s Coyote Bowl Vineyard Pinot Noir. This is an attractive full-bodied red that can stand some cellaring, with hints of caramel and brown sugar. Approx. $26.00 at VQA and private wine merchants.

Better Than a Shoe Sale

Tickets to the popular Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival are now on sale and are available by phone at 604-873-3311, in person at 127 East 2 Ave or online at www.playhousewinefest.com (select events only). This event sells out quickly, so buy soon!

Dining Out

Pan-Italian Feasting
Starting in February, Cibo Trattoria will be offering a five-course tasting menu for $48 one evening each month, showcasing the diverse regional cuisines and wines of Italy. The first event is on February 4 and will celebrate the cuisine of the Piemonte region with dishes like potato-pancetta ravioli, fritto misto and braised beef. Call 604-602-9570.

For the Love of Riesling

Fuel Restaurant will be offering a five-course dinner for $60 (optional wine parings $50) celebrating the diversity of Riesling in the glass and on the plate. The menu will be available February 19, 20 and 21 and includes slow roasted wild chum salmon, marinated Qualicum bay scallops and crispy duck. Call 604-288-7905.

Food in Brief
Chocolate for Breakfast? Why not, according to the cookbook’s author Barbara Passino, the superstar chef from Oak Knoll Inn in the Napa Valley. I tried the chocolate taco recipe and had a small melt-down. Get it on www.amazon.ca.

Dine Out Extensions. Nu, Raincity Grill and C Restaurant are all extending their Dine Out menus to February 11. Call the restaurant of your choice for reservations.