There has been much ado about the death of traditional fine dining. And if one were to judge its future by the standards set at Tramonto in the River Rock Casino Resort, I'd say the final nail was just hammered into the coffin.
Richmond, granted, is a far cry from Las Vegas. And the River Rock is no Bellagio. But I'd heard good things about this upscale Italian restaurant. It was given an honourable mention in the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards. Could it be an undiscovered gem? As with all reviews, I ascended the casino's curved escalator (the first of its kind in Canada) full of hope.
My expectations deflated the minute I saw the room. It was tiny, dark and cramped. I'm sure the riverside view is beautiful at dusk (Tramonto means sunset in Italian). But later at night, the large windows only reflect the harsh lighting, dark wood, cheesy carpeting and overall sports-bar ambience.
Seated in the middle of the room with an overhead spotlight blazing up the starched-tablecloth setting, I had an amusing view of a large family dining a few seats down. The patriarch, head tilted back and eyes closed, was snoring to the high heavens. The children all had their brightly coloured parkas tossed over the back of their chairs. (The restaurant does have a coat check, though nobody seemed to be using it.)
Tramonto bills itself as having a "five-star setting." What does that even mean any more? Once upon a time, it implied haughty waiters and hushed rooms. The servers at Tramonto did hover attentively, pouring wine from a decanter and replenishing water after each sip (or so it seemed). But what with the rowdies at the next table laughing so loud, they had to lean in uncomfortably close to be heard. I was tempted to offer one gentleman breath mints.
Fine dining has become so relaxed – in general, not just at Tramonto – the only real way to make a distinction is by price. Here at The Globe and Mail, we have two rating systems: fine dining and casual. If a restaurant charges upwards of $30 for entrées, I classify it as fine dining. Tramonto certainly fits this (overpriced) bill.
Much like the décor, the menu is caught in time warp harking back to the mid-1990s. And there is nothing wrong with classic cuisine. But when risotto is topped with a beautiful poached lobster tail, the ingredients should never be insulted with a pinched crust of creamy saffron broth that had obviously been sitting under a heat lamp too long.
Beef tenderloin tartare may have been hand-cut, as boasted on the menu, but the dicing must have occurred much earlier in the evening. By the time the truffle-adorned dish arrived at the table, the protein had leached out of the raw steak, transforming it into milky mush.
Garganelli coddled in blue-cheese cream sauce and softly braised short rib was fine, albeit a bit rib-sticky for fine dining. Lamb rack crusted with garlic-parsley persillade was cooked to medium-rare perfection. A ratatouille-stuffed tomato on the side was cutely quaint.
But is the type of restaurant where I'd go to celebrate a birthday or special anniversary? No. I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I didn't even want to linger for dessert.
There will always be a place for fine dining. Those rarefied rooms where one is treated like a princess and the food evokes awe will never die off completely. Unfortunately, Tramonto is not one of those.