Ah, yes. I remember this lobster ravioli fondly.
The portion is much larger than my first encounter, at Bis Moreno 10 years ago, where it was served as elegant medallions on a seven-course tasting menu. But the handmade pasta is just as silky. The simple San Marzano tomato sauce still tastes as bright as Neapolitan sunshine. The filling, cooked in white wine, tossed with butter and lightly pulsed, has the same meaty texture.
Moreno Miotto has been making this signature dish since 1992, when he opened his first restaurant, Da Moreno, in Prince George. He introduced it to Vancouver in 2003, when he launched the multi-award-winning Bis Moreno and turned pasta into high art. He brought it to Tuscany, where he was executive chef at Castiglion del Bosco, an ultra-luxe private resort owned by fashion titan Massimo Ferragamo. And now he's serving it at Beyond Restaurant + Lounge in the Century Plaza Hotel.
It's true. One of Canada's finest chefs is running a budget hotel dining room. If you can look past the cheesy décor – a dog's breakfast of river rock, crystal, white leather, grey tartan, glass-walled ramps and Lego-like blocks of multi-coloured nightclub lighting – you're in for a treat.
Go for the pasta. The dough is all hand-made and the sauces exquisitely balanced. But do delve deeper into the menu to see how four years in Italy profoundly changed this chef.
Bis Moreno was ahead of its time. Although it won a slew of awards, including EnRoute's second-best new restaurant in all of Canada, Vancouverites were not ready to embrace fine-dining Italian. The tasting menus, the small portions, the fussiness, the wine pairings, the dark-suited waitstaff and minimalist decor were so far removed from the hearty, home-style trattorias most customers had grown up with.
When it closed, in 2005, Mr. Miotto returned to Prince George and opened a French bistro. But it was in Tuscany, two years later, when he began working with ingredients freshly plucked from the estate's vast gardens, that he fell in love with simple seasonal cooking.
At Bis Moreno, it took 10 to 12 moves to compose a single dish. At Beyond, chef takes some gorgeously creamy handmade ricotta, flavours it with fresh chard and sage butter and grates a little Regianno over top. Uncomplicated. Delicious.
He creates a new single-ingredient seasonal menu each month. In March, it was chard. In April, asparagus. This month, he's showcasing spot prawns. The monthly menus have five to seven items, including new recipes and old classics.
In March, for instance, Mr. Miotto made ribollita, a traditional Tuscan stew that varies from village to village. In Montalcino, it is made with kale. A few kilometres away, kale would be sacrilegious. There, it has always been made with chard. Mr. Miotto used the latter, letting it rest overnight with white beans, mirepoix and spinach. Instead of stale bread, he added cubes of grilled brioche that had been dried out for a day, and finished the plate with scallions and a drizzle of peppery extra virgin olive oil. To learn about the dish was almost as satisfying as the experience of eating it.
It's not all peasant fare. The April menu featured white asparagus with truffle oil, an old dish from Bis Moreno. There was also a classic risotto, dense with perfectly al dente green asparagus and house-smoked steelhead.
In addition to simple and seasonal, the cooking is more broadly Mediterranean. The regular menu features a lovely heirloom beet salad with pine nut hummus and verjus vinaigrette. The braised lamb shank, created by sous chef Kayla Dhalliwal of Top Chef Canada fame, is a refined version of the classic with delicately brunoised vegetables and a lively minted mirepoix.
Mr. Miotto has put together a great team, largely drawn from Il Giardino and Umberto Menghi's Whistler restaurants (he was director of operations for two years before joining Beyond in September). The cooking is flawless even when the chef's not in the kitchen. The desserts, including an elegantly glossy hazelnut chocolate bar layered with Bavarian cream, are classic. Service is smoothly efficient.
The wine list, which has consistently won Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence since 2007, is a pleasant discovery. With a special focus on British Columbia and Italy, it includes many rare verticals, high-end reserve reds and affordable surprises.
Then there's the room. The owners are planning a major renovation in September, but in the meantime, it's spectacularly ugly and has all the ambience of a morgue. Don't say I didn't warn you. But if you can get beyond the surroundings, you will find some excellent meals inside.
Special to The Globe and Mail