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Oct 21, 2009 10:40 AM

Wild Mushroom & Game alla Famiglia at La Buca: A Chowdown Report (Vancouver)

I first have to say that this is one of the best restaurant experiences I have had in Vancouver. The meal just kept getting better as each course was delivered to our table. Those familiar with Andre Durbach's other restaurants will not be surprised at this meal's level of quality. They hit this one out of the park.

La Buca is a casual, unpretentious neighbourhood Italian restaurant. It is often listed as one of the fine-dining options here in Vancouver - but if you look around the room, you will see families from the surrounding area dressed casually as if dining at a typical Italian red-sauce neighbourhood joint.

The Family Style dinner at La Buca is a prix fixe ($55) option for six or more diners. The selection of courses were inspired by a typical Italian alla Famiglia dishes - but refined and elevated to fine-dining quality and presentation. The dishes were served on large and rustically presented shared plates. Even with the level of refinement, it never felt stiff - it was a relaxing well paced meal.

I will try to recall all the dishes:
-Melon and Prosciutto (cliched or classic depending on how you look at was a great amuse)
-Porcini Salad with truffle dressing (nice meaty pieces of mushrooms, subtle truffle flavour)
-Quail and Lentils (henceforth known as "That Quail Incident")
-Goat Cheese and Dried Cherry Ravioli with Chanterelle (an astonishingly good dish. It tasted like eating savoury cherry danish...almost dessert-like)
-Spaghetti Puttanesca -(nicely balanced and pungent with anchovy and capers)
-Fettucini Bolognese (very good rich Bolognese - a refined take on a red-sauce classic )
-Duck Leg confit with wine reduction (beautifully crisp and tender)
-Seared Tuna with a garlic butter sauce (not sure how Tuna fits into the theme, but a fish dish is a requirement)
-A medley of Vegetables (peas, broccoli, etc.)

For dessert:
-Sugar donuts with syrup ( so good....crisp and yielding with a soft interior)
-Pear Zabaglione

They do have a wine pairing option (perhaps two)...but we decided to do our own pairings. Some of us shared a bottle or two. Of note for me was the 2006 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina (mostly Sangiovese) that paired very well with the meal - especially the pasta dishes.

The service was professional, personable and prompt - typifying a Durbach restaurant.

I wish more restaurants offered Family Style dining here in town. This style of eating offers variety and progression that you won't get a la carte. (Of course we are familiar with the norm of Chinese Family Style dining, but restaurants of other cuisines should really be offering this option.) If you have a party of six or more definitely give La Buca's alla Famiglia table a try.

More pics as usual here:

La Buca Restaurant
4025 MacDonald St, Vancouver, BC V6L2N8, CA

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  1. What's the quail incident? So, you didn't get a horse course then? Was there eight of you? If so, did everyone get enough of each dish, any leftovers? I ask that because the veggies looked small for 8 people. It sounds wonderful, sorry I missed it, but even if I booked it I wouldn't have been able to go. I am home on Tamiflu with our office's first confirmed case of H1N1. l am off work all this week! (Got sick on the evening of our dim sum mini down Friday).

    1 Reply
    1. re: ck1234

      There was plenty of food when you add it all up....I left stuffed. No we didn't get the cavallo.

      The quail incident involved me taking more than my share of quail! ;-)

      Get well soon! Wonton Soup works wonders, BTW.

    2. Minor correction...the fettucini mentioned is actually a tagliatelle.

      12 Replies
          1. re: fmed

            A year later and this time it was alla famiglia with my actual famiglia, as opposed to my CH one ;-). We were celebrating several October birthdays hence the cute candles. We went on a Sunday as they don't offer this dining option on Friday or Saturday.

            There was quite a focus on mushrooms. appropriately, with them showing up in the brodo and the first app (second photo). You know the drill now, so I'll just post some food porn pix for your enjoyment. It was another top notch meal and dining experience.

            1. re: grayelf

              We had to miss our annual birthday alla famiglia dining last year because of an illness in the family, so it made this year's even more special. We were there last Saturday for the wild mushroom and game festival. The six of us were served arugula salad with whipped gorgonzola, tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar, mixed wild mushrooms on toast, deep fried rock shrimp with lemon aioli, a triple-header pasta course of wild mushroom risotto, housemade tagliatelle with veal and bison ragu and spaghetti carbonara, braised veal short ribs with parmesan polenta with assorted veg contorni and local ling cod with lemon, olive oil and parsley. Dessert was zabaglione with the biggest blackberries I've ever seen and toasted orange biscotti plus chocolate pie with quenelles of whipped cream and salted caramel sauce. No pix this year but I can tell you this was a topnotch meal. The standouts for me were the salad (Durbach is a dab hand with salads in general I've noticed), the risotto (so toothsome), the polenta (gah!), the ling cod (super simple but perfectly cooked which is no mean feat) and the desserts. There were no duds at all and I would order virtually everything again a la carte. Minor quibbles for me were the char lines on the toast (but others loved that so could be just me), the aioli being too strong for the shrimp (rectified by eating it on its own, drool) and my continued lack of enthusiasm for the "red sauce" ragus here (again, I was the only one, so a personal preference). Service was meticulous but unassuming as usual. And the price is still $55 a person for a superfluity of victuals. I took more than half of my portion of ribs home. We had two bottles of a 2010 Fontanella Chianti at $40 a pop plus some bubbly water. We asked that rabbit not be included as one diner has a fairly strong aversion to it but it was on the a la carte special menu, as were sweetbreads which to my chagrin did not come out for us (I think everyone else in my party was relieved!). So impressed with La Buca's consistency and staying power in the fickle dining market that is Vancouver. Looking forward to using my birthday gift certificate for an a la carte meal in December...

                1. re: grayelf

                  We were there on Saturday night and went for the 4 course menu as it was only two of us. We noticed diners a couple of tables over from us eating alla famiglia but were surprised at how different the menu was!

                  No pictures unfortunately as we were too hungry to bother. Scallop carpaccio with duck prosciutto, wild mushroom salad, tagliatelle alla boscaiola, spaghetti with rock shrimp and chilis, an impeccably cooked bison steak, and the chianti-braised rabbit (maybe similar to the one you skipped). Everything was fantastic as per usual for this place.

                  We just came back from Italy a couple of months ago and were wondering how it would stand up to the food we had there - and both concluded that the food was easily on par with the best we ate on our vacation. We definitely consider ourselves lucky to have this place in the city.

                  1. re: jerkstore

                    That carpaccio sounds wonderful, as does the bison steak. The alla famiglia plates always look (and are) quite different from the other menu, we've noticed. Adds to the fun for sure. I wonder if it was us you were looking over at. We were there from 6:30 to 8:30, seated along the north side near the back of the restaurant.

                    1. re: grayelf

                      Yeah that must have been you, we were there at 6:30 as well, two tables towards the door.

                      1. re: jerkstore

                        Dang, knew I shoulda worn my CH decoder ring :-).

                        Since we're going back in December, could you expound a bit on your four-course dinner? I'm seeing six courses in your writeup, so how did that work? Also did/can it include dessert or would that be separate?

                        1. re: grayelf

                          4 courses each including dessert, which I didn't include in the original post.

                          The mushroom/game menu was only until the 29th so it will be back to their usual menu already, but here's what we had regardless:

                          - scallop carpaccio, duck prosciutto, truffle vinaigrette
                          - wild mushroom salad, grilled focaccia, greens
                          - tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, bacon, sherry truffle cream sauce
                          - spaghetti with rock shrimp and green chili (tomato-based, kind of an arrabbiatta sauce)
                          - lamb braised in chianti wine and tomato with white beans, juniper and orange zest (I think that is what I tasted)
                          - charcoal grilled bison rib steak, topped with chopped green onions and a hefty helping of EVOO, onion rings, baby arugula and parmesan salad
                          - chocolate tart with sour cherries and grappa whipped cream
                          - lemon sorbetto, with grapefruit and orange supremes

                          1. re: jerkstore

                            Thanks that makes perfect sense (and now I'm really hungry!). I love their bistecca fiorentina which it sounds like you had with bison instead of beef re the game menu. Ah well, next year.

                            1. re: grayelf

                              Replying to myself as it is a year later and we were back at La Buca for their annual game and 'shroom fest on Sunday.

                              It's only on till Oct 29th so hie yourselves there if you don't want to miss one of the best dishes I've had this year: crespelle. This one comes with various mushrooms, spinach and a disk of crispy fontina on the top. It's like a cross between a crepe and an omelette but better. The simple arugula on the side is a nice foil for a rich, decadent starter. We all ordered it at the server's suggestion and none regretted it. My mum thought it was the best dish she's ever had at La Buca and that is saying something. For mains we split down the table, with Mum and the bday boy trying the handmade papardelle with sausage and roasted field mushrooms, an Umbrian specialty. Dad and I went for the venison loin with sundried cherry jus and pumpkin squash ravioli. The papardelle was cut wide and rustic -- in fact, the SO overheard the kitchen staff debating whether it was cut TOO wide -- and perfectly cooked, with a big hearty ragu of sausage and chunks of mushroom. Mum had the half portion and was plenty stuffed; SO took a third of his main sized portion home for lunch. The venison was perfectly rare to mid rare, tender but with a hint of chew and gamey flavour. The jus (actually a gastrique) was sweet but not icky and perfectly balanced with the acid of the whole dried cherries. The ravioli were ethereally thin, with hits of gorgonzola in the pumpkin smoothness and a lovely white sauce. A few green beans, a couple of carrots and voila. Had to have the panna cotta with huckleberries which was as perfect as always. The SO had a caramelized apple tart with a quenelle of brandied whipped cream that was also outstanding. Another peerless meal at La Buca for us. A few pix below for the drool factor: crespelle, venison, tart, panna cotta.