If one were to ask the average Vancouverite to pick the city’s most romantic dining destination, Umberto Menghi’s Il Giardino would surely prove a popular choice. With its warm Tuscan decor and beautiful Summer garden, it’s the perfect place for that perfect date. And so, when my wife made the reservation two weeks ago, I looked forward to what would surely be an enchanting and intimate evening.
As it turned out, the evening was not quite as romantic as I’d hoped given that my wife had to bow out at the last minute and I ended up going with someone else instead. Not that my buddy Carl is bad company. In fact, next to my wife, there are few people I’d rather spend time with. And, true to form, Carl and I had a wonderful time – nestled amidst the restaurant’s earthy orange and browns, its cozy dark wood interior, and pleasant soft lighting.
Although we had reserved for Dine Out, a cursory glance at the dessert offerings (raspberry-chocolate ganache cake, limoncello lemon tart, or lavender espresso crème brulee) steered me over to the regular menu. Actually, we had three menu’s to choose from: the Dine Out menu, the regular menu, and the seasonal menu. I decided to go seasonal, starting with a fabulous smoked black cod served on a bed of vegetable ragout with caper-lemon sauce. The savory flavor of the ragout – a mix of diced tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers – was a nice accompaniment to the sweet smokiness of the cod. Carl went with a Tuscan bean and pasta soup that failed to impress – though, in all fairness, he passed judgment after falling in love with my black cod, finding it bland in comparison. For his main, Carl, feeling unusually adventurous, went with the roasted reindeer loin, which was served with a green and pink peppercorn sauce. It arrived tender and incredibly tasty. While Carl positively luxuriated in his choice, I enjoyed the jumbo prawn and scallop duo with a buttery-rich lobster sauce – overall another very good dish although the scallops were the clear winners here. When it came time for dessert, I made things simple for our server: “Just list the desserts that don’t contain fruit.” This narrowed our choices down to two: the house tiramisu and the St. Honore. I was hoping Carl would go with the St. Honore as I wanted the tiramisu but also wanted to at least sample the former. Unfortunately, Carl complicated matters by choosing the tiramisu. And so, I went with the tiramisu as well – in addition to the St. Honore. The tiramisu was great, not too boozy, with a generous dollop of marscapone cheese. The St. Honore – puff pastry, choux pastry, cream puffs, and cream – was a bit of a disappointment, not as rich as the versions I used to enjoy back in Montreal.
Carl couldn’t help but note that I would be writing yet another positive review. “People are going to start thinking of you as the Paula Abdul of restaurant critics,”he warned. Then, perhaps hoping to save me from such a fate, added: “Mention I didn’t like the soup.”
As I waited for the valet to bring me my car, I watched Carl head off into night, and thought it might be nice to have dinner again with him sometime.
Gosh, I hope he calls.