Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

Caffe La Tana finally received the conversion permit and liquor license that allows it to function as a wine bar at night.Jackie Dives / The Globe and Mail

The Christmas season is upon us, and this year it’s getting better. Or at least better than last year, when banquets, cocktail parties and big fat family gatherings were off the table.

I missed those kinds of gatherings, to be sure. But what I really missed – the one that made me crave social connections that were not driven by Zoom – was the annual excuse to catch up with old acquaintances outside my inner circle for a casual bite and a holiday drink.

Of course, life has not completely returned to normal. So thank goodness for the aperitivo.

This magnificent Italian tradition of enjoying a light meal and elixir at the end of the workday as a warm-up to dinner brings a renaissance to Vancouver just in time for these gently awkward vacations.

Although aperitivo is similar to happy hour, aperitivo is more food-friendly and generally accompanied by cicchetti – small snacks such as crostini, olives, spiced meats, croquettes and arancini. You can make a meal out of it, but you do not have to spend as much time as you would for lunch or dinner.

Since this is an Italian ritual, wine will always be an option. But the idea is to open the palate with pleasantly bitter drinks – vermouth, amaro, sherry and spritz – that are light and relatively low in alcohol.

The modern aperitivo movement, as embraced by local wine bars, is also less delimited. It starts in the early afternoon and often extends well into the evening, allowing you to enjoy yourself when the rooms are not so crowded.

At Vancouver’s new aperitivo bars, you can have your festive outing while also keeping it small, subdued and delicious.

Fresh pasta for sale at Caffe La Tana.Jackie Dives / The Globe and Mail

The wine bar at Caffe La Tana

635 Commercial Dr., Vancouver, BC, 604-428-5462,

Of all the new aperitivo bars, La Tana is my favorite because the food is incredible.

Sure, the hand-rolled pasta and sugary bomboloni have been pretty good since this day café and specialty grocery store opened as a complement to Pepino’s Spaghetti House three years ago.

But now that the owners have finally – finally – jumped through all the hangers for a conversion permit, got their liquor license and opened in the evening with a small plate menu from the new culinary director Phil Scarfone and the rising star Vish Mayekar, this kitchen is banging its creamy croquettes and fluffy truffle-honey ricotta crostini all the way to the Adriatic.

Aperitivo is served daily from 15:00 to 17:00, when the chilled delicacy box is covered to create more standing room to sip sausage-wrapped olives and prosciutto-crostini, while the house discount wine and negronis with chinotto-spiked drinks remain.

But the serious little plates roll out from 5pm to 10pm

There’s a stunning albacore crudo rubbed with orange peel – just as lovely to smell as it is to devour – served in a fragrant pool of Meyer lemon juice with a green-and-orange mosaic of basil and Calabrian chili oils floating on top.

Melted beef cheeks with pickled chanterelles sink into a soft, creamy bed of heirloom polenta. Saffron arancini is golden fried and moist filled around soft kernels of premium Arborio rice that do not collapse into starchy porridge. Radicchio and chicory in Gorgonzola dressing are boldly bitter, sweet, crispy and fuller.

Tender ricotta gnudi is sprinkled in roasted sunchokes, crispy sage and a black peppercorn from Kerala, India that is so sharply perfumed. Mr. Mayekar tears the precious seeds with a microplane.

Many of these amazing ingredients – including strangely sour caper leaves and ambrosial spruce cone syrup – can be purchased from the alimentari shelves along this cozy space, which at night is adorned with flashing lights.

And if you’re really serious about keeping free, drinks start pouring up with breakfast sandwiches and pasta at. 10. They include amazing cocktails, Italian craft beer (Birra Flea), wild cider (Salt Spring Pineapple Amaro), rare wines and deepest selection of grappa and amari I have seen in Vancouver, all available in antique crystal flights.

Caffe La Tana boasts a stunning albacore crudo rubbed with orange peel served in a fragrant pool of Meyer lemon juice with a green-and-orange mosaic of basil and Calabrian chili oils floating on top.Jackie Dives / The Globe and Mail

Ung Bacaro

1029 W. Cordova St., Vancouver, BC, 604-687-9887,

Opened last summer at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel by Kitchen Table Restaurants (Ask for Luigi, Di Beppe, et al.), This all-day wine-and-cicchetti bar celebrates Venice’s distinctive small plates: whipped salty cod, poached with pork milk, buttered anchovies and sarde di soar – deep-fried sardines (or local sablefish) deep-fried, marinated in sweet vinegar and served sprinkled with raisins and pine nuts.

It is a sleek, modern space equipped with tall plates and narrow standing tables that give it a busy vibe while still providing plenty of room to spread out.

But the lack of a clear host stand at one of the two entrances makes this café remodel feel a bit confused. And the display case with mix-and-match cicchetti is a bit lost in a back kitchen at the end of a long wheelchair ramp.

However, I recommend that you go over to the kitchen and check the crostini display before ordering.

There are some very good dishes on this menu. And the daily pastas, which have included prosciutto-filled cappelletti in pine mushroom brodo or stinging nettle sbocciare filled with saffron zucchini and caciocavallofonduta, look excellent.

But the tapas plates can be very rich. And if you do not order selectively, you can easily end up with an overload of butter and creamy aioli in every bite

Fiorino Italian street food

212 E. Georgia St., Vancouver, BC, 604-568-0905,

When Giovanni Mascagni moved here from Florence to become a bush pilot, he fell in love with Vancouver’s culinary scene, but was hungry for his hometown’s favorite street food – schiacciata sandwich on a thin, crispy focaccia, more akin to pizza dough.

So when he and his roommates decided to open a casual panini bar, he headed back to Florence to learn for six months at one of its most famous bakeries, Chicco di Grano at the Sant’Ambrogio market.

Fiorino Street Food, which recently opened in Chinatown, makes very good schiacciata that are light, airy and salty. Lunch offers a large selection, filled with different meats and wrapped with walnut and artichoke creams.

You can also find a limited selection on the aperitivo menu, which runs from kl. 3pm to 6pm, along with basic Italian cocktails and house wine for $ 1 per person. ounce.

The rest of the menu wins no prizes. Frito misto is shockingly soaked, and the carpaccio is drowned out by cheap truffle oil.

But the restaurant has a lovely home-spun quality with its classic ceramic tiles, straw-wrapped Chianti bottles along the bar and Italian pop songs that float softly in the background.

Caffe La Tana’s amari flight.Jackie Dives / The Globe and Mail

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