Review: New Westminster’s Piva Modern Italian
Does the Royal City have a new entry into the must-visit-restaurants list?
January 30, 2018
Living in the suburbs you learn things you took for granted in your city life—decent wine lists, for example—can be a little harder to come by. So I was understandably excited about the opening of Piva Modern Italian in New West. It’s a beautiful space with subway-tiled walls, a marble-topped bar and towering golden mirrored liquor shelving in behind. The 136-seat room—located in the $86.4 million Anvil Centre, which has sat mostly vacant from 2014 until now—manages to maintain a quiet intimacy despite the high ceilings, bustling dining room and open-concept kitchen. All of the usual suspects grace their traditional Italian menu, but you won’t find any oversized portions of pasta or pizzas drowning in commercial mozzarella here: it’s all clean plating and modern flavours (think oven-roasted duck breast, the fat rendered down to crispy perfection, on a bed of sautéed kale, with polenta and silky cauliflower purée). The kitchen is still working out a few kinks (it is early days, after all) and the night we visited some pizzas had to be sent back as they’d spent too long sitting at the pass waiting for the rest of our dishes to be plated. The floor staff handled it like pros, however, offering comped menu items as an apology and attentive service all evening long.
The fresh pasta was the showstopper at our table, where we opted for the fettuccine with scallops and prawns in a tomato and white wine sauce. It had just the right hint of heat and there was a nice balance of ocean-fresh seafood and ribbons of pasta to ensure every mouthful had each flavour component present. In a neighbourhood where wine often comes from a box, we were looking forward to pouring over their list in search of something special, expecting to find primarily Italian varietals. Instead there were over two dozen from our fair province, including one unusual red from the supposedly burgeoning (which means the price point is still very reasonable) Thompson Valley. I was skeptical about a wine from Kamloops, but there is a reason the owners chose to add Harper’s Trail cab franc to the list: the restaurant’s namesake immigrated from Northern Italy to a farm adjacent to the South Thompson River, very near this vineyard—it’s there as a tribute to Giuseppe Piva. I was too timid to try it though, and went with the Ex Nihilo merlot instead.
For future visits, I’ll be taking the cocktail program for a spin. Piva’s drink menu offers some long-awaited respite from the prevailing beer-and-whisky-back bars in the area. Bar manager Gunjan Kundhal has embraced the smoked cocktail trend with not one, but three smoky drinks on the menu: a Smoked Old Fashioned, the Bagpipes in My Ferrari (Glenmorangie, Disaronno, smoke and oak bitters), as well as her unique Herb to Moon, an herbaceous combination of Blackmoon gin, tarragon, basil syrup and smoked rosemary—all of which I’d welcome after a long week.