When La Bocca decided to make the switch to an all-Italian menu, executive chef Danny Winter had his work cut out for him — namely, a whole lot of culinary research.
"We went down to Vancouver and ate a few times at a few Italian restaurants down there and got some ideas," Winter says.
"I did a lot of research with my cookbooks and found out as much as I could and came up with a menu."
The switch came in the spring, when foot traffic by La Bocca starts to really pick up.
"It was definitely a challenge. We were making this change going into our busiest months, which are July and August," Winter says.
"So yeah it was a little scary, but I'm really happy with how it turned out, execution-wise and quality."
Though Winter himself is not Italian, La Bocca's menu is now a true reflection of Italy — antipasto, insalata, pasta, pizza and everything in between.
"We tried to keep it pretty simple. All our pastas and the sauces on the pizzas are all homemade," Winter says.
"We've had really good feedback... La Bocca was challenged with an identity in the past... now we have a little more direction on what to expect with the food."
La Bocca used to be somewhat-vaguely branded as "West Coast cuisine" — the switch meant Winter would have to go back to basics.
"I was kind of starting from scratch and learning about vinegars, balsamic vinegars and olive oils, and what is traditional and what isn't traditional," Winter says.
"Some of our dishes are pretty unique — the mains for our dinners specifically. I'm a tapas kind of guy, so I like the smaller plates and the calamaris and the cured meats. We have quite a bit of cured meats that we have shipped straight from Italy — three different kinds that are on our cured plates, on our pastas and in the pizzas as well."
There's a lot to choose from, like the bison cheek — "we braze that for eight to 10 hours, and it's served with our rosemary polenta," Winter says — but it's the pine nut chicken with chickpea ratatouille that Winter says he's most proud of (the recipe can be found on the next page).
"That was a dish that I used in my thirdyear apprenticeship, which is the last year... it's something that's all me, if that makes sense," Winter says.
"In cooking there's a lot of borrowing and stealing and using inspiration from other pictures and recipes and stuff like that, and I find that's one of the things that came out of my brain."
And after all the extensive research that went into his new Italian menu, Winter says he's happy with the results.
"I'm really proud of it," he says.
"At first there's always a little apprehension and a little bit of nerves involved, but it's kind of neat to jump in with two feet and that's what we did."
During his studies, Winter would go down to Vancouver and eat two different dinners at two different restaurants in the same night, just to compare the food.
"And then in the morning, getting up and having a quick breakfast before going to a pizza shop on the way home," he says with a laugh.
It sounds like a lot of heavy lifting. Did all that research affect Winter's waistline?
"It actually did, yeah. I gained six pounds while we were researching," he says. "But I'm a pretty skinny guy so it doesn't mean a lot, gaining six pounds."Pine nut chicken
2 skin on boneless chicken breasts
½ cup pine nuts - chopped well
1 tsp pureed garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley - chopped well
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
— combine above to form a paste
Sear your skin-on chicken breast until skin browns. Then crust the breast with pine-nut mix and bake at 375 degrees until chicken is cooked and pine nuts are golden brown (cover nuts with foil if they brown too quickly). Chicken is cooked when juices run clear about 25 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read at least 165 degrees F (74 degrees C).
¼ cup zucchini
¼ cup red peppers
¼ cup onions
½ cup tomatoes
1 tsp pureed garlic
pinch of dry thyme
salt and pepper to taste
Sauté veggies in olive oil until tender, but do not over cook. Drain good quality chickpeas and deep fry until skin flakes off. Plate the Ratatouille and sprinkle with chickpeas, then place the chicken breast on top.
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