Power Lunch: Catalano Restaurant and Cicchetti Bar

Catalano Restaurant and Cicchetti Bar | BCBusiness
Victoria’s Magnolia Hotel upgraded from a stuffy steakhouse to a breezy Italian eatery in record time.

A capital choice in casual fine dining 

“It all happened pretty fast,” recalls co-owner Dave Craggs, describing the opening of Catalano Restaurant & Cicchetti Bar, in Victoria’s Magnolia Hotel. “We signed the lease in January this year and opened April 1st.”

Such a quick turnaround may have thrown a newbie restaurateur for a loop, but Craggs, long a chef partner at Victoria’s Ferris’ Oyster Bar & Grill, took it in stride, first dealing with some serious decor issues.

“The velvet curtains are gone. It’s fresh and light-filled now,” he says, adding that the white walls are decorated with art by local Penelope Scott-McCaig.

Changes in Catalano’s kitchen mean the menus are ambitious, but still accessible—and, notably, affordable. “In Victoria,” says Craggs, “you have to be conscious of price.” (magnoliahotel.com/dining).

BEST TABLE Inside, eight-person booths are perfect for privacy when talking shop, but don’t overlook the small, heated patio with eye-candy views of Victoria’s top landmarks (the harbour, Parliament Buildings, historic Belmont Building and Union Club).

DRINK UP Catalano’s passionate team of bartenders includes award-winning cocktail pioneer Solomon Siegel, whose Coastal Gin & Tonic (Beefeater 24 gin, spirulina, soda and “new theatre tonic,” made in-house, $10) leaves tongues wagging.

MUST-TRY ORDER Craggs says that salads tend to dominate lunch-meeting orders (try the grilled caesar, $9), while the cicchetti (Italian small bites; go for Gorgonzola-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates, $5) menu goes perfectly with five o’clock-tails.

INSIDER TIP Request the gluten-free lunch and dinner menus and be wowed by the expansive selection. From pastas and sandwiches and potato-kale soup to hanger steak with polenta frites (items from $8), even non-celiacs will be tempted.

Farmer’s Apprentice

Chef David Gunawan’s new restaurant gets personal

David Gunawan, formerly of Wildebeest, is striking out on his own with Farmer’s Apprentice, a 30-seat room in Vancouver’s south Granville neighbourhood. The warm tones, barnboards and 12-seat patio are plenty inviting, but the restaurant’s star qualities are its vegetable-driven focus and personal touch. Shared plates are priced from $7 to $22 and the chefs serve the dishes themselves in an atmosphere that is anything but formal. “It’s like coming to someone’s home,” says Gunawan.

Celebrating the passion and dedication that goes into farming, Gunawan sources his sustainable, nutrient-rich ingredients locally. “People want healthier cuisine,” he says, “and to know where their food comes from.” Menu items change depending on what is being harvested.

Farmer’s Apprentice is Gunawan’s first venture as a restaurant owner. He and life and business partner Dara Young financed the operation themselves by pouring years of savings—as well as some of their mortgage—into the restaurant. “We’re trying to offer the best food at a lower price point,” says Gunawan. “We want to make good food accessible, not exclusive.” (farmersapprentice.ca)

—Day Helesic