Restaurant review

Restaurant review: Exploring uncharted Italian territory

Carlino’s menu reflects the owner’s family origins in the Friuli region of Italy.

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Pug

Or: 1115 Alberni Street, Vancouver

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When: Breakfast, lunch, aperitif, dinner

Information: 604-695-1115. carlinorestaurant.com

You think you know Italian food until you find yourself in a restaurant like Carlino at the Shangri-La Hotel.

Carlino is a revamp of Miantiao, which previously filled the space with Italian-Chinese food that didn’t quite land. Chef Mark Perrier, widely admired for his Italian cuisine at Salvio Volpe, has been hired to turn things around. He had sold his shares in Salvio Volpe’s fraternity, Pepino’s Spaghetti House and Caffe La Tana just before the pandemic hit. “I kind of dodged all of that, and to be honest, I was taking it easy,” says Perrier, whose biography also includes stints at restaurants CinCin, Cibo and West.

Carlino, which opened on December 2, is part of the Kitchen Table group with its heady and growing portfolio: Pourhouse, Pizzeria Farina, Ask for Luigi, Di Beppe, Farina a Legna, Giovane Bacaro, the soon-to-open Motorino Gelato, and its future expansion plans in Toronto and Seattle.

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Chef Mark Perrier in the Carlino kitchen.
Chef Mark Perrier in the Carlino kitchen. .jpg

Carlino is solidly Italian, but not necessarily colloquial Italian. It features dishes from Friuli, a region that is sort of in an armpit surrounded by the Adriatic Sea, Austria and Slovenia, with Italy being the arm. During the 18th, 19th and part of the 20th centuries it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and demographically it is a melting pot of Slavs, Italians and Austrians. You will find dishes like goulash, gnocchi stuffed with prunes or cherries and sauerkraut.

Why Friulian cuisine? Well, first, what’s not to love dig deeper into a kitchen? Secondly, it is the region where the owner’s family comes from, and Carlino is the name of a grandfather.

There is a coincidence third reason. “The regional cuisine of northern Italy has similarities to that here,” says Perrier, referring to farm produce. “You have things like cabbages and pumpkins, kale.”

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If you think his way with Italian cuisine was persuaded and pushed by nonnas and cooks in Italy, you are wrong. He hasn’t been there yet. “I think I got the gist. We don’t just make food from Friuli,” he adds, “but from the northeast corner of Italy, which includes Venice, Lombardy and Trentino.

Musetto e brovade ($21) is straight out of Friuli. Musetto, a sausage like cotechino, has the distinction of having pork skin added into the mix, which gives it a chewy texture. Perrier uses the pig’s snout, part of the head and the skin. A pancake of this sausage, fried, is served with brovade, a turnip sauerkraut. The turnips are fermented in leftover red wine pressing from La Stella Winery in Osoyoos.

He runs a kitchen “from scratch”, but he tips his hat to producers like the region’s prosciutto di San Daniele, considered the best in Italy. “I kind of came full circle. Hams, salamis, cheeses have been made for thousands of years. Nothing is comparable.

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White plant, fried egg and bottarga di muggine.
White plant, fried egg and bottarga di muggine. .jpg

I loved the crispy white polenta with a perfectly fried egg and bottarga di muggine or mullet roe ($15). “I like the double egg thing,” he says. For a rustic, peasant dish, this was super delicate and soulful.

Francobolli ($34), which means postage stamps in Italian, is ravioli. In Friuli, it is most often stuffed with game. Here it was a mix of rabbit, pheasant, quail and partridge. I know prices go up for restaurants, but it was still a very modest portion for that price.

In contrast, the Roast Leg of Lamb with Garlic Confit, Mustard and Black Olive ($45) with a diaphanous lamb jus, was a generous piece of lovely lamb. He comes from Rossi’s father’s small farm in Abbotsford. “These lambs were pampered. Very pampered,” says Perrier. The sides or contorni are ordered separately.

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For dessert, a lemon pie ($12) is a regular on menus, but I liked this one with a well-done crust, sprinkles of meringue stars, and topped with a macaroon and a slice of candied orange.

For other tastes of Friuli, you can try the canederli dumplings – a dumpling of bread – with beef goulash and Hungarian pepper. Or beet heart, apple and cabbage with sour cream and dill.

Perrier says minced beef tongue tonnato is selling well. “People like it. It tastes exactly like corned beef. You would never know.

The prices are high, but you get quality. After his brief absence from the kitchen, Perrier was shocked to find that costs had increased by 30-40%. “I look at the prices and think ‘Oof’, but you have to pay for good food,” he says.

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The service was excellent and one of the waiters was concerned about how long it took for the lamb dish to come out and make up for our shared dessert.

The wines, selected by David Steele, are 100% Italian. “I’ve never had a problem selling local or international wines, but I found that with this concept, customers wanted Italian, so I had to pivot and look to the Italian. It was fun to dig around and find interesting wines in nooks and crannies. If you haven’t tasted it yet, maybe it’s time to try the lightly sparkling Lambrusco red wine? Steele was previously Director of Wines at Market by Jean-Georges in the same space until 2013.

Behind the bar, Luigi Bosco takes a look at O5 Tea Bar infusing some of their rare teas into many of its cocktails. For his Oolong Fashion, for example, he heats Italian brandy, rum and Oolong tea under vacuum for three hours at a precise 65 degrees. “I add a little brown sugar syrup, some bitters and serve it on a crystal ice cube with restaurant logo.

Until a decade ago, he was immersed in bartending flair – think juggling and bartending acrobatics – and international competition, winning as world champion in 2009. Although skillful moves have gone out of favor, if you plead he’ll likely show you the bottle or the bun.

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