2272 W 4th Ave
(604) 731 7222
I love Italian cuisine, but I am often torn when it comes to dining out. Mainly because it usually involves the see saw battle between a) unpretentious, affordable, in a casual environment but poor to average tasting; and b) fantastic recipes, skilled preparation and beautiful presentation though more expensive and in much more formal settings. So I was cautiously optimistic when I received a friend’s suggestion one night when I was looking for a delicious but reasonably priced pasta/pizza dine-in option in Kitsilano, after spending the previous ten days in Hong Kong and wanting to avoid anything Cantonese.
On first glance, the outside of Presto Cucina is nothing spectacular, as it occupies a space in one of the many generic buildings along W 4th Avenue. A sandwich board with take-out menus stood upright just outside the front entrance, and taking a glance inside, I was pleased to see it looked fairly busy. Stepping inside is where some confusion arose, as I could see servers in the back of the room, but they could obviously not see us. After five minutes of waiting by the door, during which time I saw two servers walk around in the dining space and they could have clearly seen us, but continued back to the open kitchen area at the back. Spotting a booth along one wall, albeit still dirty and not cleared, we decided to move to it in the hope that would finally grab their attention. Not so. Another five minutes later I was finally able to flag a person down, who then hurried back to the kitchen again, and then another server came by and lazily wiped down the table and disappeared again. I was beginning to wonder if there was a batton they were handing off to each other and I was part of some magic act with all the vanishing going on.
After finally getting a chance to give our order – deciding to share one of the special menu pizzas ($10.99), with Tomato and Bocconcini; as well as a Shrimp Pesto Penne ($15.99) – I finally got a chance to fully scan the room. Brightly lit and clean, the customers on this night seemed to be mainly couples, more friends having a meal rather than dates. When the food did arrive, I was fairly disappointed in the bland tasting penne. The pasta itself was cooked al dente which was fine, but it just had no flavor, and required a dose of table salt and pepper to try and improve it somewhat. The shrimp, as you often find in casual pasta joints like this, was a bit tough and overcooked. The accompanying piece of garlic toast felt stale, either that or severely overtoasted, with the sharp edges easily able to do some damage to the vulnerable parts of your mouth. The pizza was slightly better, but at the same time simply just okay Nothing horrible about the flavor of it (which was not skimpy on the ingredients), though I was torn over the lump of pesto that appeared in the centre of the dish, as it was really dredged in oil and had my doubts of its freshness.
Back to the service, clearly, the two wait staff were overmatched. Every time they came by to deliver drinks, food, enquire how things were (once), and even when they brought the final cheque, it was as if they were on permanent drive-by. Drop and go, is how I would describe it… a service of blurs. For what it is, Presto Cucina (a four restaurant chain with other outlets in West Vancouver, White Rock and Abbotsford) does what it advertises itself to be – Italian casual. Frankly the food though could be found in just about any family restaurant serving up pizza and pasta, and probably at a more reasonable price. Amid all the Italian options in the city, I think Presto Cucina could do more to help itself succeed in this market, beginning with hiring of more service staff. I really wish I could find a homey, rustic Italian kitchen that serves us authentic, flavorful dishes at wallet-friendly prices in the west side. If anyone has any suggestions, I would be open to hearing of them and giving them a try.