Tuesday, May 1, 2012
The Quest for the Pen. Gorging at Anton's Pasta Bar
When one of my best friend's told me that she'd like to go for either Italian or Japanese, immediately I researched list of links for restaurant options (some favourites and some new places I've been wanting to try.) To my chagrin, she replied that she wanted to hit up Anton's Pasta Bar on Hastings in Burnaby. I've only been to Anton's once before and my memories weren't that fond. Back when I was still in college, my friend Mel and I went to Anton's, which is known for it's massive portions, with the goal of cleaning our plates and claiming a coveted pen with the phrase "I ate the whole thing." My memories of that night are both vivid and blurry. I remember our initial enthusiasm and waiting with anticipation for our food to arrive. Our food arrived and we dug in. I remember I had ordered a dish with many hearty elements with made the meal extra filling and I seem to remember Mel's dish having a filling, creamy sauce. We started to fill up quickly and about half way into our massive plates, we started to slow down, the food got cold, I stopped enjoying my meal or really tasting the food. It became a slow, epic battle to try and finish our meals. It seemed to take us hours and we watched enthusiastic diners enter and sit at nearby tables saying "I'm going to finish this pasta" and with pain in our bellies and our eyes we looked over exclaiming "Don't Do It." We both finished our meals that night and received pens and were both terribly sick and felt awful for the rest of the night and following day. I haven't been back.
It was my friend Bree's birthday and she picked Anton's for a birthday dinner venue so it was time to return. It was a rainy, miserable Thursday evening and we waited in the legendary long line-up to dine on massive portions of pasta. I think we ended up waiting about 30-45 minutes for a table for 4.
This casual Burnaby Italian restaurant has been open for around 30 years. The atmosphere is bustling and quite lively (it's always busy for dinner, customers coming in and out, servers expertly dodging one another while carrying massive plates of pasta) and the kitchen is open so you can watch the chefs cook.
Bree, the birthday girl ordered Linguine Con Polpette (15.50) Meatballs topped with a tomato meat sauce. This was a pretty straight-forward dish and she seemed to enjoy it (although she only made a dent in her meal and when she picked Anton's, she said she was going for a pen...) The sauce was thick and rich with meat mixed in and two large meatballs that hidden in the mountain of pasta and sauce.
Mel was torn trying to pick her pasta. This menu is massive! She went for Spinach Tortellini Napoletana (16.50) spinach tortellini stuffed with ricotta cheese in a fresh basil tomato sauce. She liked her dish but didn't love it. She let me try a piece and I found the flavours really subdued and the pasta a bit over-cooked. Not bad, but not great either.
TMc ordered the Conchiglie Alla Franco (15.50) shell pasta with chicken, sundried tomatoes, peas, in a chicken broth garlic sauce. She liked it, but noted that the ratio of pasta to everything else was wayyyyy off. The additional ingredients were very sparse and got lost in the massive plate of pasta.
Jayme ordered the very similar Conchiglie Zio Carmelo (15.50) shell pasta with sausage, chicken, pine nuts, spinach in a white wine sauce. She enjoyed her dish and looking at the plate, she seemed to get way more balanced plate.
When ordering my pasta, I wanted to make sure I got something with really flavourful elements because I've had plenty of experience with places that crank out massive servings for value prices and usually my complaint is that the food is bland. I went with the Linguine Alla Sicilaina (15.50) anchovies, red peppers, capers, and olives in a spicy tomato sauce..... I set my expectations low and ended up being really impressed. The noodles were fresh and slightly chewy and I loved the saltiness and briny quality of the sauce which was also had a nice, subtle spice. Their was a great sauce, ingredients, noodle ratio resulting in a well-balanced dish.
Service was fantastic at Anton's. Our server was friendly and knowledgable and ready to answer any questions we had. She was quick and efficient and amazingly on top of water refills (especially for one member of the group who was extremely thirsty.
Anton's definitely serves huge portions for a decent price but unless you are a starving student on a budget, I can't say it's really worth the hype. Based on most of the plates at our table, the quality of the food and flavours isn't awesome but isn't bad either. My meal was actually quite tasty and not attempting to eat the whole thing in one sitting actually let me enjoy it and the leftovers made a perfect dinner the following night. I've almost wiped my gross, gorging memories from my first visit from my mind...