For a restaurant that hasn't officially opened yet, Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria at 6011 Hastings St. in North Burnaby sure has been a busy place.
Executive chef and managing partner Alex Tung, along with business partner Andy Mollica, have done a wonderful job transforming the old Anducci's into Burnaby's latest must-eat location.
And while the restaurant has had a soft opening since July 30, Tung said the official grand opening will take place later this year.
"The beauty is in the details and that's what I'm working on," said Tung. "I want every one of our employees to know as many of the details so that we can all do our job of providing the best customer experience."
That's why the highlight of Tung's day is the 3 p.m. staff meal, where everybody from the servers to the chefs can share notes and provide helpful advice.
For the two months before the soft opening, Tung put his staff through a rigorous program that included each employee tasting every single variety of wine that's on Cotto's menu.
"Some call it micro-managing, but I wanted everybody to be on the same page,"
And that page has been nothing short of spectacular, with Tung and Mollica doing so many of the little things right.
Start with the first thing you see when you enter Cotto: the pile of firewood stacked by the front door.
All of that wood is the fuel for the wood-fired brick forno that Tung uses to makes some of the best Neapolitan thin-crust pizza in the Lower Mainland.
But look beyond the exposed brick, wood beams, steel girders, reclaimed wood, bianca carrara marble and other texturally rich materials and you'll see a beautiful 40-seat covered patio and the signature 14-seat communal harvest table, which is a 13-foot, single piece of reclaimed fir from Mission.
And wander over to the bar and check out the innovative teardrop-style lighting fixtures and the expansive wine list - half Italian and half local - and you'll see that what Tung's trying to do is unique in Burnaby.
"Our food is simple, yet elegant," said Tung, who pointed out that he uses only Ocean Wise seafood, sources as many of his products locally and many of his herbs come from the garden adjacent to the front patio.
When we sat down with Tung to try out some of his signature dishes, we were treated to a highly nuanced meal with lots of flavours and variety.
We started with the calamari fritto, which is unlike any fried squid you'll find in the city. Light beyond what you'd expect from a fried food, the dish doesn't come with tzatziki, but rather a homemade salsa verde sauce and finely diced tomatoes.
"One of my favourite dishes," said Tung. "Light and tasty and a great way to start a meal."
We follow it up with the Caprese salad, featuring a generous serving of mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh basil and balsamico.
"We had our chefs taste every single dish on the menu," said Tung. "Even something as seemingly simple as a salad, we want consistency whether I'm making it or my sous chef Remi Ho or anybody else makes it."
By now, we're perfectly primed for our main course and Tung lets us in on a secret: "We're not just a pizzeria," he said. "In fact, we have great pasta and we have some great signature dishes."
We try the papardelle carbonara pasta, which featured Two Rivers guanciale, parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino-romano cheese, roast garlic and the piece de resistance, the 63-degree egg in the middle of the pasta.
"Beat the egg up and mix up the running egg yolk," said Tung. "I always say running egg yolk is God's most perfect sauce."
Hard to argue with how sublime this dish is, as the guanciale, or bacon prepared from pig's jowls, is something I wish more restaurants would put on their menu.
Because we have a signature pizza coming up soon, we don't have the stomach space to try some of Tung's signature dishes, but next time, we'll be sure to order gnocchi patata, featuring fried potato gnocchi, Sloping Hill pancetta, parmigiano-reggiano, arugula and herb oil; or the bistecca alla toscana, which is a Pemberton Meadows flatiron steak, served with arugula, grape tomato salad, parmigiano-reggiano and balsamico.
We can hardly wait for our prosciutto pizza, which features prosciutto di parma, fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce and Barnston Island grown arugula.
The crust is thin and crunchy and the toppings mesh well together. The taste is so simple, yet sublime that Tung warns take-out customers that Neapolitan pizza is best eaten with 10 minutes of coming out of the forno.
"One of my favourite moments was when I told that to a customer and they went to buy a lined pizza bag and the next time they were here, they had it in the bag and ready to take home, which was two minutes up the street," said Tung.
And that's also what's amazed Tung and Mollica: how quickly their North Burnaby have grown attached to Cotto Enoteca.
"We have a lot of people walking here and we've got some of the best chefs in the Lower Mainland who live in the area who've come in for a meal," said Tung, who said he'll have to repay the favour to Scott and Stephanie Jaeger and visit The Pear Tree, further west on Hastings, in the near future.
Tung also brought out some of his homemade limoncello and Negroni for us to try and it's a treat that no diner at Cotto should leave without doing.
We finished our meal with two great desserts, the crostata di cioccolato, which is a Callebaut chocolate tart served with caramelized milk and whipped cream; and the salted caramel budino, which is a butterscotch pudding served with Maldon sea salt and rosemary biscotti.
Nothing to say about dessert - and the word that captures our whole meal - other than one word: Perfection.
Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria is located at 6011 Hastings St. For more info or to make a reservation, go to www.cotto.ca or check them out at www.facebook.com/cottoenoteca or www.twitter.com/cottoenoteca.