Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — You wouldn’t expect anything less than supreme meticulousness from David Hawksworth. And that’s what diners receive at Nightingale, most impressively in a pizza dough that took 30 iterations before it reached the menu.
Hawksworth says it’s only “80 per cent where we want it to be and we have a few more ideas to work on yet.”
You have to wonder if those ideas include frosting the dough with gold, because the pizza at Nightingale is pretty close to perfect as it is. The fact neither he nor his staff is satisfied is a testament to the excellence of Hawksworth, one of the nation’s finest chefs and restaurateurs. It also shows his drive to create cuisine that’s not only delicious, but which stands apart.
The concept for Nightingale, a casual dining restaurant in an elegant building in Vancouver’s Financial District, began more than four years ago.
“It was the right thing to do because this is the way I like to eat. I’ve always loved pizza and I would go down to L.A. quite a bit and there were a few places down there that were doing different things with their dough,” Hawksworth says. “Of course no one will ever tell you what’s in their dough, but I noticed a whole grain was inside the dough of a lot of them. It was not just straight double-0 flour.”
Doppio Zero, or 00 flour, is typically used for making breads, pastas and pizzas. But there are different grades of flour that can be mixed, creating more texture or flavour, depending on how much bran and germ was removed in the milling process. After one of his trips to California, Hawksworth decided to buy a pizza oven for his home and placed it in his backyard. The drive for the exceptional pizza pie began.
Pizza Hits a New High in Vancouver
It culminated with the hiring of Giuseppe Cortinovis, who mastered pizza making while in Italy and has been in Vancouver for more than two years. “All he does is make pizza. All he’s trained for is to make pizza. If there’s anything that’s been done with pizza anywhere, he knows about it,” Hawksworth says.
It was Cortinovis who suggested using a No. 1 flour — which helped to create the recipe for which Hawksworth had been striving nearly a year to find.
“I knew about double-0 flour, but I didn’t know about the Number 1, 2 and 3 types. The No. 1 has a whole-grain element to it. It gives more flavour and more structure to the dough. That’s what we’d been wanting,” says the chef, whose eponymous fine-dining restaurant at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia is among the best in the country.
The dough sits in the fridge for two days and ferments. Then it is covered with a pizza sauce, which is created with similar passion for originality, and a variety of toppings sourced from Hawksworth’s stable of outstanding British Columbia-based suppliers. Once prepped, the pizza is sent into a wood-stone oven Hawksworth imported from Bellingham, Washington, and cooked.
The pizza emerges crisp but not flaky. Most importantly, the dough retains the whole-grain characteristics, tasting unique and as flavourful as the toppings.
“Even if there’s only four items on the pizza, we want to make sure everything we’re doing is the best we could possibly do,” Hawksworth says.
There are nine vegetable dishes — which doesn’t include a diverse range of salad options and some meatless pasta and pizza choices. Seafood dishes include a delicious octopus plate with fermented chili and capers ($19), wild sockeye salmon ceviche ($17) and a large serving of halibut roasted on the bone ($45).
“It was more about doing pizza, doing lots of vegetables and having a fun, vibrant atmosphere, and less about being in any particular neighbourhood. I already had the menu planned before we found the space,” Hawksworth says of why he opened Nightingale.
He says the two restaurants now share some of the same diners, even though they offer different experiences. Hawksworth is the sophisticated luxury restaurant ideal for couples celebrating special occasions and fine diners eager for one of the best culinary experiences you can find in Canada, while Nightingale — which seats approximately 200 diners and has a busy bar scene — is for the after-work crowd, the business lunch, groups of friends or family, and the couples on date night.
“I really enjoy having both of them and it’s quite interesting,” Hawksworth says. “People love the energy of Nightingale and love how attention-detailed Hawksworth is and it seems to work quite well.”
Both restaurants have established dominance in their dining category. For a restaurant with dozens of menu items, including family-friendly fare, there’s no better choice at this price point in the city and I would argue in the country than Nightingale. It takes on the chains of Cactus Club, Milestone’s and Earl’s, and ups them all in quality, price, cocktails, wine list and service. It’s the one restaurant in Vancouver where I will now take a group of people with diverse tastes who want a casual-dining experience. And pizza that’s a story in itself.
MORE ABOUT NIGHTINGALE
Location: 1017 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC (see map below)
Menu Price Range: The dishes are meant for sharing, with all menu items except the $45 halibut dish costing $26 or less. Pizzas cost $15-$18.
You Must Order: Well, any of the pizzas. I opted for the spicy spianata salumi pie ($17).
MORE VANCOUVER RESTAURANT NEWS
Tacofino Expands Again: With its new location in Yaletown, one of the hippest culinary brands in the country continues to grow. Tacofino’s expansion from its original Tofino-based food truck has been steady and smart. It made a dramatic entrance into the Gastown area in 2014 with a large and beautiful restaurant facing onto Blood Alley. This time, it goes small with a 30-seat eatery serving burritos (approximately $10 each) and few other dishes as well as excellent margaritas. Yaletown is notorious for its expensive rents and high rate of turnover for businesses. (Tacofino is taking over a spot formerly occupied by a SaladWorks franchise.) Making a small footprint into the area is a shrewd way to enter a neighbourhood in need of good-quality, low-cost dining options. Tacofino’s presence alone will freshen up Yaletown, a trendy area but one that’s full of chain restaurants and is lacking in personality.
Ancora Celebrates Its Anniversary: Executive chef Ricardo Valverde has reinvigorated one of the finest rooms in Vancouver with his inspired seafood cuisine. The former home of C Restaurant on False Creek became Ancora last year and with Valverde at the helm of the kitchen it is turning out beautifully plated dishes featuring fish and shellfish from the Pacific Northwest. Valverde, whose heritage is from Peru, has also been offering more menu items featuring cuisine of his homeland. Along with some delicious ceviche options, you’ll find: sablefish glazed with aji panca ($38), a Peruvian red pepper paste; lobster bisque with Peruvian-style roasted corn kernels ($17); and dishes with yams, yuca fries and salsas. Unique flavours that aren’t being presented this way anywhere else in Vancouver. In celebration of its first year, Ancora has also designed what it calls a Champagne menu. This includes a Champagne flight ($43) featuring three-ounce glasses of bubbly from Thiénot, Moutard and Mandois. It’s a brilliant way to enjoy the restaurant’s immaculate patio.