It’s date night. Maybe a strip-mall is not a top-of-mind destination. Especially one of those older, squarish malls with the all glass storefronts below a crushing overhead bulwark.
It’s not a very romantic picture, but as appealing as a Tudor chateau set atop a verdant hill that overlooks the moonlit sea might be, inspiring food and a great atmosphere can still be found behind even the dullest façade. A fine chef and a talented interior designer can create magic in the most utilitarian space. Enter Lot 1 Pasta Bar.
Lot 1 is a departure for Sarah and Don Blackmore and Michael Ringland of Bin 4 Burger Lounge fame. Fans of Bin 4 (one of which is across the street) will appreciate the warm modern space with soaring ceilings, clean lines and a honey, white and black colour scheme. Honey-coloured wood tables are paired with either comfortable honey-leather chairs or benches. White subway tiles gleam behind cubical racks, black framed and with honey shelves, on which the bar stock is displayed. The bar itself is black and white marble, fronted with white honeycomb tiles and a row of honey-coloured stools.
In terms of food choices, three menus are a bit overwhelming. A full menu and a monthly features menu are available on-line, but the slim lunch menu must be viewed in person. This third menu offers a selection of entrées that come with the non-alcoholic beverage of your choice for $13.
I was drawn to the least Italian meal in the place: Moroccan Chicken Rigatoni. Rigatoni, radiatori, riccioli, ragotelli? The panoply of Italian pasta is bewildering, and come to think of it, that last one may be an opera.
It happens that rigatoni is jumbo macaroni. Lot 1 serves it tossed in coconut milk with free-run chicken pieces that have been seasoned with Moroccan spices: a mix that may contain any of brown sugar, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, coriander, turmeric, all-spice and cayenne (Lot 1 does not advertise its specific blend). Suffice to say that this dish has a complex and invigorating spiciness that may induce sweating. Sweet red bell peppers, onions and a sprinkling of cashew pieces and whole-leaf cilantro finish the dish.
My luncheon date – not a pasta fan – opted for soup and salad. The soup ($7) changes daily. This day’s was a Tamil-originated curry-based Mulligatawny. Not even close to Italian, but it was creamy, rich and delicious with just a touch of spice that my spice-adverse friend proclaimed delightful. It came served with a load of cashews floating on a raft of apple slices. The small Beet and Pecan Salad ($9) is not so small. The artisanal greens include arugula (inexplicably called rocket by Italians, while we use an Italian word: perhaps one of the great culinary mysteries of all time). It comes tossed with a maple balsamic vinaigrette, goat cheese and toasted pecan bits.
A warm atmosphere, attentive service, flavourful inspired cuisine and surprisingly reasonable prices. Could this be the perfect spot to impress your sweetheart? Just try to not look out the window.
Lot 1 Pasta Bar
204-815 Cloverdale Ave.