It was a cold winter night and after a bundled-up stroll through the lights display at Milner Gardens we decided to visit Cuckoo in Coombs Trattoria and Pizzeria for dinner. Cuckoo is a trattoria and pizzeria, meaning it offers common Italian dishes, like pastas and risottos, and also wood-fired pizzas. It’s in Coombs, tucked in behind the famous Goats on the Roof store.
Cuckoo says it’s a casual dining room, but the reality is it’s a huge building with room to spare for events and large parties. At the same time it is quite elegant, with fine furniture and tableware and professionally-attired staff. The size of the place means you shouldn’t have to worry about not getting a table, but they do not (normally) take reservations so it’s a good idea to check their Facebook page for any updates. They occasionally close to the public for large bookings.
Anyway, on our visit we were promptly greeted and seated by our (wisecracking) host, and waters were quickly provided while we browsed the extensive menu and drinks selection. One of us felt like a beer, and other other felt like a negroni, which the bar was able to accommodate despite being off menu. Both drinks came out quickly and were excellent.
Dinner started with the arrival of our appetizer – the antipasto plate. Don’t confuse this antipasto with the orange dip you can buy in a jar. “Antipasto” just means “before food” and classically includes some olives, meats, and cheeses. Cuckoo’s antipasto also included some cool roasted peppers and eggplant and some sun-dried tomatoes. This was a fabulous appetizer full of strong and rich flavours and really got us drooling for our mains. It also paired exceptionally well with the mildly bitter negroni and probably would with any apertif you like.
For dinner we decided on pasta for him and pizza for her. The chosen pasta was the fettucine salmone (salmon) and the pizza was the vegetarian. It was a good lesson long ago learned that not every meal needs meat, and in fact some of our favourite dishes don’t include any. This pizza’s menu description was just too much for us to resist.
With artichoke hearts, red onions, grilled eggplant & zucchini, roasted peppers, mozzarella cheese and crushed tomatoes, it makes a great choice for any palate.
Both meals (and those of our co-diners) arrived at the same time and were served with aplomb usually seen only while fine dining.
The pasta was a large helping of soft fettuccini in a creamy white whine sauce and was absolutely loaded with smoked salmon and crispy capers (the best!) The pasta was cooked soft and was full of flavour. The bold smoked salmon and the salty capers made it a delight to eat. The picture might make it appear small but this was a massive dish that was actually hard to finish in one sitting.
The pizza, was good too, but we maybe got too hyped for it. Yep, there were all kinds of delightful vegetables and the crust and cheese were also quite good, but even so we felt it was just a tad mundane. This was still a perfectly tasty dish we’d recommend but its crime was just not hitting the level of the other dishes we’d eaten that night. Like the pasta, there was too much here for one meal, and we wound up taking half home to happily scarf the next day.
With our bellies totally full, we decided to skip dessert and finish up with a limoncello spritzer, which was a light and not-too-sweet finish.
Our meal and drinks, including tax and a modest tip came to $125. Considering the service level, the elegance of the restaurant, and the food quality and quantity, we consider this good value.
Cuckoo is a special place. While it has a lot in common with the also excellent La Stella here in Nanaimo, Cuckoo differentiates itself with slightly more elegance and a better setting for groups. While we think La Stella might edge out Cuckoo in the pizza department, Cuckoo has the more extensive menu and the higher caliber service. We really enjoyed our visit and can’t wait to make the drive out for another. Check them out when you want to take someone out for a fine meal and let them know we sent you!