Woodfire Restaurant (Gabriola) Review

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A fire of note

So Gabriola is not exactly a culinary powerhouse. While the island is a lovely place to visit, you’d likely go for reasons other than just the food on offer from the couple of cute cafes and the middling pubs. But what if there was something a bit better – something elevated? Would that be worth a ferry ride?

Let us introduce you to Woodfire. This restaurant sits right in the middle of Gabriola’s central shopping area and is impossible to miss (although definitely possible to overlook where the front door is since the place is oriented with its back to its parking area). It’s an upscale pizza-and-grill-style place, with a well-stocked bar and good cocktail game. Being Gabriola, staffing is a challenge for Woodfire and this translates into limited hours for eating in. It’s best to check the website before considering a visit.

Our visit for dinner took place on a sticky-hot sort of night, so we were happy to decline seating in the outdoor patio area and take shelter inside where it was cool. The hostess who’d met us outside was attentive and communicative while she arranged a place for us to sit.

Woodfire’s interior d├ęcor was quite modern and appealing without being too trendy, and our table and seating were comfortable. Lo-fi music played. All of the servers and staff we interacted with were professionally dressed and groomed and delivered prompt, friendly service.

It was a cocktails kind of night so we started off with the special – a rhubarb and rosemary gin fizz – for her and a classic negroni for him. It’s nice when you order a standard drink (like a negroni, or a manhattan, or whiskey old fashioned for example) and the server doesn’t even blink. That means there’s a proper bar and tender in place. Both drinks came out quickly and were excellent.

We’re big fans of wood-fired pizza in general and Nanaimo’s La Stella’s pizza in particular so we were excited to dig into the menu at Woodfire. We ignored all the delicious sounding steaks, burgers, and pastas and ordered a couple interesting-sounding pizza pies. (Each was named after a Gabriola landmark – cute.) For her it was Ripple Beach, Woodfire’s all grilled veggies option. For him, we had Page’s Marina, which had grilled chicken, onion, garlic, and brie.

Rather than bore you waxing on about how good these were, we’ll just let the pictures do the work:

The Ripple Beach, thickly layered with a variety of grilled vegetables and goat cheese to hold it together.

Yeah, these were delicious. Woodfire knows their pizza.

Page’s Marina. This pizza had lemon-pepper chicken (like at the pub) and this delightful onion jam and whole cloves of roasted garlic.

An interesting note about the crusts – unlike La Stella, whose pizza crusts are quite fluffy and bready with big air bubbles, the crusts at Woodfire were closer to the kind of crusts you might expect from a Mambo or Ali Baba pizza. They were crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and in our view positions these pizzas somewhere between the best of takeout, and pizzas from bougie joints like La Stella and Cuckoo in Coombs.

We decided to go all in and order dessert too. This was when Woodfire made their only real misstep. The special that night was a vanilla bean cheesecake, which sounded great and we ordered it. The cheesecake we got, however, was the citrus cheesecake from the standard dessert menu. The person who delivered it was not our server and was gone before we could even raise the mixup with them.

Lemon-lime cheesecake? Yeah this was a happy accident.

Rather than wait for our server to come around again, we dug in. The cheesecake was good, with a citrusy flavour we suspect you can only get with mascarpone. It was nicely presented with whipped cream and nuts too. As a nice tough, we were offered two forks and two spoons. Flexibility!

For all this, and with tax and a modest tip, our bill came to $113. We would consider this good value in Nanaimo, but were expecting an “island premium” that just wasn’t there. You could argue that Woodfire’s prices are actually excellent on that basis.

Conclusion

We really enjoyed our visit to Woodfire. While it doesn’t forge a particularly unique identity in the context of other Nanaimo restaurants, it is easily Gabriola’s best (and most upscale) place for dinner. The food is great, the service is good, the bar is completely competent, and the prices are surprisingly reasonable. If you find yourself with plenty of time one of these evenings, hop on the ferry and walk over for a great meal!

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