Zambri's, Victoria, BC
#110-911 Yates Street Victoria, BC V8V 4X3. 360-1171

UPDATE - June 2009

With many years of service in Victoria, Zambri's remains my top choice for Italian food.
Zambri's in not a conventional restaurant in any way. With a casual ambiance that seems more in line with their lunch menu than the more complex dinner menu, people eat at Zambri's for the food - contrary to most restaurant concepts.
While the service and ambiance are pleasant and familiar, they are both modest and unassuming. Zambri's is not a place that schmoozes it's clientele. I know this comes as a disappointment to some - this component of service is important to a lot of people. That said, spareing us the show is a blessing to others - many of whom partake in some form of this show in their day to day.

Zambri's food predominantly focuses on single ingredients and simple composition. Danger lurks in this culinary approach as mistakes and shortcomings in quality glare up at you from the plate, but Peter Zambri sincerely understands this approach and let's his food speak for itself. Oh, if we only all had this kind of discipline.
Most recently, we dined at Zambri's to celebrate my mother's birthday. It was a belated occasion, the weather was uncomfortably hot and both my mother and I were hobbling around with ankle injuries, so a small, unpretentious restaurant was required. We arrived directly from work and while Patty and I knew we were hungry, the heat and frenzy of the day had taken a toll on our appetites. In any other place,  a plate of hot noodles would have seemed like a silly idea.
First things first, our server Frances, appeared quickly and offered us a cool glass of Prosecco. Probably a safe bet considering the audience and the temperature, but I was loving her.
Patty and I shared the fried mozzarella and my mother had the seafood salad to start. It's hard not to order the mozzarella and I feel a little lame ordering it all the time - but I like it and life's short. The little fruit preserves and chili condiments make me feel warm and fuzzy. It's an elegant comfort food.
My mother's seafood salad was beautifully balanced with crisp acidity and the roundness of olive oil. The salad was mostly octopus, an animal I prefer to see alive (I don't hesitate on a lot of food, but I like to take a second thought on intelligent animals with family structure - nevermind that octopus is usually hideously over cooked). In the interest of research, I gave the octopus a go. Seafood salad is not a menu item I would order in most restaurants. Sloppy execution or poor food handling could make this a misery of a dish. This one, in contrast, was really nice. My mother did suggest that the relative portion of octopus to other seafood was such that might have called it an octopus salad.
For our mains, Patty and I had pasta; my mother had the rockfish.
I large portion of rockfish served with a tomato sauce, polenta cubes and olives. The fish was beautifully fresh and retained its moisture, but none of its wetness. The polenta was tender and well seasoned and the sauce suitably light for the fish and the weather.
I had the bucatini with clams and wine. The simple wine sauce is something I make for myself, but don't often see in restaurants. This one was better than mine - I can't help but screw around with mine more. The clams were tender and fresh.
Patty's farfelle with cream, smoked tuna and capers was the piece de resistance. I love smoked tuna and am always trying to think of occasions to serve it. The smokiness and the reduced cream were otherworldly and the capers were the perfect pockets of acidity. Our server paired it with a buttery chardonnay that took this dish over the top of of the yummy scale. I would have eaten a bottle of lactase to be able to lick the bowl.
Zambri's is great Italian food and is my pick when I want something really good, but not fussy. I like being able to count on the food, with out having to make reservations, tarting myself up and doing the whole rigmarole that 'going out for dinner' can be.