– Words by Jane Zatylny Photography by Don Denton
As I pull into the Saanich shopping centre dominated by HomeSense and Designer Shoe Warehouse, I find Lot 1 Pasta Bar beside a hair salon called Kharma. That’s got to be a good sign for a business, I think, as I enter the casually sophisticated space.
Owned and operated by the folks behind the Bin 4 Burger Lounge empire, Lot 1 opened at this location in the Island Home Centre in 2016 and has a similar, think-outside-the-box mission. Bin 4 invites British Columbians to “rethink your burger,” while Lot 1’s concept reimagines traditional Italian recipes.
“We saw an opportunity in the Saanich area for great pasta and shared plates,” says Chef Michael Ringland, who defines his approach as simple but creative. “We wanted to bring something different with the pasta we make daily, and to pair it with ingredients and sauces that we also make in house, whether they be classic dishes or something we’ve put a twist on,” he says.
The Moroccan chicken rigatoni most definitely falls into the latter category.
“We wanted options that weren’t just Italian,” explains Michael.
The dish is a fusion of flavours and textures and reminds me of a Moroccan chicken tagine, with its traditional spices, such as cumin, ginger, cinnamon and coriander.
The fresh rigatoni is served in a sauce of coconut milk with softened onion, red-pepper ribbons, free-range chicken and chopped cashew pieces.
“We use coconut milk instead of whipping cream, so the dish can be made vegan if the chicken is removed,” says Michael.
These gorgeous glossy noodles take on a pale yellow hue from the spices and are served perfectly al dente, while the chicken pieces are lightly scented, moist and flavourful. The soft red pepper strips offer a flash of colour to the dish, while the cashews add a pleasing crunch to every forkful.
“I tried to bring a little bit of ethnicity to this menu, whether it’s from the Moroccan chicken pasta or the pork belly appetizer with sriracha aioli and fennel slaw, or simply putting a little twist on a classic pasta like carbonara,” says Michael. “I do love the simplicity of Italian cuisine, but hopefully people can appreciate the twists I like to incorporate into the menu.”
For my second dish, I turned to the beloved Italian classic—gloriously rich carbonara pasta. Here, the changes to the classic recipe are subtle but significant: “Traditionally, carbonara wouldn’t have the onions, chili flakes or prawns in it,” says Michael. “We’ve also been able to source a very good pancetta from Two Rivers Meats.”
The onions are cooked slowly to order with olive oil, butter, the pancetta and its rendered fat, he says: “We flavour the sauce with a bit of white wine, add fresh prawns, then finish the dish with the traditional egg yolk and fresh Italian parsley and basil.”
Served over freshly made spaghetti, the dish is again cooked to perfection and very, very flavourful.
Aside from its pasta dishes, Lot 1 also features several dishes to share, like the peppercorn-crusted Wagyu carpaccio with fried capers, the Salt Spring Island mussels with local chorizo, white wine and sun-dried tomatoes, and the Little Qualicum Cheeseworks baked brie plate.
“We want our dining room to be comfortable and inviting, whether guests are coming in to enjoy a glass of wine and an appetizer or two or a family coming in for a pasta dinner,” says Michael.
These dishes are so generously portioned, I thought, “Great—there is enough here for my dinner and my lunch tomorrow.” Nope. I just couldn’t manage to save a portion with either dish—they were that good.
I pass along my comments to Michael and ask him what sort of feedback he likes to hear from his customers.
“The simple answer would be for everyone to think that my food tastes great, but it’s not only about that,” he says. “For me the best compliment would be for someone to appreciate the thought and care that is put into each and every dish that we put on our menus, whether it’s about the ingredients we use, the presentation of the dish or of course the flavour.”
I would say he’s succeeded on all three points. There’s nothing but good karma here.