Imagine my delight when we found ourselves hungry and at loose ends for a restaurant choice this past Sunday early, the perfect opportunity to sample the wares at Campagnolo on Main, a new venture from the folks who brought us Fuel.
When we arrived at about 5:30, there were a few tables with Canucks-bound patrons, but the place filled to a good buzz by the time we left about an hour and a half later without any waits for tables (no resos here). Inside it is a bit spare but very much to my taste with concrete walls, lots of wood, beautiful light fixtures and an amazing fabric covered wine bar glowing in the back. Don’t forget to check out the four distinctly coloured loos too.
The four of us grabbed a prime corner banquette and opted to share per the helpful suggestions of our excellent server Lydia, who warned us that the plate sizes were not huge. She also steered the SO and BIL toward a lighter red (Cantina Tollo, Valle d’Oro Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2004 0.5 L for $19.50 to be exact) that was well received. I had a glass of the 8th Generation 2007 Riesling for $8 which suited my sweet-white-wine loving self. A glass of the house-made grissini disappeared rapidly (a reorder also; $2) – these spidery fellas are crispy, salty and cheesy heaven.
Onwards to the appetizers: the crispy ceci or chickpeas were the standout for me. Apparently these are rolled in cornflour and other spices then deep fried. Ridiculously tasty with a crunchy exterior and creamy inside ($8). The octopus salad ($9) found most favour with the two gentlemen, probably because they both like octopus :-).
After a short pause, the primi or pasta courses arrived. We ordered three of the four available. My favourite was the carnaroli risotto with rosemary leaves ($16). It had my ideal risotto texture and consistency with hearty flavours including lardons of pancetta. The tagliarini with pork ragu ($15) was very good if a little less complex, and the agnolotti with sage and potato ($16) was successful as well.
Next the salsiccia pizza arrived ($13). We had been watching these being prepared as we could see that prep cook from our table. She obviously knows her business. Nice crunch on the crust without being tough or dry, and just the right amount of toppings. This pie was perfect for four to share.
For our secondi, we opted to share the Sloping Hills pork tenderloin ($17). This dish came with a chubby little cotecchino sausage and a couple of supermarinated cipollini onions. The loin was done to a turn and tender as its name. We added two contorni, the white bean or fagioli ($6) and the polenta ($6). The beans were tasty though we all found the “crackling” a bit confusing: it was more like the pork rinds you get in bags than the crackling our admittedly British expectations had set us up for. It also had a chewier texture than we would have liked. The polenta was cooked perfectly and rich with one of my most-beloved Italian cheeses, Tallegio, giving it just the slightest redolence. I was told this is one of co-owner Tom’s favourites and I can see why.
By now we were all full but as usual I could not resist the siren song of dolci. So we split the olive cake and the panna cotta between two of us ($7.50 each). Both were excellent with a slight edge to the panna cotta which came with tiny bundles of crunchy hazelnut and slices of citrus. The cake lost a few points for an overabundance of cinnamon in the topping.
Two lattes and a cappuccino from Arcalle Coffee rounded out one of the better meals I’ve had this year. This is a coffee I am not familiar with but hope to become so. Very mild but flavourful. Total bill after tax and before tip: $170 for four.
A point to note for those of you dining with vegetarians: there are a number of veg-friendly dishes here which made it very easy to share even with one of our group being of the non-carnivorous persuasion. It does help that she considers bacon a category of its own :-). Also note they are opening for lunch service starting January 5th
I’ve attached a bunch of pix taken with my new digicam (sorry about the white balance problems; I’m trying to learn how to use the thing manually so have pushed to 400ISO hence the less than crisp resolution.) For much better photos, check out campagnolorestaurant.ca
First four pix: the room, the lighting, the entrance to the kitchen, the grissini