1020 Main St.
I have been sitting on this report now for a few weeks. I’m not really sure why I hesitated to publish it. It could be that it sort of broke a minor rule I have of only reporting on smaller, more under the radar sort of places. Campagnolo does not fit this mold for sure. It had received a lot of good publicity from Vancouver’s food press…rightly so. It is a good restaurant that has a lot going for it.
Campagnolo is operated by the group who run Fuel over on the West side of the city. Fuel is a great restaurant with the kind of ethic that this area of the world is known: organic, locally sourced ingredients, “nose to tail” philosophy, talented cooks. Campagnolo is much the same. As a matter of fact, the kitchen had a deer hanging in it getting ready to be prepped “nose to tail” (from primal cuts of meat all the way to the nasty bits that end up in their pate and cured sausages.) The group has also started up a small retail/in-house curing operation cleverly called “The Cure” which will supply Fuel, Campagnolo, and retail.
Campagnolo attempts to serve “rustic” Italian food from the countryside of Peidmont and Emiglia-Romagna. I have a positive bias towards rustic and homey food so I was very interested to see how Campagnolo attempts this style of presentation.
My friend and I started with the Cecci – deep fried chickpeas that have the same kind of addicting quality as good peanuts. The outer skin had a pleasing papery crispness which acted as a counterpoint to the creaminess of the chickpea. The skin was somewhat dark and caramelized…perhaps they pre-marinated it with a sweet concoction prior to deep frying it.
The next dish was their Octopus Salad. It wasn’t exemplary as the Octopus itself tasted strongly fishy. It’s supposed to taste slightly fishy, but this was a bit much…and for comparison, I have had similar dishes elsewhere were the octopus tasted much more refined and subtle.
The we moved on to the salumi platter consisting of pate and cured sausages – all house made of course. This cold plate was decent enough…nothing spectacular and certainly nothing that I wouldn’t be able to source right in my neighbourhood. Perhaps they are still in the process of experimenting and improving their recipes and techniques at The Cure, but so far, the salumi fails to impress. Oddly, it didn’t come with the obligatory bread. I did ask for some at an extra cost…but it is an odd choice on their part to not have included it. The pate certainly would not have worked at all without bread.
The next dish was their tagliarini with pork ragu. The noodles where thin and perfectly cooked…the ragu was nicely prepared and seasoned. The shreds of pork were very tender – perhaps a bit past where it should have been because I felt it lacked ‘bite’ in the texture.
We finished with their Olive Oil cake…this was the most pleasing part of the meal. I’m always surprised how well Olive Oil works as a dessert ingredient – it imparts a floral, fruitiness to this dish. It worked very well with the semolina cake base, vanilla cream and the caramelized pear.
Overall, a fine meal. Campagnolo is a very nice addition to the city’s Casual Fine Dining scene – and it certainly is a very nice, but oddly juxtaposed addition to this very sketchy underbelly of a neighbourhood. It is also refreshing to see some real Regional Italian food instead of the usual generic Italian I normally see. Yet, a few weeks after dining there, I still feel unexcited about this place (quite unlike the feelings I have about Campagnolo’s sister restaurant, Fuel). As I wrote this report, I started to understand. Perhaps its limited and focused menu needs no more exploration on my part – and sampling a few dishes was enough for me to say “I get it.” Perhaps it didn’t feel quite “rustic” enough…it felt too fine? Maybe Italian food just doesn’t excite me as much as other cuisines?
The food was good, the service was excellent, the space was interesting, but I have no real compulsion to return.