When Kim came to town earlier this year, we went to Corso 32. After the meal, he suggested we make a visit to Campagnolo on our next Vancouver visit. Being the foodie I am, I started searching before the visit and discovered this restaurant could be very similar in feel and offering. Sounds like Kim had a bit of a comparison in mind if you know what I mean. And as much as I wanted the food to do the talking, I found it hard not to notice both Corso 32 and Campagnolo share the frosted glass exterior window. I guess the comparisons will start right way.
In the year or so that Campagnolo has been open, it has garnered quite the talk; even taking home the best new restaurant in Vancouver in 2010. With the restaurant not taking reservations for groups smaller than 8, our hungry table of 6 arrived just after it opened at 5 to guarantee our spot. And it’s a good thing we came early, because the restaurant soon filled to the brim and remained so through our entire stay. The interior is clean and modern, with a nice mix of wood and concrete and two eating areas. Picture the letter C, with the front half of the restaurant being the standard dining room, the middle being and open kitchen, and a thin hallway down to the back where you find the bar and more tables. Rounding out the group of Sarah, Kim, The Binster and myself, were two more Vancouverties, Sherman (Sherman’s Food Adventures) and his wife Viv. Sherman was happy to fill us in on the restaurants family style feast for $45/person; a quick nod of heads and I knew we were good to go. New friends. Family style meal. This had great times written all over it.
Starting with anitpasti dishes, we were served plates of Beef Carpaccio – salsa verde, herb & lemon focaccia, Beet Salad – shaved vegetables, olive oil, ricotta, mint, and their famous Crispy Ceci – chickpeas, chilies, mint, citrus. The beef was smooth, tender and cut nicely. The salsa verde was something new to me as a carpaccio topping, but worked well with the shaved parm. The beet salad was loaded with perfectly tender beets but lacked in ricotta. In fact, all the plates seem to have about two pieces of ricotta. I though one of the more ballsy aspects was the shaved vegetable, which happened to be celery on this day. As celery can be quite stringy, I was pleasantly surprised not to have any issues. Last to the table were bowls of chick peas. No, check that, deep fried chickpeas. Seriously addictive (see recipe that follows), with an almost peanut like feeling, I couldn’t help but wait for these to cool and toss them back like peanuts at the ball park. If there was one downer, it was the lack of chilies which I think could have elevated this dish. Remember though, I say that as a man who likes his kick.
As we munched on the starters, we were soon given a sampling of, ‘the Cure’. Three long rows of meat which included Soppressata, Chorizo, and Saucisson Sec on this day. Nothing on the board really stuck out for me, but that might be because I was busy eating chickpeas. As a side, it really does look like you could come just for the apps. And maybe some wine 😉
Up next to the table was the pizza course; Margherita – fior di latte mozzarella, tomato, basil and Carbonara – smoked provolone, bacon, cremini mushrooms, onions, egg. I started with my favourite pizza of all time, margherita, and was won over. The crust had a nice mix of crackle with a bit of slightly thicker chew as I neared the edge. The tomato sauce was bright, clean and mixed perfectly with the hunk of buffalo mozzarella I had. The carbonara pizza was slightly wetter than then our other offering, but that may have had to do with the fact that the toppings had more time to sit as I ate my first slice. The combination of flavours was spot on and created a solid package. I do wish the egg was more centered, as Sherman ended up getting 99% of the egg. I should say that this point we had quite the conversation as each person seem to get a bit of a different flavour profile with this pizza, and it reaffirmed how different the same dish can taste within a group people. I loved the side dish of cheese, herbs and chili flakes that arrived with our pizzas, as it allows everyone to control a bit of the experience. It’s the little things!
After the pizza course was devoured, our primi (mid course/main) course arrived. Already feeling rather full, the staff loaded down our table with 3 dishes; Tagliatelle –pork ragú, basil, pecorino romano cheese, Ricotta & Spinach Gnudi – tomato sauce & fresh basil, and Linguini –BC mussels, white wine, lemon, butter, parsley.
The pork was cooked perfectly, with the pulled pork-like strands of meat attaching themselves quite nicely to the wide lengths of tagliatelle. The gnudi was described as a large, potato-less gnocchi and was awesome. The tomato sauce erupted with the same bright flavour found on the pizza and the cheese balls were, well, like warm balls of cheese that really shined as they broke down in my mouth. Really though, any time you put warm cheese balls in your mouth, it’s hard not to get excited. The linguine dish incorporated a healthy selection of mussels and just like the tagliatelle, was cooked to a nice al dente.
With our empty dishes being taken away and fresh ones arriving, we were delivered the secondi course (main course). The staff also loaded the table with contorni offerings (side dishes). I might as well start with the sides; Broccoli – anchovies, garlic, chilies, Smashed potatoes – lemon, chives, and Fried Cauliflower Florets – fresh bacon, parsley. The broccoli was quite different for me as I’ve never thought about mixing the dish with anchovies. Steamed perfectly, I found the addition of thicker broccoli stems to be quite welcome. The potatoes, with their citrus accompaniment, were named in a cute way and cooked really nicely. The cauliflower was fried, again something different, and came with the excitement of bacon. Anything else need to be said…
The mains include; Red Wine Braised Beef – soft polenta, kale, marrow, salsa verde, Il Pesce del Giorno – trout, golden beets, farro, salsa verde, and Polderside Chicken – diced golden beets, black lentils, chard. The difference in plating of the beef shank was amazing, with the picture below being the ‘ugly duckling’. The meat was perfectly tender and sat on top of creamy polenta. Oh, and there was that salsa verde again! The dish was nice, but I found the meat to be bland and rather unappealing in the big picture; almost to the point of cooked too far maybe. The trout came on top of a pile of wonderfully cooked beets and farro. The fish was good and a welcome change from the heavier offerings. As this dish is based on the catch of the day, it’d be curious to see how creative they get with what comes out that day. My favourite of the three was the chicken. The rolled white and dark meat was spot on, while the lentils below created a contrasting base that had me coming back for more and more.
Desserts finally arrived after all of that if you can believe it; Apple Tart, Bread Pudding, Chocolate Pannacotta. The apples were sweet and tender, but the puff pastry crust seemed quite dense and a bit tough to claw through. The bread pudding was moist and the most decadent of the three for me. All without being overly sweet, which was nice. Sitting on a tasty short bread base, I found the chocolate smooth and rich. So was dessert good, yes. Was it under-appreciated after entering into food coma territory, probably.
The entire experience at Campagnolo is hard to put to words. An exciting experience with both new and old friends, combined with more food than any of us really needed to eat, and you have something very memorable. Looking back through the meal, I think the first few courses might have been the best but it’s hard to wonder if that had to do with hitting the wall as nothing seemed as bright or intense as it’s previous offering. The staff were fantastic, providing a bit of humor and genuine, honest service. I think that if you don’t go all out at Campagnolo like we did, you’d find everything we had on this occasion to be safe, tasty, and filling. What more can you ask for when going out on the town, or visiting from Edmonton. I think there’s good reason to put this on your Vancouver radar.
Here’s the recipe for those tasty chickpeas.
Crispy Ceci for six
1½c dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water
2c baby arugula
1c baby spinach
¼c fresh mint, torn into small pieces
2 scallions, sliced thin on a bias
¼c Italian parsley, leaves sliced thin
1½tsp chili flakes
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6c canola oil
Take the soaked chickpeas and cook them in fresh water until very tender. Season with salt at the end of the cooking process. The cooking time (45 to 60 minutes) will vary according to the age of the chickpeas. Once cooked, they can be kept in the fridge for up to two days.
In a pot that can hold at least 12c (the more the better) bring the canola oil to a temperature of 375F. Drain the chickpeas, dry them on paper towels and then slowly pour them into the hot oil. While they are cooking, add to a large bowl the arugula, spinach, scallion, mint and parsley. After about four minutes of frying, remove the chickpeas and drain well. While they are still very hot, add them to the bowl of greens. Season everything with salt, chilies, lemon zest, juice and, finally, the extra virgin olive oil. Toss very well and check for seasoning. Add more of anything you like, divide among six warm bowls and serve.