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Northern Italian shines on north Main

There’s no better way to start a new year than by eating damn fine food.

Campagnolo
1020 Main St.
Vancouver
604-484-6018

campagnolorestaurant.ca
Open Daily: 5 p.m. to late

Signature Drink: Negroni
Signature Dish: Tagliarini Pork Ragu

Rating: *****
Dinner & drinks for two: $90

There’s no better way to start a new year than by eating damn fine food. The neighbourhood — just north of Terminal Avenue on Main Street —might inspire more wariness than wonder, but Campagnolo is a polished gem that would shine brightly in any setting.

This new dining spot, which opened mid-December, is the second love-child of the boys from Fuel, three self-styled “country bumpkins” from Alberta, by name of Tom Doughty, Robert Belcham and Tim Pittman. They chose the restaurant name (Campagnolo translates roughly as “country bumpkin” or “rube”) as a little joke on themselves...after all, what do three boys from cow-tipping country know about the wide history and cultural depth -- not to mention the food -- of the Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna regions? Plenty, as it turns out.

The room is neither pretentious nor over-designed. Exposed cinderblocks line one wall, original old-growth cedar beams and joists float above, cork lies underfoot and sturdy plastic chairs surround the refurbished butcher-block tables. There’s also a nice little wine lounge at the back, separated from the main dining area by the kitchen. There’s a big screen TV showing the latest football games (European, not American) and a big, polished wood bar where you can cozy up to some Birra Moretti (or a nice glass of Barolo) and the cutie with the friendly smile next to you.

The menu is equally simple, divided into pizza, pastas, sides and mains. The kitchen isn’t overly fussed about presentation, and portions are hearty. The goal seems to be simple and authentic, without sacrificing the boys’ passion for all things local and artisan made.

Belcham’s own charcuterie creations, which can be found on the menus at Salt, So.Cial and others under the label ‘The Cure,’ also grace this menu -- he’s finally got a separate workspace upstairs where he can butcher and cure to his heart’s content. Familiar growers like Polderside and Sloping Hills are prominent, and local, seasonal items are easy to spot (kale, anyone?).

We started with crispy ceci ($8), which was a large bowl of deep-fried chickpeas with peppercorn and mint. This was crunchy, salty, chewy and warm, and ideally would replace beer nuts forever. A glass of Masi Serego Alighieri ($7.50), a medium-body red from the Valpolicella region, was my first, happy taste of the Garganega varietal. It made the perfect dunker for our meal. Tagliarini noodles in a pork ragu ($15) was slurped up quickly, thanks to copious amounts of fresh pasta, basil and pecorino. Potato agnolotti ($16) were thick, light dumplings, with sage and mascarpone.

We went for more pork for our main (Belcham is fantastic with the porcine of the species), a stunning dish of roast ($17), sliced and simply prepared, with house-made cotechino, an Italian sausage made from pork meat, back fat and pork rind. Some cipollinis and drippings finished the plate (sides are ordered separately). We ordered warm, fresh, polenta ($6) to share, made with taleggio cheese, which was more than ample, as the bowl was big enough to serve as a course on its own.

At this point, we were more than full, but my ever-present sense of duty obliged me to order some dessert (yeah, ok, maybe it wasn’t such a struggle). The chocolate Nutella tart sounded glorious, but we settled on the slightly lighter panna cotta ($7.50), which was simple, creamy and a perfect end to this rockin’ meal.

A Sweet Start (or Finish) to the New Year

Batasiolo is a northern Italian winery well known for their Barbera and Barolo, but they’re none too shabby in the Muscat department, either. In Piedmont, Muscat grapes are commonly used in sweeter sparklers, like Asti or Spumante. Batasiolo’s Bosc dla Rei, Moscato d’Asti is a straw-yellow dessert wine with a hint of sparkle, an intense, floral nose and a lingering, aromatic finish. And, at only 5.5 per cent, you’re almost guaranteed to avoid a hangover. $21.99 at BCLS.

It’s Time to Dine Out!

From Jan. 14 to Feb. 1, the seventh annual Dine Out Vancouver will take place at more than 180 restaurants throughout Greater Vancouver. Enjoy three-course prix fixe meals for $18, $28 or $38 per person. For more info and reservations, visit tourismvancouver.com.

Cause to Celebrate

Good Night George!

On Jan. 20 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., say a not-so-fond farewell to U.S. President George Bush at George Ultra Lounge (1137 Hamilton St). Watch the Obama inauguration on the big screen, enjoy complimentary canapés all night and drinks like The Burning Bush and Fool Me Twice. Tickets $20 (includes canapés and one drink ticket). Call Brix Restaurant upstairs at 604-915-9463 to reserve.

Taste B.C. 2009

Join Liberty Wine Merchants at the Hyatt Regency Hotel (655 Burrard St) on Jan. 22 from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to celebrate everything B.C. Enjoy wineries to restaurants, cheese to cider and seafood to beer, along with live music, door prizes, raffles and a Silent Auction, all to benefit B.C. Children’s Hospital – Oak Tree Clinic. Tickets $49.99. Visit libertywinemerchants.com for more info.

Food in Brief

Tequila Kitchen, which opened in Yaletown less than a year ago, served its last meal on New Year’s Eve. Maybe it was the signage or those scary Yaletown rents…regardless, I’m sad to see this one go.

On an even sadder note, Chef Raman Anand of Sutton Place Hotel, passed away suddenly of a heart attack on Jan. 2. Chef Anand recently won the Gold Medal with Culinary Team B.C. at the World Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany.

 
 
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