It goes without saying that it will rain the day after you take your umbrella out of your purse and by the same token, I should have known that a trendy, tasty Italian restaurant would open up in the culinary dead-zone around Science World as soon as I moved away from it. The latest venture from Fuel Restaurant, Campagnolo is now serving delectable bites on the same stretch of block where you used to be able to buy a bus pass or a block of cheese if you just hung out long enough.

My first visit was love all around. It was New Year’s Eve and I had been hoping for some fine food without the hullaballoo of fine dining on such a busy night. Campagnolo delivered exactly that with its boho chic cinderblock and wood detailing. The staff were so helpful (even accomodating our request to store a pot of black-eyed peas in the coat check) and both staff and patrons were happy, happy, happy so it was a joy to be there even before we got to the food.

And before we got to the food, there were drinks.  They’re not stocking a full bar in order to focus on the wine list, but even so they’re barely stocking a bar at all with only 3 cocktails on order. You can get your choice of a Bellini, amaretto-y Allegro or a Negroni. I’ve tasted each and they’re all decent, but if you want a gin and tonic you’re going to be out of luck.

To start we ordered the crispy ceci;  fried chickpeas with pepperoncini, mint and citrus and the seared Albacore Tuna. The tuna was pretty delicious, but somewhat standard on the menu these days while the chickpeas were both perfectly flavoured and novel. They dissappeared quickly.

Next came the Sloping Hills Pork Roast with cotechino sausage and a cipolline onion, accompanied by a dish of fagioli beans, rosemary and crackling.  I was already swooning from the chickpeas, but this simple combination of fat and just a little bit of savoury tang was utter comfort done perfectly right and there was a lot of happy sighing coming from my side of the table.

My dining companions ordered ling cod with kale and flank steak with gnudi, accompanied by polenta and taleggio and I had no complaints about the bites I had of those dishes either. It’s simple food with few ingredients, cooked exceptionally well and that is comfort food for me. It soothes and elates simultaneously.

There had been no room for the much-touted Tagliarini on this visit, however, so I made a point of going back a couple of days ago. The crispy ceci needed to be tasted again, along with some house-cured prosciutto and pate di campagna. The ceci was still delicious but while the cured meat proved to be a good opener, I wouldn’t say they were in better than any others I’ve had around town.

The Tagliarini was indeed tasty, done up in a true Italian style with only a bit of pork ragu on paper-thin noodles and I had the risotto. While it was perfectly cooked and flavoured, the magic of the previous visit was somehow missing. The service was a little off; we waited a while for some of the dishes, never did get any grissini and the food somehow didn’t seem quite as inspired as the wine list this time around. I still enjoyed it and I’ll be back at some point. It’s still the best (non-Asian) restaurant anywhere near that area and I will be in need of some more comforting food before the winter’s through.

Campagnolo is at 1020 Main Street, between the Main Street skytrain station and Chinatown. (604) 484-6018. They’re open daily.

Photo credit: Travis Smith

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2 Responses to “Campagnolo”

  1. Posted on January 26th, 2009

    We were there on New Years Eve, too! Small world.

    I live a few blocks from Campagnolo, so we have been there 5 times already. Sometimes the service has been a bit off – new staff – but I have enjoyed everything I’ve eaten there.

    The wine bar in the back looks promising – when I passed by on Friday night it was packed to the rafters.

  2. Posted on February 11th, 2009

    I’ve now eating at Campagnolo a few times too and have now tried all the dishes mentioned above I enjoyed the flavours of all, though our group of four this weekend unanimously agreed everything was moderately over salted. Seriously though, the crispy ceci are divine.

    My first impressions of the stark room were not as favourable as Degan’s account above, reminding me of someone’s unfinished basement in the eighties with bare light bulbs hanging from wires, unfinished concrete walls, and exposed beams—but not in the ubiquitous retro style we all enjoy, but more of an in progress construction site sense. Although I heard they bought the building, it feels to me like they either ran out of money or didn’t to spend too much on the finishing the interior. Even though the wood along the bottom of the walls is nice and lights cast a warm glow, the room seems to lack warmth and personality to me. Since my return visits I’ve warmed up to it slightly, but prefer the cosier wine bar in the back and feel the whole place at least needs some decent art to liven up the walls.

    Frankly, I have similar complaints about the Fuel location too, seeming rather over-lit and stark, with too much white blanching the room’s interior—odd considering how hearty and inviting the food itself is.

    Clearly I’m in a critical mood, so take this with a grain of salt, but I find the websites for both Fuel and Campagnolo to be…uh…lacking (I’m being polite) and completely off-brand compared my dining experiences at both restaurants. I’d love to redesign them!

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