1020 Main Street
What is better than a food blogger visiting another food blogger for dinner in another city? How about having a mini gathering of sorts? When Chris (Eating is the Hard Part) told me about his trip, I sent an email to some of the local bloggers here but, between bad timing and other reasons, only Sherman managed to join us. As to where, while in Edmonton, Chris and I visited Corso 32, a newly opened Italian eatery there and, in my post, I mentioned “the best way would to visit a somewhat similar/related restaurant here and compare!”. That restaurant I had in mind the whole time was Campagnolo.
There is a lot of “interesting” features of Campagnolo, one of them is its pedigree – related to Refuel – and another is its location. Between Main Skytrain Station and Chinatown, it is not necessarily a “pretty” area. However, people believe this is a part of town that seems to have attracted some restaurants recently, for example, London Pub. How it turns out in the future, well, if I only knew… Anyway, we were then and for food it was!
We arrived early… Quite early, to the point we (actually Sherman and Viv) arrived first to an empty restaurant and, otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to take the picture above. Now, this is not the whole dining area. It seems there is an additional area in the back. Alas, to be able to use it, we had to make reservations and we were short by two (in our party, it was Sherman and Viv, Bin, Chris and Sarah, and myself). While we couldn’t make reservations, we did manage to do something else: go “alla famigla” or “family style”. Actually, this is not listed as such in the menu; instead, it says that for party of 3 or more, “the kitchen can cook for you”. There are two price points: $35 and $45. I guess, after travelling this far, there was no way we would go easy and, in the end, we went for the $45 price point. And here are the courses:
Out of the anti-pasti course, the one I liked the most was the crispy ceci – chickpeas, chilies, mint, citrus. These were fried chickpeas and then the remaining ingredients added as a form of dressing. As for the texture, think of them as pop corn but with a paste-like consistency in the inside. Of the other ingredients in the “dressing”, I couldn’t really taste the chilies but it didn’t matter to me: These were darn addictive as is! From there, the beet salad – shaved vegetables, olive oil, ricotta, mint – worked quite well for me, as it was simple, though a bit more of ricotta would have certainly helped. The “cure” was OK… For some reason, there was something amiss; something partially shared by the beef carpaccio – salsa verde, herb and lemon focaccia. It was certainly good, just that it felt slightly loss by the salsa verde and the other dressings. Probably because the beef felt it was sliced way too thin? Looking back, I think we should have asked for the burrata mozzarella – castelvetrano olives, sea salt, olive oil – or the seared octopus – nugget potatoes, olives, lardo, frisee lettuce – but, oh, well, we were too busy chatting and not paying enough attention to the menu…
I will have to admit this one caught us of guard. For a moment, I thought we were going to get the primi course, aka, the pasta course; however, we got pizza first. The first one was the margherita – flor di latte mozzarella, tomato, basil – and the second one was the carbonara – smoked provolone, bacon, crimini mushroom, onion, egg. Because the carbonara was on my side, I ate that one first and, as a white pizza, it felt as eating crispy flatbread with some creaminess thanks to me dipping the corner of my slice into the egg. Think dipping a piece of toast into a sunny side up egg. A bit more of that provolone would have been appreciated but that would be personal preference. However, here is the oddball that followed: while the carbonara was crispy, I thought the margherita was too chewy – an opinion that the rest didn’t necessarily share. My thoughts was that, because I had it second, the texture of the baked dough has changed by the time I bit into it. As for the sauce, it felt slightly acidic but did a good job. Alas, the basil, despite it was added after it was baked wasn’t “felt”.
And now, the proper primi course. The ricotta and spinachi gnudi – tomato sauce and fresh basil – was quite soft and fluffy. I would have certainly love to eat a plateful of this, if it wasn’t because I would have been eating way too much ricotta. The tagliatelle – pork ragú, basil, pecorino romano cheese – was a winner for me. The meat felt almost like pulled pork, something that I always appreciate. As for the sauce, there was just enough to cover it and, it certainly worked for me, as the sauce (in a way similar to the past sauce used above) provided enough “punch” to the pasta. The one oddity was that the pasta itself felt too bundled together, i.e., I had a hard time picking up the noodle strands without pulling almost the whole plate. Now, this is not a bad thing, just difficulty in serving myself. Else, the pasta had a nice bite to it. As for the linguini – BC mussels, white wine, lemon, butter, parsley, was the best one of the bunch for me and it was a case of simplicity at its best. While barely with any excess sauce, what was “served” clung into the pasta quite well and, in each bite, you could tell there was some seafood and some buttery taste in it. If I had to be nit picky, my one issue would be the consistency of the pasta: I thought it was quite al dente, probably a bit underdone.
At this point, not sure if it was due to the pacing or because we were eating more than we should (not unusual) but we were pretty full. But then… We realize we still had secondi AND side dishes AND dessert. First, the side dishes:
Broccoli, anchovies, garlic, chilies was a bit of a misnomer. I couldn’t taste much of the other ingredients as much as the broccoli and the parmesan on top. However, these were cooked quite nicely, in the sense the florets as well as the stem parts were all tender. So, if you like broccoli, you will like these. Now, I thought it was a bit strange to have both broccoli and cauliflower but there you go – fried cauliflower florets, fresh bacon, parsley. However, it was still good because, unlike the broccoli, the cauliflower were fried and had a crispy texture to it. Alas, the bacon didn’t really come out… Still, it was the texture that made it. Now, if you are at home and want to replicate it but don’t want to fry, just cut some florets and bake it until golden. Finally, the third side dish was smashed potatoes, lemon, chives. These was indeed a winner. It combined several form of well prepared potato goodness into one: some crispiness outside, yet still soft and a fluffy inside. Unlike the other side dishes, there was some light lemon-y taste. Indeed, a winner for me…
Yes, the secondi… Red wine braised beef – soft polenta, kale, marrow, salsa verde – suffered from the same issue as the flat steak at Corso 32: the meat felt overcooked and a bit dry. It wasn’t bad, just that it just didn’t make justice to almost any cut of beef. However, one part of this dish won me over: the soft polenta. If I could replicate the polenta again, I would be golden… (yes, I am experimenting at home making grits and polenta lately). The Il Pesce del Giorno – fish of the day – ended up being trout on a bed of farro with salsa verde. This was a well prepared dish and have nothing else to say. OK, if I was nitpicky, I would have preferred some form of seared type salmon-like dish but, then again, that’s preference. As is, it worked well. But, the winner was the polderside chicken – black lentils, parsnip, red swiss chard. This is the second time that, despite there are fancier dishes, it was the chicken dish that won the day (the previous instance was Incanto in San Francisco). In this case, this chicken roulade was juicy inside and the exterior had that feeling texture. And, ah… The lentils. Me being a sucker for legumes, made me enjoy it even more.
Did I say there was still dessert pending? Truth is, at that point, I just had some and threw in the towel. In fact, I don’t even recall these very well, aside from the fact the pannacotta being quite smooth and the pear torte (?) shell felt dry. Then again, I am not a dessert person so I didn’t care more.
Afterwards, we spent quite some time chatting and, needless to say, having different opinions, specially that from different cities was a really good thing. As for the food itself, it was darn too much food. In fact, we had some double servings for some (again, family size serving with enough for everybody). Was it good? I think it was a bit of hit and miss but, above average overall. For example, I liked some of the anti-pasti, some of the primi and some of the secondi. The pizza… Well, if I were to have it by myself, I might enjoy only the first or second slice but might have difficulty with the rest (this is considering they have pizza specials late night). It might be a matter of choosing the “correct” ones more than anything else.
Now, as for comparison with Corso 32, alas, I will have to give this one to Corso 32. The reasons include the size of the menu: in Corso’s case, having a small menu make things more easily manageable and, in Campagnolo’s case, we say some of the sauces being used over and over again (for example, salsa verde used in more than one dish). Still, from a Vancouver perspective, it is a good offering. Would I come back? Well, may be but, iff, I can do it family style. Though… That also open the doors to other Italian eateries like La Quercia (check this post by Sherman when he went there and had a meal in such way).