Ever since Gigi (Ho Yummy) told me about her experience at Campagnolo, I was a bit hesitant in trying it out. You see, she implied that it could be a Filet-O-Fish meal. Now, if you have no clue what I'm talking about, you can refer to this post. Essentially, it stems from the fact that after a unsatisfying meal at the former Feenie's, Costanza and I went to McD's for some Filet-O-Fish. From then on, any meal that lacked enough "food" became a Filet-O-Fish meal. Despite the fear of not-enough-food, I've always had it on my radar. Originally, Viv and I had planned to visit Campagnolo in late January. Vandelay was nice enough to grace us with a $100 gift cert and hey, I wanted to used it ASAP! However, Chris & Sarah (Eating is the Hard Part) were going to be in town the following month and Kim had earmarked Campagnolo as the restaurant we'd all dine at. Well, no probs, we could postpone our meal for a month. After all, the more the merrier! And it became even merrier with the presence of thebinster as well. He initiated much thoughtful discussion that really got me thinking. Actually it hurt my brain. I can't do food and think too hard at the same time. LOL...
Since Campagnolo does not take reservations unless you have a group of 8 or more, we had to arrive just as they opened at 5:00pm to ensure a table. I made sure we got the corner table away from most people since there would be 3 cameras flashing away. Yes, the food paparazzi... Looking over the menu, there wasn't much doubt as to what Viv and I wanted to try - the $45.00 "alla famigla-style" meal. Similar to La Quercia, it offers up a few dishes from everything section of the menu for the whole table to share. Only caveat is that you need 3 or more diners. Hey! We do have that! Now it didn't take much convincing for the others to buy in and off we went into a mad rush of never-ending food. From the Antipasti section, we were first presented with the Beet Salad consisting of shaved celery and radish, beets, olive oil, ricotta and mint. Especially with the celery, there was a pronounced fresh and crispness to the salad. In fact, even the beets has some bite, which was a welcomed change. The mint added another level of refreshing; yet the salad as a whole was very mild. Next up was the Beef Carpaccio with salsa verde, herb & lemon focaccia. Unlike most other beef carpaccios I've had, the meat was not exactly melt-in-your-mouth. There was a little bit of chew left, which was not necessarily a bad thing. It was still very tender. The texture actually gave it some body. A squeeze of lemon in combination with the salsa verde, Parmesan and herbs resulted in a veritable flavour explosion. I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, the texture of the beef was necessary for it to hold up to the multitude of flavours. For our last appie, we were served the Crispy Ceci. A signature dish of sorts, it consists of fried chickpeas, chilies, mint, citrus and arugula. I quite liked the fried chickpeas. I can imagine myself popping these as snacks with a cold beer while watching a hockey game. They were crispy, flavourful and nutty. As for eating it in a restaurant, it was a bit awkward to eat with utensils.
As an interlude, we got a cutting board with 3 types of Salumi including Saucisson Sec, Soppressata and Chorizo. A little bit tart and full of flavour, my favourite was the saucisson sec. I found the chorizo to be only mildly spicy while the soppresseta was peppery. A nice little bite before we headed off to the pizzas. We started with the classic Pizza Margherita with fior di latte mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil. The crust was not exactly thin while not thick either. Somewhere in between, it was nicely brown with some crispy portions. It was slightly chewy and held up well to the fresh ingredients. Lots of flavour with hits of fresh basil, this was a very good pizza margherita. Next, it was the Pizza Carbonara topped with smoked provolone, bacon, cremini mushrooms, onions and a whole egg. Either it was the time between finishing off my slice of the first pizza or it was soggy to begin with, the crust on this one did not hold up to the ingredients. Despite this, it didn't really matter because I still liked the pizza; but not as much as the margherita. This ended up to be a mild tasting combination despite the bacon. Well, much like a carbonara pasta, the flavour profile is not supposed to be bold flavours anyways. Dependent on what slice you got, the flavours were different, as in my case. I got the slice with the egg and all I tasted was egg (although I love egg, so that didn't matter much).
Now onto the pastas... At this point we were amazed that anyone could eat more food. So, the first one I tried was the Linguine with BC mussels, white wine, lemon, butter and parsley. I found this pasta to be textbook. The pasta was al dente while the flavours were simple. Garlicky and buttery with a touch of wine and lemon, I enjoyed it. Next up was the Tagliatelle with pork ragú, basil and pecorino romano cheese. Right away, the first thing I noticed about this pasta was the significant "porkiness" to it. For me, I love that since it is a natural umami flavour. Combined with the cheese, this ended up to be quite a flavourful pasta. The tagliatelle was al dente; yet for me personally, it could've been even more so. Our last pasta was the Ricotta & Spinach Gnudi in a simple tomato sauce with fresh basil and cheese. These balls of "filling" are named as such because they are essentially "nude" without the pasta. Hence, we are only eating the insides of a ravioli without the ravioli. These soft little nuggets were lucky recipients of the outstandingly fresh tomato sauce which had a prominent fresh basil flavour. I liked how the tomato sauce did not have to rely on excessive salt to achieve flavour. I also enjoyed that it was just tangy enough without being too acidic. The only thing I didn't like was the texture, it was a ball of mush.
Now onto the meats starting with the Polderside Chicken with black lentils, parsnip and red Swiss chard. The roasted chicken with the skin-on was moist and juicy. The natural sweetness of the chicken and the jus provided all the flavour needed in this dish. For me, I liked the black lentils as they provided a nice chewy textural contrast to the soft chicken. Up until now, it could be argued that the meal could be seen as practically flawless. Of course, by virtue of stating this, you know what is coming next... The Red Wine Braised Beef was somewhat of a flop. Atop soft polenta and accompanied by kale, marrow and salsa verde, the beef itself was a little dry. That in itself was not a big deal since it was a lean piece of shank; however, the main issue with this dish was the lack of flavour. The braising liquid was too thin and lacking in depth, which in turn didn't add much to the already mild polenta. Moreover, there was not enough salsa verde to make any impact. I did like the kale though, it was cooked perfectly and was probably the most flavourful item on the dish.
Our last meat dish for the meal was the Fresh Fish of the Day, which happened to be trout. It was served on a bed of farro, golden beets, sliced radish and topped with salsa verde. The trout itself was prepared perfectly being moist and flaky. Much like the braised beef, this dish suffered from blandness. Once again, there was not enough salsa verde to make much of an impact. Now, in addition to our 3 appies, salumi, 2 pizzas, 3 pastas and 3 meat dishes, we also got 3 sides. My personal favourite was the Broccoli with anchovies, garlic and chillies. I particularly enjoyed the fact they included the broccoli stems. That, in my opinion, is the best part since it has a bite to it. The still crisp, yet completely cooked, broccoli was absolutely delicious due to the perfect marriage of the salty anchovies, garlic and cheese. In some ways, it tasted like a salty Caesar salad. Next was something that looked very familiar... The Fried Cauliflower Florets with fresh bacon and parsley could pass as Najib's Special at Nuba. Appearance-wise they are similar; but the taste was slightly different. The unmistakable aroma of cauliflower emanates from the very first bite. For me, that is a very nice aroma. Add bacon and yes, I loved it. It was soft while still maintaining a nice crunch. Another excellent side. Okay, for our last side dish, we were presented with Smashed Potatoes with lemon, lemon zest and chives. Cooked, smashed, then pan fried with the lemon, these were some tasty taters. The combination of the caramelization from the pan fry with the lemon zest and seasoning made these spuds a bit different from the ordinary.
Okay, at this point we had a lot of food left on the plates. I mean, we all love to eat; but honestly, this was a lot of food! Of course, we didn't even get to the desserts yet! And yes, we had 3 desserts to share. I got to try the Chocolate Panna Cotta first. It rested a piece of shortbread and topped with chocolate ganache. Orange segments, hazelnuts and mint were served on the side. Texturally, it was a bit heavier than a typical panna cotta. Attribute that to the chocolate. It really wasn't sweet at all (even with the ganache), in fact it had a slight bitterness to it (due to the use of dark chocolate). The accompanying orange was a natural compliment (like Terry's Chocolate Orange) while the hazelnuts added a textural contrast.
I gave the Apple Tart a try next and this was served atop puff pastry, topped with pastry cream, caramel and sugar crumble. This dessert had all the classic flavours such as the tart apples, sweet caramel and crunchy crumble; however, it was only okay for me. Maybe it was too normal? It wasn't bad per se, it was a tad dry and unexciting. Mind you, the last dessert I got to sample was probably the best of the bunch. The Pear Bread Pudding was excellent. Each moist piece of bread was slightly sweetened with a vanilla pear sauce. The aromatic pears on top was what put it over the top. It was finished with a dollop of vanilla creme fraiche. This is another example where a dessert doesn't have to be very sweet to be absolutely delicious. Wow. That's all I have to say about this meal. For $45.00 each, that was a tremendous amount of food. For 6 people, we got 2 each of the appies, 1 salumi plate, 2 pizzas, 3 pastas, 1 chicken dish, 1 trout dish and 2 braised beef dishes, 1 each of the sides and 3 desserts. Did I need a Filet-O-Fish afterwards? No, what I really needed was a bottle of Pepto. Now quantity is one thing, quality is another matter. The meal started off strong and got even stronger as we reached the meats. It fizzled out a bit there and then was rescued by the excellent sides. The desserts were pretty good despite my indifference with the apple tart. Naturally, not everyone can justify spending $45.00 per person, so there is also a $35.00 option that doesn't include the meats. Seeing how this meal went, I think the $35.00 version would suit most people just fine. For all the items we tried (and that was a lot of the menu), most were very good and hence, I would no doubt gladly return for another meal sometime.
- On average, very good food
- Excellent service (but they did witness our inccesant picture-taking)
- The sharing menu is a good value
- The proteins weren't bad; but paled in comparison to everything else
- No reservations, and it gets packed (which is good for them!)