Sunday, February 13, 2011

TRC at Campagnolo

It was the 6th “official” TRC dinner since I started the club. By now, our dinner attendees have leveled out to roughly 8-10. It’s a nice size, actually. We’re the kind of size that will test our waiter and the kitchen, give a healthy variety in feedback on the experience, and allow everyone at the table to chat with one another with relative ease. I like it. And this time, we’re at Campagnolo.

Campagnolo, self-described as good honest home-cooked food, is just the kind of restaurant Toronto loves. It’s a cozy sized room, its atmosphere is lively, the décor is chic without trying to hard - welcoming and without pretention. I call weeks in advance and book us in – a table of 8. I’m asked if we want the 7pm or 9pm seating; we choose the 7.  I really dislike this approach. I feel like it’s a selfish move … one that benefits the restaurant but not the guest. What if I want 8:45 because I want to get to my after-dinner party at just the perfect time? 6:15 so I can go straight from work? 7:33 because I love the number 3? Anyway, we’ll move on. You get the gist.

I’m excited by the menu. It’s short but with good range. It does, however, lack vegetarian variety. And because that matters to my friend and fellow TRC member, it matters to me. Thankfully, our chef happily agrees to come to the rescue. Situation saved.

La Quercia Prosciutto
Our appetizer course arrives and we ready our palettes to start judgment. Between us we order La Quercia Rosa prosciutto, burrata with roasted grapes and toasted bread, braised rabbit with rapini, calamari with squid ink arancini, warmed olives and house-made baguette and gougères. First, what I ordered: the prosciutto. It was a plate of, well, meat. Nary a garnish or leaf of lettuce or drizzle of oil. Just meat. But once I dug in to the buttery, salty piggy goodness (seriously, I think the best prosciutto I’ve had), it didn’t matter all they’d done was nicely arrange meat on a plate.

Calamari with Squid Ink Arancini
The calamari, on the other hand, came with real visual appeal. The squid had been scored and so when cooked curled to deliver a beautiful diamond pattern. The arancini was cut in half so you could immediately see the squid inked risotto. And the sauce below was so vibrant – it was a perfect backdrop for the dish. I loved the seasoning, I loved the flavours combined with the arancini. The calamari was a little over-done but thankfully not so badly over-done it was like chewing tires.

Braised Rabbit and Rapini
The braised rabbit was tasty & tender with spicy overtones. The rapini, however, was a touch over-done and had lost much of its flavour and texture - mouth-feel this dish needed. The bread we ordered was quite delicious. The gougères were so perfectly puffy and melty, and the baguette accompanied by the herbed butter was super yummy. Those are technical food-writer words.  Oh yes and the olives were great! But since all the credit I can give the kitchen is heating them up and adding rosemary I won't comment much. But they're delish.

The burrata was ... well ... delicious burrata. I mean really - you can hardly go wrong when you buy it fresh. The roasted grapes were creative and pulled the dish together nicely (burrata is otherwise fairly bland). Personally I prefer savoury to sweet so it wasn't for me more than just a bite or two, but a successful dish nonetheless.

Teeny Tiny Turkey and Pancetta Agnolotti
Next up: mains. A few of us ordered the turkey and pancetta agnolotti. It was beautiful. The flavours were robust, the turkey complimented nicely by the pancetta, and the sauce was velvety and flavourful. The down side? There wasn't enough. Like, it was appetizer-sized. And not all dishes are this size - seemingly just this one (from what we ordered). I was sad. And kinda mad. But also glad. Because the dish tasted rad. Fuck I am poetic. Did I mention the dish was too small?

The beef cheeks were cooked perfectly - tender and oh so cheeky. The arugula and mint sauce was a great compliment to bring flavours together while the lentils were bland and under-seasoned. One TRC diner compared them to canned lentils (please, Campagnolo, tell me they are not actually canned). I will also point out that I am retarded and failed to bring my camera. Again. So the sucky iPhone pics don't do the dishes justice. The beef below looks like barf on a plate ... which I assure you it does not in person (well, maybe a bit brown/green/grey, but not barf-like). Side-note: does anyone else picture a cow with pudgy cheeks when ordering beef cheeks? No? Oh.

Beef Cheeks with Lentils
My mostly vegetarian friend received a lovely spaghetti with blue cheese and I think rapini. I dunno. I didn't try it and she didn't give me her review. But, I know she was quite happy with it. Look, it's not on the menu so sue me for being a bit flip about this one.

The last main between us was by far the behemoth dish: the wild boar, spareribs, tripe and meatballs on soft polenta. I mean, it was HUGE (sorry - no pic posted - it turned out terrible). This dish was full of mixed emotions. Some of the meat was executed well but the ribs, for example, had not been cooked quite enough and so the connective tissue held on tight making cutting into it a chore. Besides the meatballs, the rest of the meats lacked individual discernible flavour. The polenta also seemed as though it had sat for a while before coming out so had started to set and become a gelled mass. It was too uptight. It needed to be more loose. Maybe drunk, even.

So the last thing is dessert. Which we didn't order. *gasp*! What kind of amateur food-blogger am I not to order something from each part of the menu?! Well, one that wasn't jazzed by either of the two options on the  menu. Yes, two. Now I'm not a dessert person so this didn't bother me any but the majority of my table would typically order dessert. And they were sorely disappointed. Apparently the chef has heard this before - check out his Jan 18th Tweet.

Besides the food, I would be reticent if I didn't comment on our service. It was friendly. It was mostly attentive. But, it fell down in a few areas: 1) service was generally slow, 2) one order of burrata didn't arrive (and then was on the bill) and 3) we waited uncomfortably long for one main to arrive. I thought I counted 5 waiters which seemed like enough for the small room but perhaps I mis-counted. Regardless, diners shouldn't feel it if a waiter is busy or not.

Overall, I'd say it's definitely worth going. If I lived in the neighbourhood I could see how it would become a good local go-to place. Given I live on the East side I likely won't make a point to go back unless there's an event, however I would recommend others check it out. Just like they say: it's good honest home-cooked food. And I like that kind of food.


  1. Beppi's review for Campagnolo:

  2. Sorry, it is from Joanne Kates