Betty, Sandy and I take each other out for dinner for our birthdays. Saturday night was Betty’s turn. As usual with us, she had no idea where she was going — after the spa. Because we spaaaaaahed first and got our Bodies Blitzed. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I took the waters (repeatedly). Sandy & Betty chose interesting body scrubs, and Betty got a facial as well. We floated like balloons back to Sandy’s, where we shared a bottle of Mumm’s Napa champagne. Nice! Not too dry, not too sweet. We approve. Then we bundled up against the wind, and headed out for a 20 minute walk.
Over near the corner of Palmerston and Dundas West stands a restaurant that En Route Magazine listed as one of the top ten new restaurants in Canada this past year: Campagnolo.
We arrived fairly early for a Saturday night dinner, and the restaurant was about 3/4 full. It’s an open space, with a small bar that people can sit at and eat, and an open kitchen.
Our coats were taken, we were seated, and given three menus.
Immediate triage reaction: what has to be decided first? We chose the cocktail menu, and each had a different cocktail. Very flavourful, all very different. There was a Hendrick’s gin-based cocktail. One that seemed margarita-like. One with a peaty smoky scotch as the base. And we then sat back to figure out what to have for appetizers.
Our first appetizer up was bread: gougeres and herbed butter.
It was quickly followed by warm spiced olives, which we immediately fell in love with and devoured. What a difference in taste from cold or room-temperature olives! Of course, we’ve had hot olives as an ingredient in other dishes (like pasta puttanesca) but this was the first time having them on their own, enjoying the heated flavours, the herbs (rosemary, thyme, chili peppers, preserved/salty orange peel)… yum.
Then came (I think it was next) a gorgeous steak tartare. Sorry, no picture. We fell on it and devoured it. What can I say? We were hungry. Creamy, smooth, proper level of herbing and spicing. It came with a truffle aioli. That’s really sinful. It’s really awesome. It’s better than chocolate, and I can think of naughty ways to serve it. Yes, I’ll eat my red meat raw like this. I’ll even do it every week, if you’ll pay for it!
It was followed by a hot appetizer: sweetbreads and braised artichokes. Darling little artichoke hearts and stems on, and crispy fried pieces of sweetbreads. Sitting on little dollops of a regular aioli. Gorgeous. The flavours — warm creamy slightly liver-like flavour of sweetbreads, inside a crunchy fried casing, and then matched with the almost not quite bitter and mild artichokes. Wonderful pairing, beautiful presentation.
Yah, that’s Sandy doing the peace sign.
Based on the order of my photos, I think this is when our bottle of wine arrived, a Primitivo Manduria from southern Italy. Sandy made a delicious selection.
Presentation for the next appetizer was superb, as well: a lengthwise slice of a marrow beef bone dressed with a plum and oxtail marmelade. Served with some crostinis for us to scoop the bubbling marrow onto. The marrow was perfect — still quivery, had that totally unctuous texture. The jam contributed sweet and meat to the dish, giving it a contrast that enabled us to fully appreciate the beautifully braised oxtail contrasting with the light-tasting and rich marrow, and the plum providing some acid and sweetness to cut through the other flavours. Can it get any better than this?
Oh yes, for now we’re on to our mains.
I never order lasagne in a good restaurant. Just… I just don’t. But I decided I would. They called it “Nonna’s lasagne.” And I’ve eaten so much pasta with wonderful meats in the last two months… what would they do with lasagne?
Many thin layers of homemade pasta. I counted at least ten. It was light, it had a meat and tomato sauce, a little cheese — this wasn’t your standard North American overstuffed heavy lasagne. No bechamel sauce! It was wonderful. It tasted of real tomatoes and meat and pasta. I loved it.
Sandy chose the pappardelle with rabbit and chanterelle mushrooms (of course we all tasted each other’s dishes)! Perfectly braised (by this point, I’ve come to expect that they know how to slow cook meat, country style).
Betty got the lamb shank, which came with perfectly caramelized cubes of potato and pork belly. Oh yes, this was a meat-eater’s dish. And it was perfect. The deep rich flavours of the lamb shank paired with the lighter pork belly (I never thought I’d refer to pork belly as a lighter flavour) and the potato cubes. Awesomeness incarnate.
In case you want to accuse us of not eating our greens, we did order a dish of brussels sprouts with peccorino cheese and pine nuts. Absolutely delicious — a bit of a cream sauce in the dish to give additional moisture. We totally emptied the dish.
Our absolutely delightful server asked us if we’d be staying for dessert. Alas, we were all fed up. He was adorable. I hope you get to sit at one of his tables. I should have written his name down. Sometimes I #fail. He sat beside Sandy so I could take this shot.
Serious line-up at the front when we exited: this place is somewhere people come back to. It’s been open a year and a couple of weeks, and is full.
We walked back toward Sandy’s, where we had left our wet bathing suits and such, and passed by a Portuguese bakery that we had seen going the other way. Aaaaaah! It’s still open!!! It’s reputed to have the best custard tarts in the city! We must stop at Caldense Bakery.
We do. We buy a selection of items, and return to Sandy’s — we can share dessert with Damir, who loves a nice sweet at the end of the night. We have coconut macaroons, pumpkin squash tarts, custard tarts, and some orange cupcake-like things.
Woh. Full-o-meter has pegged. Happy birthday, Betty: really enjoyed celebrating it with you!