First of all, I need to apologize to Chef/Owner Craig Harding for complaining on Twitter about my reservation. See I had used Urbanspoon to make a reservation for “next Thurs” by selecting the next Thursday listed on the reservation site (which was the 30th). When I showed up on “next Thurs” (the 23rd) the restaurant was closed. I was disappointed and said as much on Twitter. I obviously hadn’t looked at the dates, which had skipped a week in Urbanspoon’s system due to the closure. I hope Craig accepts my apology.
That said, I kept my reservation and dined with a good friend at Campagnolo. The brick building just west of Bathurst on Dundas used to be a Coffee Time before being painted gray and turned into this award-winning Italian restaurant. I’ve frequently ridden down Dundas at dinner time, and I can assure you the place is usually full. Given what I had seen and heard, expectations were high.
The service at Campagnolo was not overly friendly or attentive. I arrived in advance of my partner and sat a bit. A few servers asked me if I wanted drinks, but I asked for only water until my companion arrived. When my dining partner did arrive, the server only came to the table to lean over my shoulder and check what I was looking up on my cellphone. We ordered two appetizers. The table next to us was then seated. About 10 minutes later, they ordered four appetizers. Despite ordering later and having a larger party, their appetizers came out a good 5 minutes before ours arrived. We were drooling over our neighbor’s food.
The wood tables, big chairs, and candle light reflecting off of wine glasses, really gives this place a cozy feel. The tables can be quite close to each other – but this is sometimes a good thing. By the end of the meal we had a good rapport with our neighbors. They had been picking on me for taking photos of my meal – and even asked, in tourist like fashion, if I wanted to pose with both dishes at once. They joked about switching dishes and stories about ex-girlfriends started to flow. Really, making new friends over food became the highlight of the night!
First thing to note is that the prices were (too?) high, but the entrée portion size was huge. The two of us could have shared either of the two entrees we ordered and been satisfied. The menu changes frequently, but presented a bit of a challenge for us. My dining companion is pregnant (our neighbors thought it was my child! It’s not!), so shellfish (Chilled Corn Soup with Lobster) and possibly undercooked fish (Seared Albacore Tuna) were off the menu for us. We had also just cooked pasta for a recent dinner party, and thus felt compelled to order something else. So we started the meal with the house-made Baguette and Gougères and the Roasted Bone Marrow with Oxtail. For mains, we ordered the Crispy Sea Bream and the Buttermilk Fried Chicken.
House-made Baguette and Gougères – $4
So yes, I was looking up what gougères were when the waiter leaned behind me to see what I was doing. I hadn’t run across these French cheese flavored pastry balls in a restaurant before. They were light, fluffy, and somewhat cheesy. The Baguette was a disappointment: it had clearly been in the oven a bit too long, and although still only a dark brown, biting into the crust gave off a displeasing burnt flavor.
Roasted Bone Marrow with Oxtail and Plum Marmalade – $13
This dish was the highlight of the night. Served in the cavity of a divided bone, the fatty bone marrow was cut nicely by the rich flavors of the oxtail. The plum marmalade gave it a slightly sweet finish. No faults with this dish, if you go, order it.
Crispy Sea Bream with Romano Beans – $28
Fish was served pan-fried with the skin on. The crispiness of the skin was delightful, and the fish was flavorful and not over cooked. Between the two fillets of fish were romano beans, arugula, tomatoes, and pesto Genovese. The tomatoes did a wonderful job of cutting the slight bitterness of the arugula and brought out the flavor of the beans. The pesto was good, although there wasn’t enough of it. Over all the meal was solid and tasty.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken – $27
Three large pieces of fried chicken were served with Parmesan biscuits and gravy, sweet corn salad, as well as a watermelon, mint, and cucumber salad. Although I’m sure the Italians fry chicken, this dish struck me as very southern American, except for the Parmesan used in the biscuit. Each piece of chicken was juicy and moist on the inside. The buttermilk coating was thick and heavy – a little too heavy for my taste, but it did pack a buttermilk punch. By the end of two pieces, I really wanted to soften the coating a bit – dipping it into the gravy helped – but there was not enough gravy to handle even a half piece of chicken. I didn’t care much for the sweet corn salad – all I could taste was sweet corn, and if we’re going to do that, let’s just serve it on the cob (we’re eating fried chicken after all). The watermelon salad was delicious, especially after the hard buttermilk coating.
Budino is the Italian word for custard or pudding. This custard or pudding, which I believe was caramel flavored, came with bits of meringue and a salted caramel sauce. While the texture was nice, the salt was overwhelming. My partner thought that both the custard and the sauce and been salted – which accounted for why we could taste little else.
Campagnolo did some things brilliantly (the oxtail), some things well (sea bream and chicken), but ultimately didn’t seem to pay attention to the details (baguette and Budino). Campagnolo’s signature dishes (oxtail, pasta, etc.) may be the talk of the down, and it may be our fault for not staying with those dishes while ordering. We left the restaurant satisfied, but by no means blown away. In the end we’ll probably remember our conversations with the table next to us more than the food. If our neighbors are reading, tell us if your experience differed in the comments.