I had driven by this location many times coming up Smithe from Cambie Street and thought it was just a small café because of its unassuming corner front in a renovated brick building. For sure the entrance is unassuming but you immediately go up a three-quarter flight of stairs into the main restaurant which is kind of on the second floor of the building, and it is extensive and visually impressive.
We had a 5:30 reservation and the place was pretty well unsubscribed, but filled up through the next couple of hours. There is a pretty front semi-mezzanine area with windows overlooking a quieter street. The kitchen is open at the back, lots of wine bottles on display everywhere in a clean mid-century modern interior. The welcome and service was businesslike and we got a bit of attention from a young Italian-Canadian sommelier who recognized our 2010 barbaresco. The corkage was reasonable. But I gotta say noise eventually reminded me of an Argentine soccer stadium.
A Campari boulevardier was cold and tasty, and then entrees arrived: a convincing beef carpaccio with capers, shaved crumbly parmesan and horseradish mayo. The beef was beautifully dry and non-adherent, a classy real Italian version of this well-known dish. Squid came in a nicely unusual form. The creature’s main body or mantle had been skinned and softly poached and was set up and sliced vertically with a puttanesca dressing of red pepper, olives, and anchovies. Soft and delicious.
The mains were good but as seems to happen all the time (has to be because I’m starving attacking the first course) a little less exciting than the starters. Ribeye steak was requested between rare and medium-rare, but served closer to medium with its bone marrow and mushroom sauce. Otherwise nice distinct flavours. I had the off-menu special carbonara, served as small solid pasta cylinders like a large orzo, with its nicely-done creamy egg sauce but maybe not quite as much guanciale as a smoked pork fan like me was hoping for.
$250 for two including tip (but bringing our own wine) is a little on the steep side (the carpaccio was $21 and the ribeye steak $49) but the quality is good although I don’t think it beats Savio Volpe at about the same price and certainly not Cioppino, Il Giardino or CinCin, all a bit higher on the specie spectrum. I think for the money I’d go somewhere else on the now-unusual occasions when we have dinner in town.
Food 8.8 service 7.9 ambience 8.6 value 7.8 peace and quiet 4.0