Since I went to Osteria Savio Volpe I’ve had a tough time putting it out of my mind… Here, in no particular order, are a few thoughts on what sets this laid back Italian apart.
Well, that’s the reaction I get from most people when I mention the name—which I happen to think is pretty clever. It means, literally, “The Tavern of the Clever Fox”. To be fair, for anyone who maybe doesn’t have an ear for Italian, it’s a tad challenging. Never mind. Once they’ve found it they won’t forget.
I like the idea of the tavern reference. It’s a nod to the old roadhouses that were common on the colony’s early wagon trails. And Kingsway was one of those. It started out as a little more than a muddy track. The route linked the capital of New Westminster (aka Royal City) to English Bay. Dotted around it were the sawmills that were precursors to Granville and Vancouver.
If you know Les Faux Bourgeois, it’s just down the street from there, a few doors west of Kingsway and Faser. In a way Osteria Savio Volpe lends a happy symbiosis to LFB, with similar feel and the same kind of passion behind the food. Not to take anything away from Les Faux, because it was the trailblazer, a few years back. I love the way that restaurants like these act as bellwethers to neighbourhoods in flux.
On the plate …
Any menu that leaves you wishing you could just order the whole thing is a sign that something good’s afoot. The first hint that Osteria Savio Volpe is noteworthy comes with an addictive black kale salad. It’s a simple, straightforward dish. Then again, it’s often just those kinds of plates that make a lasting impression. The key, says Savio chef Marc Perrier, is to find the right kind of (tender and fresh) kale. And not lose your fingertips on the mandolin.
The kale is diced and mixed with lemon pepper, olive oil and Pecorino cheese ($13). it’s a definite keeper that I’ve be trying to replicate—with fingers intact. (A good knife also works fine.) Then again, I could always just go back…
I was also wowed by the combination of the beet and citrus salad with almonds and Ricotta ($15). It rewards with an array of contrasting flavours and textures.
The evening’s visual show stopper was the bagna cauda (top). This simply conceived vegetable dip includes fingerling potatoes, celery, peppers and carrots, plus home baked bread. The “hot bath” is a delicious hot anchovy and garlic ‘fondue’ ($17). I’ll be back for these too.
Next up: a wood fired heritage pork chop. It comes tender and singed, served with irresistible seasonal ‘smashed’ root vegetables. The open grill sees lots of action. Featured spit-roasted offering change by the day. And a wealth of other tastes to ponder roams from grilled squid to rabbit and more.
For dessert, all we needed was to share the sinfully rich and dense “Grandfather’s Chocolate Tart,” another superb array of contrasts, with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and pine nuts.
In the glass
If you wanted more evidence of depth, a glance at the wine list confirms it. Plus the staff know their pairings. The all Italian list is well chosen and balanced with good local craft brews (Brassneck, Four Winds etc.) and smart cocktails.
Equally smart is the service. Not to mention the retro play list, which is one of the best I’ve heard, ever.
Wines by the glass run the gamut of the wine list, which allows for lots of flexibility. Planeta La Segreta Bianco 2014 (Sicily) had the citrus notes and the acidity for a slam dunk with the kale salad. And for the pork chop, Del Barbaresco Nebbiolo (Langhe) ’13 was perfect.
A savio room
The designers behind Savio Volpe have wrought a miracle. In a previous life, I knew this space as a longtime truck tire service garage and retread plant. But the building has great bones and they’ve made the most of them. The design is by Ste Marie, which is responsible for a number of award-winning designs, from Homer Street Café, Ask for Luigi, Meat and Bread and Bao Bei. Its principal, Craig Stanghetta is co-owner with Paul Grunberg (also co-owner l’Abattoire, and former manager at several notables) and Mark Perrier (also an impressive resumé).
Light, natural tones suit the relaxed mood well and the room revolves around two focal points. The bustling, central bar with casual seating anchors the centre. The equally busy open kitchen is in back. It’s surrounded by a showcase of Italian ingredients, house-made preserves and wines at the ready.
Above it all, that high ceiling just adds to the feeling of a destination room. At night, the expanse of glass in front is warm and inviting.
The western extremity of Kingsway is no longer the gritty stretch it once was. As more people move in its eateries reflect a more divers population. And, as densification takes hold, even the proliferation of pho shops is on the wane.
Details at saviovolpe.com