Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2011
Chef Craig Harding and partner Alexandra Hutchison perch on the counter at their Dundas Street restaurant.
Campagna in Italian means country. Campagnolo, then, roughly translates to country bumpkin. Part of the Sunday dinner school – the wave of young chefs paying tribute to their grandmothers’ cooking – Craig Harding has created a restaurant in homage to his Venetian nonna.
The locale is unabashedly low-rent (a former Coffee Time outlet redesigned by Harding’s partner, HGTV’s Alexandra Hutchison), located in what has become Toronto’s Meateating District, thanks in part to Harding’s friends at the nearby Black Hoof. Fortunately for a city that doesn’t need another authenticity-obsessed trattoria, Campagnolo is really very cosmopolita. The easygoing wine list is just as likely to unearth a Bastardo as a Barolo. The clarified Caesar cocktail is Roman in name only. And where a paesano would offer crudo, Harding is comfortable calling it ceviche (of grouper with sweet peppers and lemon balm).
Still, the backbone of the revolving menu is Italian, and Harding demonstrates that wonderful genetic predisposition for preparing bitter ingredients with grace. Radicchio, radishes and escarole are set off with unexpected hits of charcoal smoke from grilled nectarines. A vibrant arugula sauce underscores buoyant squid and a perfectly crusted, ink-stained arancino. If there’s a signature dish, it’s Ontario burrata with roasted grapes, puckered but still clinging to the vine, chives and garlic-rubbed toast. Just as decadent, a dessert of salted caramel budino inspires instant wistfulness.
With all due respect to Harding’s grandma, this isn’t cucina della nonna. It’s youthful, loose, sophisticated and at its best when relaxed – more like an Italian on vacation.