Perched at the marble bar at Giovane Bacaro on the ground floor of the Fairmont Pacific Rim, I ask for recommendations among the small plates that are the restaurant’s specialty—and I get potato chips.
“Potato chips are what the Venetians eat with their afternoon Aperol spritz,” the server says, but it’s hardly what I expected of cicchetti, the ultra-small servings that make up the first part of the menu. Framed ads for Campari above the bar recall a swinging 1960s Venice, right along the lines of the lemon-colored Vespa permanently out front. Chips feel like a jarring addition, as opposed to, say, the white anchovy on crostini—but the server is right. So thin they glisten like stained-glass windows, the housemade crisps topped with rosemary and sage pack a salty, herby bite. (And the tangy white anchovy’s not bad either.)
Italian is nothing new in Vancouver, where saucy southern-style dishes have long been a staple. But for the last few years the Kitchen Table Restaurants group has pursued modern takes, like fresh pasta at Ask for Luigi on the edge of Gastown and artisanal pizza at Pizzeria Farina. Giovane Bacaro, opened at the beginning of summer, is meant as a salute to the casual side of Venice—fitting for the hippest of Vancouver’s three luxury Fairmont hotels.
“Authenticity is not something that is extremely important to us,” explains culinary director Alex Tung. “It’s about taking the traditions of vitality and some products of Italy, but asking, how would an Italian cook in Vancouver?” So they import the loud and boisterous vibe of a Venetian bar but don’t mind flavors that are fully Northwest. Again at the server’s recommendation I try the sbocciare, a stinging nettle pasta molded into a rose shape around a thick slab of caciocavallo fonduta, topped with fresh summer vegetables. Again, the server is right.
The same month, Kitchen Table also launched Miantiao at the nearby Shangri-La Hotel, the concept wrapping Italian around Chinese influences in a slightly darker, moodier space. But only a few months in, the group plans to completely rework and rename the restaurant, pivoting more firmly into Italian flavors.
“Vancouver is a casual town,” says Tung, who despite his Chinese background considers himself an honorary Italian. “We’ve gone away from the sort of hoity-toity, French aspects of some of our dining—people like the conviviality and the sharing of Italian.”