Open daily from 5pm
Owners: Mike Jeffs (chef), Nicole Welsh and Brad Roark
Located near the corner of Denman and Robson St., Tavola is a neighbourhood West End restaurant, serving modern Italian food. Welcoming you is the team who brought you Tapastree and Nook. Tavola continues the tradition of sharing food – family style, in a warm, contemporary environment at value conscious prices. The dining room reflects this convivial atmosphere with a 16 seat long table that is perfect for both groups and casual diners. The antipasto bar is the place to start as we feature Mozzarella di Bufala, Burrata, artisan prosciutto, salamis and antipasto platters. Also setting Tavola apart is the commitment to house made pastas and sauces. Share these along with our big plates – steak, brick roasted chicken, braised meats and seafood – prepared as classic Italian platters.
“Tavola offers ‘mom food’, served to satisfy” by Mia Stainsby
Tapastree is the latest to turn the page on tapas. It’s now called Tavola, which in Italian, means table. The goal, Jeffs says, is to serve “good simple food in a place that’s fun.” So Tavola’s menu serves Italian trat kind of food — pastas, lots of braised entrées, crostinis.
There are a couple of unique features. One is the soft Italian cheese menu featuring fresh buffalo mozzarella and burata. And in another departure from the norm, he’d like to see people break rank from the appy and entrée routine.
“Ultimately, I want people to share an antipasto, a pasta and a main course.” Pasta dishes are $16 to $18; “big plates” are $22 to $24, although a dry-aged Canadian prime rib steak is $45 (big enough to share).
The owners also run Nook, on Denman St., known for its good pizzas, crostinis and pastas. Tavola also does crostini but not the same ones. Since the restaurants are within walking distance of each other, they don’t duplicate any of the dishes.
A little detail stood out and spoke well of the intent of this place. The bread was served with olive oil and, usually, I’d wish it was butter. But this was very good olive oil and I was glad it wasn’t butter.
The wine list is a mix of Italian and hard-to-get B.C. wines and servers are adept at guiding us through it.
“Tavola is a triumph” by Andrew Morrison
Jeffs evidently put a lot of thought into the menu, which reads like a more mature sequel to that which has the crowds lining up at Nook. I love the ‘Mozza Bar’ section, which sees real Italian burrata up against American burrata and water buffalo mozzarella from Vancouver Island’s own Fairburn Farms. These can be paired with prosciutto and grilled eggplant, roasted tomatoes and arugula, sea salt and olive oil, or a selection of salamis. A share plate will set you back between $13 and $16 — pricey, but the quality of product is high.
As at Nook, the selection of crostini (Italian for “little toasts”) is the stuff of addiction. A plate of three costs $9, and you can mix and match toppings. We opted for chickpea mashed with roasted garlic and herbs, and a spread of walnut pesto with Gorgonzola and pear. Both were excellent, and it was all we could do not to order another round.
With the six pastas (all made in-house), Jeffs has aimed for a middle ground between the common and uncommon. His spaghetti cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), for example, is a rarely seen version of the classic aglio e olio (garlic and oil). It’s heavy on the black pepper — deliciously so — with a generous lashing of pecorino cheese, though expensive at $16 (I suppose, however, that if you want something done right, you have to pay for it). I loved the intensity of the tonnarelli with anchovies and Calabrian chilies ($17), and the elegant simplicity of the pork-jowl-stuffed agnolotti, earthily dressed in sage butter ($18).
Of the five items on the ‘Big Plates’ portion of the menu, we opted for classic Tuscan-style “brick” chicken. This arrived as a large breast and leg alone on the plate — no starch or vegetables (sides are an extra $7-$9). It had been weighed down in the oven by a foil-covered brick to accelerate the cooking, and the result was fabulous, its meat juicy inside crispy, garlicky, golden-brown skin. It was, I think, the best-tasting piece of poultry I’ve had so far this year, making the $22 price tag a lot easier to swallow. For my next visit, I have my eye on the mixed grill, which promises beef bavette, pork loin, sweet Italian sausage, and lamb chop for $30.
To drink, there are six beers on offer (including the Italian mainstays Menabrea and Peroni), a short selection of cocktails and Prosecco-sparked “bubbly drinks,” and a fair list of local and Italian wines which the staff are schooled in pairing.