Bar Bricco

10347 Jasper Avenue

Food: 4 of 5 Suns

Ambience: 3.5 of 5 Suns

Service: 3.5 of 5 Suns

Tuesday to Saturday evenings

No reservations

Dinner for two, just food — basic $50, loaded $80

The Red Ox Inn spawned Canteen. Hardware Grill spawned Tavern 1903.

Now, right next door on Jasper Avenue, Corso 32 has spawned Bar Bricco.

It’s Phase II of executive chef/owner Daniel Costa’s plan of three restaurants side by side, three styles of regional Italian cuisine — the gourmet Corso 32, the “snacks” of Bar Bricco, and, soon, an 80-seat urban trattoria/pasta house in what was the Transcend coffee cafe.

Bar Bricco’s “snacks” are all about the small-plates craze sweeping the city, but these are “snacks” in name only. The menu is divided into spuntini (snacks), salumi (cold cuts), formaggi (cheese) and condiment (mini-desserts).

Not just any snacks, but delicious truffles, high-end Italian cheeses, special butters, minimal but marvellous home-made pasta — each dish in the $12 to $15 range.

Costa exploits regional Italian cuisine rarely seen in Canada, interpreted in a thoroughly modern manner.

Bar Bricco’s “Fonduta Agnolotti Dal Plin”, for instance, consists of small, soft, silky pasta squares enclosing a rich dab of near-liquid ricotta cheese, dipped into melted sage butter, then grated paramigiano, then into the mouth. It is nothing but billowy lightness and soft chewiness.

Already Bar Bricco has a signature dish. Its “Egg Yolk Raviolo” is a soft-cooked egg enclosed in the thinnest of a pasta skin, liberally doused with a soft, white-truffle accented Tuscan cheese, broiled for a few seconds, sprinkled with shaved ricotta and a few delicate greens.

The Costa touch is, as always, about soft textures, unusual cheeses and hints of truffle. The man uses truffle as other chefs use garlic!

As in Corso 32, one eats at Bar Bricco in a crowded fashion. Two usually end up cheek-by-jowl with another two at just four small tables plus a long counter. Jousting for table space as the small plates arrive inevitably leads to tasting talk and even shared bites. Bar Bricco and Corso 32 both defy Canada’s speak-not-to-strangers dining etiquette.

An entire section of the menu is dedicated to salami, or, in Italian, “Salumi”. This is salami as you’ve never tasted before, specialty black truffle salami from Toscana, a famous Spanish salami from chestnut-fed pigs, or an astounding two-year-aged, rich red culatello salami with one of the finest finishes you’ll ever taste. Of special note is the house-made cold-cut style porchetta, with its creamy fat and a healthy sprinkle of black pepper.

From the Formaggi (cheese) section comes an intense, black-truffle infused moliterno from Sardinia that’ll knock your socks off. It arrives as two thick slices of dense black-veined cheese streaked with honey. Just taste these intense truffle-cheese morsels from heaven and you’ll understand the $14 price tag.

Bar Bricco is not for everyone. Costa is uncompromising — there’s no “mom ‘n’ pop” food here for the less adventurous. In this submersion of regional Italian delicacies, you’re either in or you’re out. The restaurant is tiny and crowded, definitely not for the claustrophobic. As reservations are not taken, there’s a stand-up mingle space for pre-dinner drinks or the start of your “snacking”.

Think of Bar Bricco as a lavish gourmet-style Italian picnic, filled with beautiful cold cuts, hot delicacies, cheese here, there and everywhere, pepper and truffle and fine breads, jugs of fresh wine for all.

I do wish chef Costa would compromise on his “Italian only” menu descriptions. It’s pretentious and a disservice to those mere mortals who know not the language.

Art of Conversation

The Art of Conversation XCIII takes place Tuesday May 27 between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Larry and Melinda Stewart’s new, but old, Tavern 1903 directly across from the Shaw Conference Centre. All are invited to this monthly gathering, hosted by myself, Capital FM’s Rob Christie and Audie Lynds, to discover the long-lost art of conversation without motive.