By Bryn Skibo-Birney
Photos: Bryn Skibo-Birney
The most immediately striking aspect of Fiore Famiglia is the very fact that it’s understated. Sharing the sidewalk with a grocery store and a bakery, the chic patio and twinkle-lit trees give way to an unexpectedly sophisticated interior. Abstract paper-maché lamps over the bar offer a pleasant contrast with an almost baroquely opulent dried-flower structure hanging over the dining room.
A deep thrumming on the stereo could be Massive Attack, Portishead, or Bjork. Whatever it is, it’s simultaneously unobtrusive and cool. The contemporary décor is, however, entirely approachable. On a particular Thursday evening in May, older couples and friends dined alongside a multi-generational family celebration; first dates considered desserts; two friends in their twenties shared a bottle of wine and beef roulade; and a few regulars chatted with the bartender at the bar. (It may be helpful to know, here, that Fiore Famiglia translates from Italian to “flower family.”)
While the interior suggests an almost spartan urbanity, this aesthetic is unquestionably offset and complemented by the rich, homemade dishes coming from the kitchen. My reviewing partner and I went full spectrum, hitting some of the restaurant’s tried-and-true favorites as well as some of the newly added specials.
It’s easy to see why patrons regularly order the house-favorite Pappardelle Bolognese. The noodles are thick, perfectly al dente, and delicious (appropriate, since pappare meaning “to gobble”); they make a comforting base to soak up the surprisingly light Bolognese sauce. If you have in mind an image of a pile of spaghetti noodles with a ladle of chunky sauce on top, forget that. Fiore Famiglia’s Bolognese is rich, and yet delicate and well-balanced, meaning that you get a clear taste of the beef (delicately spiced), tomatoes, black pepper, and olive oil. Normally, I’d discuss the appetizers and drinks first, but if you have the Bolognese, you’ll understand why I started here. In a word, it’s superb.
From the Specials menu, the Pea and Mint Ravioli was bursting with the titular flavors, making it a great choice for a sunny evening with a glass of Terravista ‘Figaro’ from the Okanagan. The minerality of the white wine (Rousanne, Viognier, and Marsanne, for would-be sommeliers) cuts cleanly through the cream sauce and contrasted the astringency of the radish and zucchini. Perhaps the ravioli were a bit too al-dente, but as the dish transitions from the Specials to the regular menu, the kinks will inevitably be worked out, and I see it becoming a favorite as the Vancouver summer heats up.
But it wasn’t all pasta, pasta, pasta. The appetizers run the gamut from marinated olives (the good kind; dark purple, meaty, and soft, with an herbaceous streak from the bay leaves) to salads and soup and the ubiquitous avocado toast. Panzanella Salad is a popular Italian summer dish that repurposes stale bread into olive-oil-and-vinegar-soaked croutons, tossed with roasted cherry tomatoes and marinated zucchini. It’s a good starter to share (as the acidity of the vinegar can start to overwhelm the palate) and would balance a meatier main course (try the Pork Cheeks!).
Speaking of salads, perhaps our favorite dish that evening was the Roasted Carrot Salad with frisée, fennel, toasted almonds, shaved ricotta salata, and bloomed raisins. I understand that people don’t usually go to Italian restaurants for carrot salad. But in Fiore Famiglia’s case, you should (also for the cocktails, but we’ll get to that). The flavor was rounded and complex, with the roasted carrots playing straight-man within the overall troupe: grounding the sweetness of the raisins, the rich earthiness of the toasted almonds, and the subtle creaminess of the ricotta salata. Order the carrot salad with a daily antipasti board of meats, cheeses, house focaccia, and marinated olives, alongside a bottle of a light and fruity Italian red, and you have a fantastic, cosmopolitan spread to share.
Sharing is key at Fiore Famiglia; the menu advises patrons that all plates are designed to share, and this point should be taken to heart. The larger appetizers are indeed large, as are the main dishes. We found that olives, plus two of the larger appetizers, and a main to share would provide an elegant sufficiency, especially if you intend to eat dessert.
For desserts, I suggest the Zucotto, an intensely rich and dark dome of chocolate ganache, hazelnut mousse, pistachios, and caramel drizzle. Normally, I’d also suggest a more robust red wine (e.g. Granache or Syrah) to pair with decadent chocolate cake, but I was deeply happy to discover the Montenegro Flip, a re-designed coffee cocktail, made with a whole egg, amaro, and port, topped with orange shavings. It’s an airy confection that highlights the chocolate of the Zucotto without becoming too much chocolate; the bitter amaro adds a nice balance to the ganache.
On this point, the cocktail list at Famiglia Fiore deserves special recognition, for it’s here that the restaurant’s aesthetic becomes clear. Split into three suggestive sections – “In the Sunlight,” Amid the Din of Dusk,” and “By the Moonlight” – the beverage menu is awash with contemporary, sophisticated spins on classically structured cocktails.
For example, despite what the New York Times may have to say about it, Aperol Spritzes remain a standard favorite across Western Europe and now North America, and for good reason. They’re fresh, refreshing, and fun; they are the embodiment of a warm summer evening al-fresco.
The Landrusco Spritz at Fiore Famiglia takes the same idea but replaces the usual Prosecco with Landrusco, a sparkling Italian red. The result is a drier, fuller-bodied cocktail that has all the lightness and citrus of an Aperol Spritz with a little less sweetness.
Alternatively, the Segatore is a frothy, herbal concoction that is dangerously easy to drink. There are at least three other cocktails on the list that I secretly hoped would be sent to the table by mistake so I could try them. Do yourself a favor: find a few friends, reserve a table outside, order some olives, a salad, an antipasti board, and a round of a variety of cocktails. Sip, relax into the deep beats, and look up at the twinkle lights. Roma, Schmoma. In Kits, with your flower family, la vita è così buona.
Order to share!
What to try:
The regular menu is decidedly well-balanced and honed; the house favorites of the Spaghetti Carbonara and Pappardelle Bolognese are popular for good reason. That said, the Beef Roulade looks outstanding. We’re going for that on our next visit, with the carrot salad, of course.
Fiore Famiglia, 2603 West 16th Avenue, 604-558-2603, fiorerestaurants.ca/famiglia
Last modified: June 8, 2019