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Until recent years, a longstanding cliché about Manhattanites was that a meal would have to promise near-religious transcendence to compel them to travel across a bridge into one of New York City’s four other boroughs.
Yet while the Lions Gate and Ironworkers Memorial bridges that separate Vancouver from North Vancouver aren’t exactly the equivalent of the Brooklyn or Queenboro in terms of undue schlep, they nevertheless represent a psychological hurdle to many of us who live south of the Inner Harbour.
All of which is to say that Kley and I had high expectations of In Vacanza Pastificio, an (obviously) Italian-themed food truck that was, on the night we tried it, parked in front of the craft distillery Sons of Vancouver (SOV) on the North Shore.
To be clear, the very idea that we considered ourselves to be going out of our way was ridiculous. The journey from our apartment in South Burnaby to SOV’s door was less than 20 minutes by car — a fraction of the time we’ve spent on transit for take-out fried chicken we then turned around and brought home.
We discovered In Vacanza Pastificio (IVP) — or, rather, they discovered us — via Kley’s many recent Instagram posts about his vacation in Florence and Rome. No sooner had he come back than IVP proprietor Eryn MacKenzie flew there with chef Anthony Cardoza to conduct a three-week “research and recipe development” expedition that took them from Milan to Venice, Cinque Terre to Naples, the Amalfi Coast to Sicily. Erin and Kley subsequently commiserated via DM about their mutual withdrawal from la dolce vita after returning home. Kley, in fact, has remained in mourning for more than two months, consoling himself with Italian pop songs, a newly established aperitivo ritual, and an ongoing search for local restaurants whose food and atmosphere might replicate the revelatory gastronomic experiences he had overseas.
In this regard, Kley and Eryn have much in common. Eryn was moved to create IVP after a backpacking trek through Italy in early March of 2020, during which she learned to make scratch pastas and sauces. Returning to Vancouver at the exact moment the pandemic was wrapping its imprisoning arms around the world, she resolved to share her newfound kitchen skills with local diners, and charge prices that hew closer to what you might pay for a life-changing bowl of rigatoni from a nondescript street vendor on Campo de’ Fiori (which is to say, not very much at all). In vacanza, by the way, means “on vacation.”
Despite a burgeoning law career, within months Eryn had launched IVP, which won awards for its food and unwittingly became a focal point of North Vancouver’s outdated policies regarding mobile eateries. Kley and I didn’t know this when we rolled up for our first taste a few weeks ago. We only knew we were hungry.
IVP’s current arrangement is that you can get your food to go from their window or have it brought to you while you enjoy drinks inside SOV’s cramped, lively and utterly lovely tasting lounge. We fully intended to make an evening of it, so we approached the scenario appropriately: we claimed the last remaining pair of seats at the bar, took delivery of some delicious drinks, and proceeded to wildly over-order from IVP’s menu.
Except, we soon realized, we didn’t over-order, because everything brought to us was so humbly yet overwhelmingly excellent that we don’t want to even contemplate having passed it up. Out of the sort of disposable paper trays that might typically hold sliders or deep-fried Oreos from a midway concession, we ate pastas that were the match of virtually anything we’ve had elsewhere in and around Vancouver — and, in Kley’s telling, the match (or very near to it) of some of the pastas he had in Italy.
The “Pasta Tasting Flight,” made up of four half-size orders, is a thoughtfully provided solution for those who, like us, are theoretically greedy yet realistic about their stomach’s limitations. We chose Cacio e Pepe, Bucatini all’Amatriciana, Spaghetti al Pomodoro, and Linguine Puttanesca — each a purposely, perfectly understated creation that, in the proper Italian tradition, serves to showcase the quality of a select few ingredients rather than trying to dazzle with complexity. That means authentic San Marzano tomatoes in the sauce, Tipo “00” flour and local free-range eggs forming the noodles, and fresh basil leaves and a modest showering of Parmigiano Reggiano when the dish calls for it. There was also a simply dressed salad of arugula and tomato hiding under a luscious puck of specially imported burrata that tasted like an evocation of the sun-filled springtime Vancouver seems determined to not give us this year.
All of this blissful indulgence was consumed in the happy contentment of SOV’s above-mentioned tasting room, where their exemplary spirits, made just steps from where we sat, form the basis of cocktails that were worth a bridge-crossing on their own. (I’d like it noted that the Vito Corleone shouldn’t be taken off the list under any circumstances.) Service was as relaxed as conversation between long-time friends, the playlist a deft blend of rock both classic (Bruce Springsteen) and cult (Jonathan Richman), and the entire night the very essence of what Kley and I people hope every meal out to be.
Cross a bridge? We’d have been no less pleased if we’d crossed an ocean.
(Photo: Kley Klemens)