The large bay window is thrown wide open, making the restaurant one large space. The nine tables are arranged in neat rows and covered with the mandatory red and white tablecloth. Each table hosts a glass vase cradling a fully opened crimson rose. Masts from the sailboats in the harbour sway in the warm breeze and the park across the way is quiet at the dinner hour. It’s the perfect evening for a trip to Salt Spring’s Little Italy, as imagined by the owner and chef, Max Vecchio, of Pasta Vecchio.
You’ll find Max bringing a taste of Italy to his customers through his food and his romantic Italian manner, six days of the week. Pasta Vecchio sits amongst other small eateries and new age trinket shops in the small strip mall known as Gasoline Alley; named such because of the lone gas station anchoring one end.
Pasta Vecchio does not take reservations. If the tables are full you can get your meal to go and find a place in the park just across the way. Every now and then the hippie kids that populate Salt Spring’s communal farms are there dancing with their hoops or singing softly to a guitar.
During the day most of the customers are there to purchase house-made pasta, freshly created sauces or a slice of Sicilian pizza; a thing of beauty with its lightly fried thin crust baked with the simplest of toppings, tomato sauce and white pools of melted bocconcini. This piece of Italy is created in the highly visible kitchen, behind a glass wall, making a stop fun and educational. Max always delights in describing the various pastas with seemingly endless names.
As with many of the small businesses on this Island, the Pasta Vecchio experience is made so much more than an eating experience by the presence and interaction of the owner. His accent, from Milano, is delicious and he speaks about his ingredients with a passion that you can taste in the food.
Balancing somewhere between a café and a restaurant, the menus are posted above the counter. Purple and white against bright green walls, they are modern, with funky food graphics, but still easy to read. Seven different pasta sauces are offered with your choice of “regular” pasta, ravioli or a gluten free option. No need to decide which of the six or seven pasta forms would work best with your chosen sauce; Max will take care of that, picking just the right shape to cradle the coating.
Unfortunately, due to complicated liquor laws, Pasta Vecchio is not licensed, but they do have a selection of San Pellegrino sparkling waters and the standard sodas. Ordering and payment is done at the retail counter with the full range of payment options available.
The bright and clean tables are there all day, but really fill up in the evening with diners hungry for a thin crust pizza or a heaping bowl of the day’s freshly made pasta or a simple, crisp salad punctuated by sweet balsamic vinegar and fruity extra virgin olive oil.
A heaping bowl of radiatore (I’ll let you guess what shape they are) arrives ($13). It’s cooked al dente and coated with a rich, creamy leek and saffron sauce that sinks into the little ridges of the pasta, staying in place until you take a bite. Garlic bread perches on the edge of the wide rimmed pasta bowl, teasing me with the comforting smell of roasted garlic.
The Mediterranean Salad, with organic mixed greens, soft white nuggets of fresh bocconcini, thinly sliced ruby red tomatoes, and a simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic ($10) is the perfect accompaniment. Light and fresh, it compliments the richness of the pasta perfectly.
With impeccable timing, Max arrives with a thick wooden pedestal crowned with a thin crust pizza. The Pancetta E Cipolla teases with crisped mounds of thinly sliced pancetta ham and a generous sprinkling of richly sweet and tangy cipollinni onions. The crust is cooked to a light golden brown, bending only slightly under the weight of the toppings as it quickly disappears.
Ruled by a sweet tooth, say yes to the ubiquitous Italian dessert, Tiramisu ($7). Diving through the firm peaks of chocolate dusted whipped cream, into the smooth vanilla custard and ending in a sinful pile of ladyfingers soaked in strong Italian espresso, it’s hard to stop at just one serving.
Taking time to appreciate the food and enjoy the process of sitting down for a meal with family and friends is an essential part of the Italian experience. Eating is serious business and should be done without the rush of the North American lifestyle. The unhurried, but efficient, pace of Pasta Vecchio is the perfect place to fall in love with food again.
Find them at www.delvecchiopasta.com or 250-537-8588 or in person at 149 Fulford-Ganges Rd., Salt Spring Island, BC.