What do you do when you're an Italian-Canadian bush pilot in training who is craving a hard-to-find food you miss dearly from Italy?
If you're Giovanni Mascagni, you open a restaurant - Fiorino - and put that dish on the menu. That dish, by the way, is a simple sandwich made using schiacciata, a bread similar to focaccia found in Mascagni's native Florence.
Fiorino opened in late 2021. Located in a former pub-style restaurant space in Chinatown, the modern Italian eatery has day-to-night service - including a snack- and drink-fulled aperitivo offering, aka happy hour - and a fun little patio space out front that puts you in the midst of the colourful neighbourhood.
Fitting, as Mascagni's beloved childhood sandwich is considered street food in Italy. And while Mascagni and the Fiorino team aren't buzzing around Vancouver in a food truck or cart, as we have come to know street food, they are serving up approachable, thoughtful Italian dishes, including a couple more that showcase ingredients and preparations you won't likely find on other local Italian restaurant menus.
"We want to stay true to our traditions, but we also want to bring them into 2022," Mascagni tells V.I.A. during an in-person chat on the Fiorino patio.
What's on the menu at Fiorino?
That means putting on staff a septuagenarian Tuscan baker who comes in at the crack of dawn to bake everything, including the schiacciata used for Fiorino's loaded, flavour-packed sandwiches. Between slices of the fluffy Tuscan bread you'll find things like bresaola, gorgonzola spread, cherry tomato, lettuce, and fig jam (called "Blu") or the meat-free "Vegana" with roasted zucchini, caponata frisée, tomato, onion, and aged balsamic.
Other ways Fiorino is offering an authentic bite of Tuscany are dishes like the panzanella (bread salad), which Mascagni says has been a little "modernized" for Vancouver palates to ensure it's approachable but a great representation of a classic. However, Fiorino is also offering Coccoli e Prosciutto, a dish of fried dough bites served with 18-month Prosciutto di Parma and stracchino - a young, soft and creamy Italian cow's milk cheese Mascagni imports through local vendors.
Fiorino is also serving up a traditional Florentine steak, which in their case is an impressive 35-ounce cut from B.C.'a 63 Acres they dry-age for 45 days before cooking up and serving to a table. This isn't something you'll carve into all alone, though, and then need a take-home bag; in Florence, these steaks are meant to be shared among the table, and Fiorino's is ideal for at least three to four guests to take on together.
The share-plates approach is the heart of Fiorino's dinner menu, while lunch is a bit more about somewhat lighter bites - though, to be certain, you can order up a plate of pasta for either meal like a spicy Spaghettoni ai frutti di mare (spaghetti with seafood in an arrabiata sauce).
Mascagni says Fiorino's philosophy of highlighting lesser-known Italian items like stracchino or coccoli also extends to how they've built their wine list for the restaurant. All the wine on offer is Italian, and Mascagni explains they're trying to "showcase smaller producers and different varietals that aren't as popular in Canada." Fear not, though, while your server can steer you towards something you've never tried before, vino fans will recognize varietals like amarone, barolo, and chianti.
In addition to the extensive Italian wine program, look for local craft beers (and Italy's Perroni) alongside classic Italian cocktails and digestifs. There's even a full menu of negroni selections, from the "Classico" to ones that feature flavours like rhubarb or coffee.
Top of mind of Mascagni and the Fiorino team's vision is to offer Vancouver a taste of "everything else they have in Italy," and the chance for the guest to experience something different. "We're modern, youthful, but very Italian," adds Mascagni.
Fiorino is located at 212 E. Georgia St, Vancouver and is open seven days a week, serving lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., aperitivo from 3 to 6 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. to late.