It was like a collective sigh of relief passed through Vancouver: Nick's Spaghetti House was going to close, but something good--something potentially really, really good--would be going in its place.
Even more than just offering a replacement, Pepino's is treading gently on Nick's storied past and space, all while giving a graceful little nudge to traditional "spaghetti house" Italian fare.
The same team behind the wildly popular Savio Volpe (Paul Grunberg, Mark Perrier, Craig Stanghetta) are behind Pepino's--named for the "spaghetti mouse" of the same name immortalized in an old song, and the name of former owner Nick Felicella's racehorse. Pick up the drink menu and thumb the corners quickly to watch the animated little mouse drink more than his fill; that's design, baby.
A quick turnaround of the space means not too much has changed; it's a dim, borderline cramped room, where you'll ease your backside precariously between the close-knit tables as you slide into your seat. There are, of course, dark panelled walls, vintage murals and artwork, and Rat Pack-era music on the sound system. It's almost too dark to Instagram. Quite possibly the the horror of every home reno TV show host, they kept the popcorn ceiling. It could easily teeter to closely to kitsch, but everything stays nicely in check.
The menu is thankfully terse, skirting the folly of a more big box red sauce joint where they will subject pasta and marinara to all sorts of mistreatment. And there are no fried mozz sticks here, or endless bowls of refillable salad.
Still, it's playful: Charcuterie is called, almost dismissively, "Cold Cuts and Fried Olives." A simple Caesar salad takes a tiny step ahead in time in its somewhat deconstructed cut-it-yourself presentation of full leaves lounging on the plate.
There are just over a half dozen pastas on the menu, including an upscale riff on a scampi done with spot prawns served with linguine so decadently slick with olive oil and garlic the strands nearly twirl right off the fork. Fortunately for you and your dry cleaning bill, you can actually request a bib.
A Spicy Rigatoni Vodka is just toothy enough and just spicy enough to make you eye the basket of bread a second or third time. The house lasagna is a popular choice, perfect for sharing, because, seriously, how could you not?
There are a handful of meat and seafood dishes, like a big pork chop, Chicken Piccata, and breaded veal cutlets. Much like sibling Savio, the cocktail list is brief, with a tightly fixed spotlight on timeless classics like Negroni and Martini. For dessert, the New York-style cheesecake is simple perfection, though you can ogle their tiramisu parfait of sorts in the lighted display case as you enter the joint and try to save room for it later.
You can bring your kids to Pepino's, and if you're lucky, a server can offer half-portions of their spaghetti for half-price, but, fair warning, even at 5 pm they might stick you back in the rear-end of the restaurant where all the seats in the section eventually puzzle together as the restaurant fills up towards the more grown-up dinner hour.
Pepino's seems designed to evoke yesteryear, with very modern prices. Equally ideal for a celebratory evening out as a romantic date, family supper, or lunch rendezvous, Pepino's manages to pull off a sort of restaurant hat trick.
As you surrender the dim lighting in exchange for outside air, a belly full of the white bread and pasta you'll go back to not eating tomorrow, you might just feel like you pulled something off--a little time travel, a little escape, a gentle decadence. That's because you did.
Pepino's is located at 631 Commercial Drive in Vancouver. They serve lunch Monday to Friday from 11:30 am to 2 pm and dinner daily from 5 to 10:30 pm. Reservations recommended.
- Nick’s Spaghetti House to close after over 60 years
- Pepino’s: Savio Volpe crew have taken over former Nick’s Spaghetti House