Sopra Sotto. In Italian, sopra means ‘up’ and sotto means ‘down’.
The name is a tribute to Cafe Roma, which used to be located on this spot, a neighbourhood hangout where co-founder Janine’s grandpa used to play a game of cards after work. Whether Janine’s grandpa was ‘up’ or ‘down’ in his winnings, we will never know, but it gave her inspiration for a memorable name with a nostalgic story.
With high-ceiling, the airy Sopra Sotto stands out amongst other unique restaurants along Commercial Drive, an area celebrated for its diverse culture and independent eateries.
The floor-to-ceiling glass creates an inviting atmosphere, drawing in an abundance of natural light all throughout the day. Whether it’s an overcast fall afternoon or a bright, sunny summer weekend, the interior is bathed in comforting sunlight.
A dainty seating area welcomes guests, with an emerald green, plush velvet sofa and a small, rectangular gold-trimmed glass table. A vintage rug below allows high-heeled dames to rest their feet while waiting for a seat.
The tables and corresponding lighting incorporate a colour-blocking concept, with light and dark tables and chairs creating subtle contrast and drawing the eye towards the design highlights in the space - the wood-fired oven and bar, each taking up one side of the restaurant. The various light pendants in the space differ in design, yet are united in colour, all are a warm, brass colour.
While there are posh and elegant design elements in the space, Janine also used a special wallpaper with a delicate print in antique turquoise from Ann Star to provide a balance to the stronger elements.
Where she describes it as ‘an insane dedication to detail’, we see it as a beautiful space resulting from her dedication and tenacity to crafting a space where her guests feel welcome.
Janine’s interior design sets the stage for Chef Enrico’s food, simple and not overdone, true to the roots of Italian home-style cooking.
To ensure we had a well-rounded meal with greens, he first tossed a Rucola Salad with arugula, radicchio, fennel, shallots, and olives for us to enjoy as his team prepped a delicious meal for us. It only took minutes before our table was piled high with tasty items from the menu.
The Gnocchi Al Forno is a baked gnocchi in a creamy cabbage and mushroom sauce, flavoured with grana and Alps cheeses. The dish was extremely cheesy and flavourful to taste, and of an airy and fluffy texture. If dough could be made to taste as light as cotton, this would be what it tastes like.
The Amalfi pizza made in the wood-fired oven had a thin crust, with simple and fresh ingredients San Marzano tomatoes, anchovy filets, Sicilian oregano, capers, olives, leeks and a sprinkle of cheese. Chef Enrico shared that one of the many secrets to making great pizza in a wood-fired oven is not to overuse the ingredients. If a pizza is piled high with toppings, as soon as it is put into the wood-fired oven the humidity leaves the pizza, making the crust soggy.
My personal favourite was the Chitarrine Al Ragù. Served with authentic Bolognese sauce made with veal, pork and beef, the highlight is the homemade square pasta, which takes al dente pasta to the next level. Chewy yet not doughy, the texture is perfected by boiling it in hot water for exactly 7-minutes, and then tossing it in with the sauce just before plating.
As we sat chatting with the co-founders Enrico and Janine, we asked them if there was anything we may have missed, and Enrico promptly got up from the table to bring the Porchetta, which had been roasting in the oven for the past 5 hours. The skin was crispy and bubbling, and it was welcomed surprise to see how porchetta looks like fresh out of the oven.
Asked why he started cooking, Enrico humorously mentioned that his mother wasn’t the greatest cook, so he wanted to cook for her. His cooking style and technique celebrates simple home-style cooking, using fresh, local ingredients, what they call farmer’s style cooking.
While the interiors promise a comfortable and welcoming dining experience day or night, the food will become your staple go to whenever you want a homemade pasta or a tasty pizza to share. I know we will be making repeat trips just for the ragu!
1510 Commercial Dr, Vancouver
Photos: Florence Leung