And so it was with this delightful surprise that I entered the expanse of the new Toronto restaurant, Vita Sociale. Gone was the Centro that I had known and loved for twenty five years. Gone were the lavish white-clothed tables, the swags of creamy suede, the dark wood floor, and the formal opulence of yesteryear. Today, we’re standing in a casual bistro that could have been plucked from a roadside in Italy. Rough-hewn barn boards line the bar. Exposed brick walls hold shelves with rows and rows of glass jars sparkling with homemade pickled vegetables, and not a tablecloth in sight. Circular booths line one wall – a perfect perch for those who like to dine and lounge.
Armando Mano, proprietor, knows exactly what his clientele wants, and he has nailed it. I appreciate the comfortable armchairs, the generous cloth napkins that could pass for kitchen towels, and the over-sized serving dishes. A panini and salad at lunch comes on a round, wooden paddle. Smoked veal brisket on ciabatta, with fire-roasted peppers, (chosen from about a dozen additional items available to bump up a sandwich,) and served with a pretty side salad or crisp polenta fries, is about as delectable a mid-day meal as you can get. And when you can pay with little more than a $10 bill, you feel you’ve really hit the jackpot.
The selection of ten “la pasta” makes me smile. Not a cliché in the lot: Bottarga is linguini with chillies, roasted garlic, lemon zest, and cherry tomato. Campania is orrichiette with broccoli rabe, anchovy, roasted garlic, olive oil, and herbed bread crumbs. But before you start wishing for a good old-fashioned spaghetti with meatballs, here it is: polpette in-kitchen made tomato sauce, finished with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. With the exception of a few pastas, we can request gluten-free, spelt, or whole wheat noodles.
Three times for lunch keeps me coming back for more, and I wonder, can Vita Sociale cut it in the evenings? Sunday at 7:00 seemed like a good time for a casual dinner.
Another surprise. The line up to get in snakes out to the street. Inside, every table is filled, but the line moves quickly. I spy Armando clearing and cleaning tables, having fun, joining in the conviviality of the crowd. The room is filled with people I haven’t seen in restaurants for a long time. What has brought them to Vita Sociale?
Is it the perfectly roasted half chicken with its side ramekin of roasted potatoes, garlic cloves and baby carrots, their greens still intact? Is it the whole roasted Branzino, filleted in the kitchen and partnered with earthy roasted fennel? Or could it be the smiling servers who bring our dinner on huge slabs of wood. It all imparts a casual charm to the experience. A big bonus here, is the unbelievably low markup on wines by the glass or bottle – these prices harken back a few decades.
Vita Sociale means “the happy social life” in Italian. And so it is.
Vita Sociale, 2472 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON, (416) 483-2211
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner seven days per week.