This is not your usual Toronto Italian restaurant. It’s as if the menu was plucked right out of the heart of Sicily. Owner, Marco Celio, formerly of Buca and Buonanotte, and Sicilian-born Chef Luca Stracquadanio, once executive chef at Terroni LA and Toronto restaurant La Bettola di Terroni, have created an Italian enclave that is refreshingly unique within the sea of pasta in which we are drowning. Where else would we find linguini with pistachio pesto and tuna bottarga or, my favourite, homemade black squid ink gnocchi with a generosity of fresh lobster?
Choosing between the two Carpaccio items would be an exercise in futility, so we share both. A canvas of octopus Carpaccio is splashed with pesto, and crowned by rich morsels of sea urchin. A rarity in Italian restaurants, this is a sharing-sized portion that is as delectable as it is artful. In-house smoked swordfish drapes over fresh crisp fennel. A citric essence of oranges and decorative sprinkling of pomegranate seeds compliment its buttery texture. For pairing, the in-house sommelier recommends a Sella e Mosca Vermentino from Sardegna. He calls his wine cellar “the cave of wonders”. Showcasing Italian wines from north, central and south, we enjoy discussing each selection.
Manager, Emanuele de Donno, runs a tight ship as he stewards this three-week old restaurant, and irons out the evening from one end of the room to the other. There is no bread service, he tells us, unless we ask for it. Why? Because there are some dishes that simply do not pair well with bread. We agree. The delicacy of the Carpaccio, for example, needs to be savoured on it’s own.
As the buzz of the evening crowd rolls in, the spacing of the tables and the cutting edge design of the room maintain an ambience conducive to conversation. Waiters whisk by with racks of wild boar, and rabbit stuffed with porcini and speck. The pizza oven churns out thin crusts, while a salumeria offers a selection of charcuterie and cheese to pair with wine. (On Fridays and Saturdays after 11pm, wines ordered at the marble counter are accompanied by a complimentary charcuterie selection.) Our pasta dishes are elegant and sophisticated but earthy and natural. It is just really good food.
While Italy is not renowned for its desserts—they usually serve fruit or biscotti at most—here the pastry chef fashions desserts with artistry. We crunch on creamy ricotta- filled Sicilian cannoli, and swoon over the apple tart with blueberry gelato. Typically an apple tart in Ontario would have the wow-factor of a bowl of rice in China, but this one is special. Topped with a bouquet of crisp florets filled with frangipani almond cream and caramel, and accompanied by gelato composed of wild blueberries, this is a rich and sweet indulgence to bring this meal to its full crescendo. That’s Amore!
~ For more info go to Ovest Cucina, 788 King St. W., 416-214-6161 ~