For me, “the best of both worlds” is: authenticity and value for money. It’s not easy for a new Italian restaurant to distinguish itself in Toronto, a city already spun with pasta, but I have found what I’m looking for here at Qui Ristorante Pizzeria (Qui means here in Italian), where we taste classic Italian dishes that I’ve actually never even heard of before.
Giuseppina Iellimo is passionate and animated about her love of Italy. We are greeted by her smile as warm as the fresh bread whisked from the wood-fired oven. Born and raised in Calabria, her menu is a culinary map of her homeland. She likes to keep things uncomplicated—simple, good quality ingredients, true to the recipe, with the virtuosity to know when less is more.
We begin with Carciofi Alla Giudia, deep fried Roman-Jewish style artichokes. Historically, since Jews could not eat the local meat—pork—they made use of the abundance of meaty artichokes available around Rome. Marinated in olive oil, lemon and white wine, they are then steamed, cooled, and fried to crisp perfection.
From the tiny Valle d’Aosta region near the Swiss border, a hearty northern dish of buckwheat pasta with potatoes, chard, fontina and grana padano cheese is the height of comfort food for a cool night, and yet not heavy or fatty. When was the last time you were in an Italian restaurant in Toronto and there was something you’ve never seen before? So far this is two for two.
Let’s try something tried and true: Lasagna—from Bologna. Ervis Aliko, the General Manager, smiles because he knows what I’m about to discover. This is the best lasagna in Toronto. Hands down. What distinguishes this dish are the five very light, very thin sheets of hand made pasta. So delicate, and lovingly layered, and yet holding the integrity of it’s structure in tact. It’s a work of art. Usually one would be wowed by the flavour, and certainly the beef and veal add savoury texture, but this pasta is beautiful. I defy anyone to find better—Iellimo knows, and loves, what she is doing.
How do you make this so good? I ask incredulously. “I’m not a fusion type. I’m simple Italian,” says Iellimo. “And in my veins is espresso.”
Iellimo is proud of her daily specials, which, today, is Aqua Bazza—Saba fish in crazy water. What is crazy water? Water and wine. The fish absorbs the marinade and is then seared and, for added crazy, spiked with tomatoes, capers and chili flakes. There is a confluence of wine and heat. It is dense and yet delicate and light. Served with a creamy textured mashed cauliflower.
Naturally, when I see a wood-fired oven, I think pizza. The Capricciosa begins with a thin flavourful crust. The tomato, fiore de latte, basil, prosciutto, mushrooms and olives are all delicious, but for me the test is always the crust. This kitchen has the patience and cares to let the dough sit and rest to it’s full potential.
All desserts are made in house. Ricotta cake is the pride of the kitchen, but we indulge in a uniquely dense and pretty tiramisu, and crunchy Sicilian canolli of vanilla and lemon zest.
Parking is free after 6pm, so we’re in no rush to leave the comfort of our espresso and this little piece of Italy we’ve discovered here. Salute!
Qui Ristorante Pizzeria, 1654 St. Clair Avenue W, 416-653-8090