Il Mulino always succeeded in providing casual neighbourliness as well as its natural sophistication. Managed with loving care and professionalism from the kitchen to the wine cellar to the service, no one element of the dining experience was ever taken for granted here, and so patrons have always expected, and been treated to, the very best. When ownership changed hands last fall some wondered if that high standard would be affected, until word broke that the new face at Il Mulino would be none other than Oscar Valverde of such renowned Italian restaurants as Sotto Sotto, Mistura, Splendido, and Centro. Anticipation quickly grew to excitement. If ever there were a velvet transition this was it.
While there is still the same sophistication, the same staff in the kitchen and front of house, and the same menu–with a few modifications–there is a new face at the helm; a new personality; a new reason to dine here. Valverde has opened the curtains, added fresh plants and more pictures on the wall to create a sense of intimacy. The menu has been tweaked to make the dishes, and the prices, lighter. With over thirty years of experience at the top, Valverde knows what is required, and we know we will be taken care of.
It begins with the genuine grace and courtesy we receive at the door. As we relax into our seats, acknowledge the clean palladium architecture, and crisp white linen, we appreciate the basket of fresh-from-the-oven baked bread with olive oil and rosemary that is brought to our table. Service here is impeccable.
We listen enthusiastically as our waiter, Emilio, shares the specials with pride. We also decide to entrust the recommendations of Sommelier Terrence Flynn, and quickly learn to appreciate that while the meal on its own, prepared to perfection by Chef Allan Hilario, would be wonderful; precise wine pairing with each dish makes it extraordinary. It really makes that much of a difference. According to Flynn, one should “not just match the wine to the protein; but marry the wine to the preparation.” The value of a sommelier is that the meal, as well as the dining experience, becomes so much more complete. Il Mulino has a renowned, award winning wine collection, so this was a real treat.
Carpaccio Di Polipo, fresh from the coast of Morocco, is meaty. Never have we enjoyed such a generous portion of octopus. Drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and lemon, the thinly sliced delicacy is topped with a colourful mound of organic Cookstown greens, popcorn seedlings, and edible pansies. So pretty we need to take a moment to admire its aesthetic before we begin. Aspire, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, has bright acidity, tropical appeal, with fruity and grassy qualities that cut the lemon. It works very well with seafood.
Cherry tomatoes and baby spinach decorate Lobster Risotto made from organic Carniola rice with substantial chunks of fresh lobster and Chardonnay. Beautiful, delicious, and inspired. Our sommelier informs us that “lobster loves Chardonnay; Chardonnay loves lobster”. How can we not love both? The Malivoir Chardonnay is an elegant French style wine with a new world manipulation that is a natural complement to the richness of the risotto.
Those who know gnocchi know that Il Mulino’s is our city’s best. Crowned by a petite crisp parmesan tuile bowl of baby basil, each pillowy dumpling is in house-made fresh and delicate, and lavished in a rich tomato sauce. The pairing with Geographico Chianti, Colli Senesi from Siena, is perfect. Wondrously soft, it is lovely. Fruity, and easy to drink, its quality is a superb choice for the acidity of the sweet tomato and the texture of the gnocchi.
Ahead of our lamb entree Flynn arrives with a full, cherry nosed, Zardini 2005 Amaroné. “I thought outside the box for this one” he smiles. “It’s rustic to go with the pommery mustard”. In production since Roman times, this is a romantic wine from Verona, Venito, and it is an amorous delight. The perfectly cooked, interlaced racks of lamb appear as two star crossed lovers. Thick, medium rare, chops are lightly crusted in rosemary, parsley, and thyme that, combined with pommery mustard reduction, enhances the perfectly tendered lamb to a savoury and succulent bliss. A sprinkling of crisp onions accompanies al dente cooked vegetables.
Every dish is a work of culinary art, and each selected wine enriches the quality of the meal and elevates the experience. Valverde and his team take pride in what they are doing, and their experience and passion remind us of what a really good Italian restaurant is. It’s not just the humility, charm, good humour, and professionalism, nor the talent, skill, or even the love, but the years upon years of hard work and experience that enables this team to so seamlessly provide such a wonderful evening night after night.
Desserts are divine. Prepared by pastry chef Tim Hass, the citrusy sweet apple strudel is served warm and fresh with plump raisins and crunchy sugar crystals. Balanced by a luscious scoop of vanilla bean, this decadent mouth puckering confection pairs well with Reif Estates Reisling Ice Wine as though they were made for each other. Coffee is, of course, excellent, and we are left in awe. Not every restaurant can do this. No stone is left unturned, and every patron feels special.
IL MULINO RESTAURANT, 1060 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto, Ontario / 416-780-1173 / www.ilmulinorestaurant.com