Where To DINE Now: Carisma

Michael’s Pagliaro’s career reads like a television series. It opens as a group of men have a business lunch meeting at the Latina Restaurant on the Queensway and ask to be looked after by someone who understands no English and can’t report on their ground-breaking discussions. At this lunch, the Toronto Sun is born, and Michael Pagliaro gets a handsome tip from Doug Creighton, founder of The Sun.

Michael continues in the business for decades as an owner, partner or manager and earns his chops. Michael’s Back Door, Villa Rosa, Pronto, Barolo, Gavi, Masaniello, and the wonderful Il Mulino. In some instances Michael is a few steps ahead of his time. They say, “one step ahead, you’re a leader – ten steps ahead, you’re a target.”

Il Mulino was hot, hot, hot. The cuisine impeccable, the wine cellar peerless. I write at the time that Michael was born to be a restaurateur, and Marjie, ever charming and enthusiastic, is everyone’s best friend. But just when everything seemed perfect, life steps in and throws you a curve. Health issues prompted the sale of Il Mulino to an equally capable restaurateur, Oscar Valverde, and the Pagliaro family retired.

They’re baaack! The dynamic duo of Marjie and Michael quickly discovered that retiring from the hospitality business is just too darned boring. Now, along with daughter Monica who grew up in the restaurant, and left a career in banking to return, this trio takes their rightful place in the list of our top ten restaurateurs.

Carisma is the Pagliaro’s most mature and ambitious Italian restaurant to date, with a wine list worth reading for its many highlights. The interior is a sophisticated black color that is at once warmly inviting and sexy. (black is the new black) The bar at the rear is an architectural marvel, and even the entrance to the “facilities” has been given a designer’s elegant touch. Make sure to check it out before you leave. The welcome is warm as ever, like entering the home of dear friends. As for the kitchen, well, all of Michael’s best dishes have been given new life.

If you have made enough decisions that day and simply want something delicious to eat, you will be thrilled with the antipasto platter. Tell the server you are torn between, say, Bresaola and Caprese salad of tomato and creamy Buratta and he will bring you both. I know that Michael’s foie gras is the best, and when I ask for just a tiny taste, I get the full portion. “Oh, you shouldn’t have, but I am so glad you did,” is my response. All the classic Italian dishes are on the menu, but Michael’s loyal followers know that the menu is not a blueprint carved in stone. Can’t decide on the renowned ricotta gnocchi, or papardelle with boar ragu, or truffled tagliolini with duck confit? You can have a little of each on one plate, m’dear.

Of course there is delicate veal picatta al limone, and half chicken flattened by a brick as it cooks, but to my mind, the rack of lamb is still my favorite main course on this menu.

At Carisma, the folly is that you are overtaken by gastronomic lust and order too much food. Waste not, want not – they are happy to pack it up to go.

N.B.: One might think that the name Carisma is a misspelling of “charisma” (which I always associate with Pierre Trudeau). It is not. … CARISMA – Canadian Array for Real-time Investigations of Magnetic Activity. The magnetometer arm of CGSM (formerly CANOPUS).

Etymologists can just relax and enjoy the food.

73 King Street East

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