Ital­ianis­simo!

DINE and Destinations - - DRINK -

Aglow­ing white orb of Bur­rata flanked by lusty Bre­saola and heir­loom tomato salad; crisply fried ar­ti­choke hearts on mint-in­fused yo­gurt; al dente buck­wheat spaghet­toni tex­tured with vegeta­bles and dressed with gar­lic and harissa oil; freshly made fet­tuc­cine with lamb ragu bianco and San Marzano tomato sauce. And that’s just the be­gin­ning. Close your eyes and you’ll think you’re in Italy din­ing on the rus­tic, mus­cu­lar cook­ing we all love. Where have you been hid­ing Ovest? At last I have found you.

On a re­cent week­end there is not an empty ta­ble in this warm spa­cious room, not at the large round tables, or my favourite cor­ner ta­ble, or even the smaller tables for two. Rem­i­nis­cent of a wine cel­lar, an in­ter­est­ing se­lec­tion of Ital­ian wines and Prosecco adorn the space. While the beau­ti­fully planned room it­self has a va­ri­ety of seat­ing op­tions, the bar seems to be the first to be filled. The staff ra­di­ates a fa­mil­iar­ity and warmth with­out over­pow­er­ing our evening. Clearly they’ve been trained by a friendly com­man­der in chief.

Giac­into (John) Tedesco has rein­vented and re­ju­ve­nated Ovest with gen­er­ous por­tions, gen­tle pric­ing and a Euro­pean sen­si­bil­ity to­ward ser­vice and hos­pi­tal­ity. He is master of his do­main and his ed­u­cated palate and wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence sets the tone. Men­tored by Luigi Org­era at the renowned La Fenice, it is no sur­prise that clas­sic man­ners and style with sub­stance have been trans­ported to this haven of glo­ri­ous Ital­ian cui­sine. His vis­its to each ta­ble are an­tic­i­pated, and his hu­mour and un­der­stand­ing that peo­ple have come to Ovest for a great evening prompts his con­ge­nial­ity.

They’ve struck the word or­di­nary from their vo­cab­u­lary be­fore they crossed the thresh­old. The kitchen team has the right at­ti­tude: en­thu­si­asm, the joy of dis­cov­ery, and the per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion of ex­e­cut­ing dishes that steam and siz­zle and elicit ooh’s and aah’s when they’re set on the ta­ble. There are no idle hands in this kitchen.

“I AL­WAYS LOVE NEW IN­GRE­DI­ENTS,” says Ha­ley Allen, the 25-year-old bril­liant Head Chef, as she rolls the dough for pasta. “I love tak­ing good in­gre­di­ents and mak­ing them shine. Keep it sim­ple,” she says earnestly, “fresh­ness cre­ates the best prod­uct.” She ad­mits to be­ing a very health con­scious per­son, and this is con­veyed in her dishes. Sous Chef Ra­jan Cho­pra uses yearold sour­dough as starter and lets his dough proof for four days. He throws that pizza dough in the air as if to the manor born. Ah, this is the way we want pizza crust to taste! We leave not one crumb be­hind. Pas­try Chef Sophia An­drade be­gins each day bak­ing bread, but it’s her can­noli, crème brulee and rich choco­late hazel­nut cake that pro­vide the sweet punc­tu­a­tion to our meal. This kitchen runs on youth, in­tegrity and a de­sire to get it right, with pas­sion, cu­rios­ity and re­spect for tra­di­tion, but more im­por­tantly for au­then­tic­ity.

Or­der Risotto del Giorno with saf­fron and braised brisket, or short rib and red wine, or cut­tle­fish ragu and black tiger shrimp, and you will be se­duced into the grow­ing loyal clien­tele. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with Lugano Fine Foods, Ovest brings to the ta­ble 100 per­cent pure Carnaroli rice from Ris­erva San Mas­simo, that grows up to 175 cm high on ap­prox­i­mately 100 hectares cul­ti­vated in the unique and extraordinary fer­tile ecosys­tem of the nat­u­ral re­serve of Parco Ti­cino in Lom­bardy.

An ob­vi­ous ca­ma­raderie of spirit, men­tor­ship and part­ner­ship that em­anates from the top to each mem­ber of the kitchen staff and to front of the house staff, keeps the joy of cook­ing at th­ese stoves. And the menu is a re­fresh­ing ex­cur­sion into the Ital­ian coun­try­side.

And yet, no mat­ter how busy, there is al­ways room at the inn. When John’s cell phone rings and a reg­u­lar asks for a ta­ble that evening, the an­swer is al­ways, “for how many, my friend.” www.ovest-to.com 788 King St W, 416-214-6161

Carisma

When we've made enough de­ci­sions all day and sim­ply want some­thing de­li­cious, this menu has all the Ital­ian charm­ers we love. Known for clas­sic Ital­ian food and ser­vice and a so­phis­ti­cated black in­te­rior, an­other draw for reg­u­lars is the beau­ti­ful and friendly bar. The dy­namic duo of Margie and Michael Pagliaro, daugh­ter Mon­ica, and a staff of pro­fes­sion­als cre­ate the “we've-come-to-the right place” am­bi­ence. Ask about their ex­ten­sive wine list of pri­vate Ital­ian la­bels. Warm, crusty, just­baked bread with rose­mary and a slick of olive oil is ad­dic­tive. Bre­saola or Cap­rese with creamy bur­rata? Or­der both, they are gen­er­ous enough to share. Panseared scal­lops, wild mush­rooms and baby spinach is lov­ingly pre­sented. We crave the time­less com­fort of pa­pardelle with boar ragout, or spaghet­tini with black tiger shrimp and pink pep­per­corn in brandy tomato cream. Gluten­free op­tions are also avail­able. There is a del­i­cate branzino, crisp half chicken flat­tened by a brick as it cooks, and my favourite, the herb-crusted lamb chop. This fam­ily un­der­stands hos­pi­tal­ity, and here, we en­ter the home of friends. 73 King St. E; 416-864-7373; www.caris­marestau­rant.com

Car­men’s Steak­house

This Vic­to­rian-era cot­tage is a Toronto land­mark. Beau­ti­ful stained-glass win­dows gleam. Au­to­graphed pho­tos of Hol­ly­wood leg­ends line the walls. Owner Ja­son He­ung does not rest on the past, but fo­cuses on qual­ity and the high ex­pec­ta­tions of his clien­tele. Toasty hot gar­lic bread quickly ar­rives, fol­lowed by the time-hon­oured tra­di­tion of pick­les, cot­tage cheese and olives. Tartare of filet mignon has a spring-fresh essence. Lob­ster bisque is tex­tured with meaty lob­ster and crunchy crou­tons. Scal­lops come cloaked with jas­mine sea salt emul­sion and a kick of tog­a­rashi. Caramelized miso black cod is part­nered with spinach risotto. But let's get to the main event. This steak house of­fers ex­cel­lent qual­ity Canada beef, and a chef with the vir­tu­os­ity to pre­pare it. With a $55 fixed-price menu that in­cludes steak as the main course, this is real value. From 8 oz. filet mignon to a 40 oz. tom­a­hawk cut and ev­ery­thing in be­tween, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia Wagyu beef, the de­ci­sions are dif­fi­cult. Richly sea­soned ox­tail broth, slow-cooked and re­duced for three days, is the height of savoury steak sauce. Car­men's is the ul­ti­mate steak house for the times. Bonus: the noise level is low. We can eat, talk and en­joy. 26 Alexan­der St; 416-924-8697; www.car­menssteak­house.com

Cibo Wine Bar

Cibo has a recipe for suc­cess. There's a mini pas­ti­fi­cio where a pasta maker turns out fresh pasta in­clud­ing spelt and gluten-free; and a piz­zaiolo, who tosses dough, pre­par­ing Neapoli­tan piz­zas and mas­sive cal­zones for the fiery open pizza oven. At the Salume­ria, they hand turn the char­cu­terie sliced to or­der. Slow-cooked, Chi­anti braised, porcini-crusted beef short ribs part­ner with rich Gor­gonzola po­lenta. A but­ter­flied veal chop cov­ers the en­tire plate. Whole grilled trout is set on fava beans, ca­pers and cherry toma­toes. We en­ter the floor-to-ceil­ing glass wine room at the King Street lo­ca­tion for a tast­ing and pair­ing with Parmi­giano Reg­giano from a gi­ant wheel; at the Yonge Street lo­ca­tion we ad­mire wine an­gels zip-lin­ing to their de­sired bot­tles. Cibo Yorkville is the area hub and a mecca for those of us who love the Tues­day Lob­ster Night, Sun­day Brunch and Bub­bles, and more days-of-the week spe­cials. Full day menu with huge se­lec­tion of pasta, short and long, pleases multi-gen­er­a­tion groups. Pri­vate din­ing rooms are unique and in­vite party plan­ning. De­signer Na­dia di Donato has trans­formed each space with elements of wood, nat­u­ral stone, orig­i­nal ex­posed brick and butcher-block tables, as well as glam­ourous in­door light­ing for a cozy, sexy am­bi­ence.

522 King St. W, Toronto; 416-504-3939; and two other lo­ca­tions; www.ci­bowinebar.com

Luc­kee

Luc­kee could have been been plucked from a chic Hong Kong av­enue and planted right here on Welling­ton Street. Floor tiles to wall cov­er­ings are pat­terned and preened, vin­tage posters and shelves of tea cad­dies add a so­phis­ti­cated flair of au­then­tic­ity. I like the room where I can look through the glass win­dow to the corps of chefs in the open kitchen, cre­at­ing their in­tri­cate savoury dishes. The front room of­fers a street view and a more sub­dued dé­cor. We choose from a care­fully planned menu of the clas­sic Nou­velle Chi­noise dishes that Susur Lee does best, and read with in­ter­est, the list of cock­tails cre­ated to match per­fectly with the cui­sine. You would have to go a long way (per­haps to Hong Kong) to see and taste dim sum like th­ese. Ex­quis­ite lit­tle steamed pack­ages of Rain­bow Gow, Sui Mai and Har Gow, dif­fer­ent shapes and colours burst­ing with shrimp, lob­ster, veg­gies and meats an­chored by a cu­cum­ber well of XO sauce. No cross-cul­tural col­li­sions here, th­ese dishes are in the culi­nary tra­di­tions of Guangzhou, Hu­nan, Shang­hai and Szechuan re­gions. Che­ung Fun soft rice noo­dles are rolled around lus­cious fill­ings. The grease­less crackle of Crispy seafood with Golden Sand (his own se­cret spice blend); lac­quer crisp Luc­kee Duck with pan­cakes, ap­ple, leeks be­come an ideal plat­form to show off Hoisin, cran­berry com­pote and a tiny pot of foie gras. Berk­shire pork with hawthorne berries and yuzu com­firm that above all, Susur uses only the best qual­ity in­gre­di­ents. Black gar­lic tofu with cu­cum­ber and chilli ex­cites even the non-ve­gan. Close your eyes and point any­where on the menu. You won't be dis­ap­pointed.

328 Welling­ton St W, (416) 935-7400; www.luc­k­eer­estau­rant.com

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