Joanne Kates visits a new Sicilian sensation
Full disclosure: I spent time in Sicily last fall, and I didn’t love the food there. Ten days of unexciting tomato sauce, eggplant and overcooked fish was too long. Before Sicily we were in Emilia Romagna and afterwards in Milan. Both stops in the north were serious belt-wideners, thanks to the seduction of cheesy polenta, deeply fulfilling risotto, wild mushrooms and white truffles.
I remain confused about the charms of Sicilian food. In principle, I love tomato sauce and seafood and eat both often. In practise neither was so great in Sicily.
Then there’s Ardo, the superpopular newish Sicilian restaurant in Corktown. It ’s friendly and pleasant-looking, done in pale colours with warm lighting, Sicilian tchotchkes and a great buzz. Lots of people, lots of noise. And a few ringside bar seats overlooking the fastmoving and superbly fragrant open kitchen.
Some of the items are wonderful — arancino is usually a stodgy bland rice ball but here it’s a super-crisp ungreasy rice cone beautifully flavoured with peas, caciocavallo cheese and a beef, chicken and veal ragú. Less inspiring is the fried eggplant roll stuffed with caciocavallo cheese in tomato sauce. We ate this sort of dish in Sicily almost daily. They love to roll things up around cheese. It got old fast, and it’s still bland.
Then there’s the pasta, as Sicilian as it gets. Sarde is spaghetti with Sicilian fennel, blanched raisins and oily crispy toasted bread crumbs, saffron scented. On the side are two crunchy-fried fresh sardine filets. We love the sardines and wish the sauce had more oomph. Thanks to Sicily’s close proximity to North Africa, they add sweet and aromatic spice to savoury (the raisins and saffron with the spaghetti), and they often favour couscous as a pasta. The couscous comes in tomato and fish broth with fish, clams, shrimp and overcooked squid. One wants to be but is not excited.
When I was in Sicily, I drank far too much espresso and ate too many cannoli. But it was a hiking trip, so the cannoli got walked off going up and down magnificent mountains. I did, however, bring home an addiction to cannoli. And the ability to distinguish between good and bad cannoli. The latter has been pre-filled and the crepe is thus soggy. The former is filled when you order it and served right sway, resulting in a cloud of whipped sweetened ricotta inside a super-crisp deepfried crepe. The cannoli at Ardo are exemplary, clearly fresh-filled — crisp and creamy and splendidly adorned with candied orange, roasted pistachios and fine dark chocolate.
I could happily dine on arancino and cannoli and call Sicilian food at Ardo a win. Think of it: My edit of Canada’s four food groups is hereby issued: cheese, cream, meat and chocolate.
Clockwise from left: Ardo’s ringside bar seats, the Sicilian couscous and chef Roberto Marotta