OSS­ING­TON’S NEW ‘IT’ SPOT

Tanto brings Ar­gen­tine BBQ — and pos­si­bly the city’s best chimichurri — to the strip

North York Post - - Contents -

Joanne Kates gets a taste of modern Ar­gen­tine at chef Ju­lian Iliopou­los’ Tanto

When I was in Saigon a cou­ple of years ago, I made it a bit of a pro­ject to eat banh mi, the Viet­namese pork sand­wich that I had learned to love at Toronto’s Banh Mi Boys. I fig­ured if it’s good in Toronto, it’s gotta be great in Saigon.

But no. My Saigon banh mi sand­wiches were blah. Dry pork and not enough of it. Mea­gre fix­ings, in­suf­fi­cient flavours. Which made me won­der whether per­haps it’s a mat­ter of money for high-end in­gre­di­ents, and we’ve got more of it in Toronto, so the cui­sine evolved when it em­i­grated.

’Twas thus in my al­most three weeks in Ar­gentina this win­ter. I, be­ing an un­re­pen­tant car­ni­vore, had so looked forward to the fa­mous Ar­gen­tine BBQ, called par­illa, which they pro­nounce par­i­jha. We ate it al­most daily, some­times in small-town ca­sual places, some­times in de luxe white table­cloth restau­rants and once in some­one’s back­yard.

A typ­i­cal par­illa meal was sausages, lamb and beef cooked slowly on a banked-down wood fire. I wanted to love it. But no, it was the Saigon banh mi all over again. Pretty much every night the meat was tough. Dry. Meh.

It was thus with less than fer­vent en­thu­si­asm that I went to Tanto, the new Ar­gen­tine resto on Oss­ing­ton. The chef/owner is Ju­lian Iliopou­los who learned his chops at the mar­vel­lous Cava and left his job as chef there in 2016 to go trav­el­ling in South Amer­ica where he was in­spired by Ar­gen­tine food. Chef got his back­ing from the Cava guys, who also own the lovely At­las and Chabrol.

The first clue that Tanto isn’t pure Ar­gen­tine is the menu, full of va­ri­ety and not so meat-cen­tric. I loved the em­panadas in Ar­gentina – good thing there was some­thing to love! – but Tanto’s are better: Lightly smoked ri­cotta is warm and ooz­ing in­side the flaki­est pos­si­ble dough. Gnoc­chi made of long-cooked leeks with mush­rooms and melted ta­leg­gio cheese are equally soft and sexy.

Then there’s a breath­tak­ingly re­mark­able cab­bage item. Cab­bage! They blanch a thick slice of cab­bage and then char it on the wood fire, serv­ing it topped with many small dots of thick sous-vide egg yolk, pesto and crisped shreds of guan­ciale. Chef barely grills squid and graces it with puck­ery/sweet burnt al­most salsa, pancetta and vine­gary pre­served mush­rooms.

But the pièce de ré­sis­tance is short ribs with chimichurri and grilled let­tuce. These short ribs are what might have hap­pened if brisket bred with filet mignon with a lit­tle foie gras DNA thrown in for tex­ture. The short ribs are heav­ily mar­bled, suc­cu­lent, sweet, per­fectly cooked and fin­ished on the banked­down wood fire. Had there been meat like this in Ar­gentina I might not have come home. Add the per­fect chimichurri and al­mos­terotic wood-grilled gem let­tuce, and it’s heaven on a plate.

One does not, in these high-fat cir­cum­stances, nor­mally or­der dessert. But who can re­sist co­conut tres leches cake with a sweet/tart jel­lied pas­sion fruit roof, or milles­feuilles of ba­nana panna cotta and dulce de leche cus­tard? Clearly the milles-feuilles have been as­sem­bled at the last minute, so crispy crunchy is their pas­try; as for the two cus­tards, in­hale and swoon. My two by­words for din­ner at Tanto. Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cor­don Bleu de Cui­sine in Paris. She has written ar­ti­cles for nu­mer­ous publi­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chate­laine.

Clockwise from top: Chef and co-owner Ju­lian Iliopou­los, the Cafe Zahirl, the ‘heav­enly’ short ribs

JOANNE KATES

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