OSSINGTON’S NEW ‘IT’ SPOT
Tanto brings Argentine BBQ — and possibly the city’s best chimichurri — to the strip
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