Oss­ing­ton’s new­est ‘It’ spot

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

Thornhill Post - - Food -

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.

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

JOANNE KATES 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.

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