Joanne Kates vis­its a new Si­cil­ian sen­sa­tion

North York Post - - Contents -

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

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