CLOSED: Tanto (Toronto)

As I write this post on Tanto, I can’t help but think about my experience at Constantine ... two similar restaurants: both newcomers in Toronto and Argentinian “inspired” so not necessarily authentic. My meals even followed comparable patterns of sitting at the Chef’s table and a dinner comprised of dishes made on their wood burning grill. Hence, although each post stands alone, I can’t help but draw comparisons between the meals.

Although both were enjoyable, Tanto elevated the experience by simply tweaking the way they did things. To begin, the made sitting at the “Chef’s table” matter. It sounds fancy, but really it merely means you’re sitting at a “bar” area overlooking the kitchen. There’s no special menu and you can order whatever you like. At Tanto, Chef Julian Iliopolus interacted with the diners – at the beginning, to answer any questions about the menu; and with each course, coming by to get our thoughts and answer any other queries that may arise. How else would I have known that Tanto’s leg of jamón ibérico wholesaled for $1,100? A very different experience than Constantine.

Tanto also commands their parilla, the wood burning grill, much better. Both are set-up similarly, the grill surface on a lever system so it can be raised and lowered. It’s how the wood is placed that differs. At Tanto, the wood burns at the back of the grill and as it heats up, smouldering chunks break off. The grill is then raised to combine these pieces with charcoal. In fact, this is generally how the traditional Argentinian asado is operated – ingredients are cooked using smouldering embers and not direct fire. As you can imagine, the indirect heat makes it easier for the chef to control the temperature and not burn the food. 

We were treated to a beautifully cooked wagyu bavette ($39) that incorporated a lightly smoked aroma but still medium rare in the centre. The fat within the marbled meat simply melted into everything so the beef looked lean but was juicy when eaten. Biting into the thinner end piece, I was met with a pungent blast of salt for my first taste. However, once a bit of the chimichurri was added, the condiment actually helped neutralize the saltiness. Moreover, the chimichurri was largely herbs and oil so wasn’t too vinegary, helping season the meat without covering all the flavours.

Arriving with a choice of sides, we decided on the patatas bravas… after all, what’s more Argentinian than meat with potatoes? The deep fried squashed spuds were amazingly creamy and topped with a garlic scape sauce. I could have eaten an order of these as a starter. 

The grilled squid ($18) also spent a minute on the grill, the intense heat cooking it quickly, so it rolls up and remains tender. Chef Iliopolus cheekily describes it being topped by “stuff”, particularly items that can cause allergic reactions. From what I could decipher there were crushed nuts, thinly fried pancetta, a thicker and tarter chimichurri, and chilies. Whatever the “stuff” was it really helped to add a burst of textures and flavours to the dish. Although I did try one piece of the squid with everything scraped off and it was still wonderfully flavoured on its own.

Seeing the leg of jamón ibérico ($30) on the counter, my husband and I eyed it giddily like kids in a candy store… we had to have a plate to start! There’s tons of literature out there that explains why this ham is special and commands such a high price. Having had it on a handful of occasions, it’s still a treat. While other cured pork products tend to be smoky, intensely salty, and you taste the porky flavour; the ibérico version has a sweet and salty taste with no intense pig odour. Hold a slice of it on your tongue for a bit and let the fat melt before chewing and you’ll be hit with these delicious juicy flavours. If ham had a candy form, this would be it.

The smoked ricotta empanada ($7) is an interesting take on the classic Argentinian snack. At Tanto it’s deep fried, the crust encapsulating molten ricotta and a leek/onion mixture. Add a bit of their house-made hot sauce to the cheese, it works well. While tasty, I still prefer the traditional beef version and will try that on a return visit. 

Hearing Chef Iliopolus describe the cavatelli with clams ($28), a pasta made with semolina flour with clams and peas, I knew it would be a dish I’d like. The chewiness of the cavatelli reminded me of gnocchi and the lightness of the peas and pea shoots were a great compliment to the rest of the meal. If only the clams weren’t cold this would have been the perfect dish for me. While not terrible, as the clams were plump and sweet, cold juicy clams with warm pasta wasn’t a contrast I enjoyed.

Oh Tanto, how I’ve warmed to your wood grill… the tale of two restaurants continues…

Overall mark - 9 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 74 Ossington Avenue

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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