Showing posts with label rigatoni. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rigatoni. Show all posts

CLOSED: Il Covo for Winterlicious (Toronto)


Winterlicious is back and people are flocking out to support Toronto restaurants while nabbing a deal.

Il Covo was bustling with every table and bar seat occupied. In fact, we were seated at their window with a ledge that didn’t seem large enough for a dinner service, but in retrospect functioned adequately and provided us with a bit more privacy than being seated at the bar.

Their three-course menu ($55) started with a plate of hot focaccia buns, which had a lovely crispy exterior and soft fluffy centre. Salty and slightly oily, if you’re a lover of Jack Astor’s pan bread, Il Covo’s elevated version is delicious even without all the garlic and parmesan.

In true Italian fashion, our first course was a rigatoni con ragu where fat tubular pasta was swimming in a meaty Bolognese made with pork, beef, and chicken. The pasta was al dente, the sauce hearty and not overly acidic, and the light shreds of cow’s milk cheese adding a touch of creaminess. It’s a pasta that would make any nonna happy.

My body was craving iron that evening so I continued with the tagliata di manzo. Our server didn’t even bother asking how we’d like the steak prepared, instead the seared flat iron steak arrives a perfect medium rare. Thankfully, the plain dinner knife they provided was sharp enough to cut through the tender beef.

Given the main contained no starch, I did find the greens – a mix of pickled leeks, watercress, and mushrooms – too salty as a side. Especially when the brown butter jus was already fairly seasoned as well. It’s a shame there wasn’t even a couple of wedges of roasted potatoes, it would really help balance out all the strong flavours.

Not wanting to risk a sleepless night, I opted out of the afragato for dessert and went with the aranciata sorbetti instead. Sorbet isn’t overly exciting, but I liked that Il Covo’s version wasn’t too tart, and the addition of mint and Prosecco gave the orange sorbet a bit of interest.

Despite being absolutely packed that evening, the service was respectable, and the food arrived at a well-timed pace. We were even thanked for being “an easygoing table” with a round of complimentary limoncello, Il Covo’s house made version not overly sweet, smooth, and vibrantly flavoured.

The first Winterlicious back must be challenging for the restaurant industry, especially when dealing with staffing shortages, rising input prices, and bouts of sickness still looming in the background. Il Covo rose to the challenge and treated us to a successful meal, despite the less-than-ideal sitting arrangement. Welcome back Winterlicious.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10
Is Winterlicious worth it (based on an estimated selection)?
Winterlicious - $55
Regular menu - $67* - pasta* ($12), black cod ($41) and tartufo ($14)
Savings - $12 or 18%

* Based on half portion of the gnocchi el ragu

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 585 College Street


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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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Vela (Toronto)

I keep reading about the staffing shortage in Toronto, especially amongst the hospitality industry, where people have supposedly changed careers to find a role that has better hours, more stable pay, better growth prospects, etc. Vela doesn’t seem to suffer from this problem, three individuals checked in on us throughout dinner service. Their front-of-the-house and open-faced kitchen seemed stacked with individuals, no shortage here!

Firstly, to quickly sum up the experience - the meal was exquisite. The albacore tuna crudo ($21) arrived in huge chunks rather than the 1/3-inch slices generally found at other restaurants… a surprisingly generous portion of fish. Tossed with a dashi soy vinaigrette, crispy shallots, and compressed cucumbers, the dish certainly has Asian influences, which made the fried rice crackers an appropriate pairing with the crudo. Still, the tuna was so fresh and meaty that it tasted equally delicious solo.

The burrata ($24) may look typical, but the pistachio pesto provided such an interesting savory bite against the cool creamy cheese, with the nuts giving it a bit of texture. Plenty of figs and grapes were strewn throughout to add sweetness. If anyone remembers the iconic burrata from Campagnolo, this is in the same realm of deliciousness.

Of all the starters, the beef tartare ($18) was probably the most traditionally prepared. The meat was finely chopped and mixed with mayo, pickled shimeji (a tiny, sweet mushroom), and other spices. I liked that it wasn’t overly salty allowing the umami of the shaved truffles and parmesan to shine through.

We were already off to a good start and then the mains blew me away. Vela doesn’t skimp on the truffles in the truffle rigatoni ($40), the prized fungi mixed with chewy fresh pasta and just enough mushroom duxelles cream sauce for flavour without becoming overly saturated. Having dishes family style is best as the pasta was huge and being so rich would be a lot for one person.

The Nova Scotia halibut ($45) seemingly was poached in an infused broth as even the centre of the thick fish was tasty on its own. The herb beurre blanc is a traditional sauce to pair with the halibut but was augmented with a spicy stewed potato that added a burst of zeal that the meaty fish needed. Who knew, maybe halibut goes better with a chili sauce.

Even the flatiron steak ($35) was impressive, cooked to a calibre I’d expect from a steakhouse. The kitchen likely uses a reverse sear method to prepare the beef, starting off low-and-slow as the inside was cooked evenly and hot throughout. The caramelization of the outside was done ever so lightly allowing the lean cut of beef to remain tender. A bit of finishing salt rounded out the steak and was the ideal saltiness. Oh, and don’t get me started on the French fries, they are so crispy and flavourful rivaling the duck fat French fries from Beer Bistro that I love.

Food aside, what also makes Vela standout is the down-to-earth nature of the restaurant. The posh environment could seem too fancy and stuffy, but the warm greeting from the host and friendliness of other staff members really puts the diner at ease. Even quippy descriptions in the menu such as what was listed with the steaks help, “You all know what you like. Feel free to order blue, rare, medium rare, medium, medium-well, well-done, or burnt to a crisp. Live your best life!”

Vela’s huge dining room with white floors and walls could have become a starkly modern environment. Yet, if felt cozy with the dim lights, warm temperature, and dreamy white ceiling lights that reminded me of hazy clouds. There was even live jazz music playing on Tuesday, which really got me into a chill mood and had me ordering a third cocktail, despite it being the beginning of the work week. Vela just makes you comfortable with its atmosphere and their fabulous food. Live your best life indeed. 

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 90 Portland Street


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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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Cano Restaurant (Toronto)



Cano is one of those cozy Italian restaurants I wish was part of my neighbourhood. Living in the York Mills and Lawrence Park area, we have our fair share of great places slinging pasta and pizza, but Cano does both just a touch better.

Let’s start with the crust on the burratina pizza ($25), which is thin and chewy, everything I look for in pizza. It’s cooked until a golden crust develops that despite being covered by a generous layer of tomato sauce, remains crispy and holds up with one hand.  Then the toppings: having the sauce, cheese, and basil combination, it’s like a margherita but elevated with the dollops of creamy burrata dusted with black Maldon salt. The tomato sauce is fresh versus tangy and with a liberal drizzle of olive oil, even the bites with no cheese or basil still tastes magnificent.


Their pasta is also solid. The rigatoni annata ($20) a substantial mound of perfectly done pasta in a vodka rose sauce swirled with shallots, pecorino and pancetta. It’s similar to a carbonara but the creaminess tempered with a bit of the tomato’s acid. In fact, the sauce was so good I wiped my plate with bits of pizza crust to ensure it didn’t go to waste.


Visit on Tuesday or Wednesday and you’ll also receive half a dozen oysters free with any bottle of wine. It’s appeared to be a deal that most tables participated in, including us, where six freshly shucked St. Simon oysters arrived lacking none of the traditional cocktail sauce, onion mignonette, and fresh horseradish fixings. And a bottle of wine on a weekday... what can be more Italian?


Every bite was tasty to the finish. Their tiramisu ($10) is a good rendition of the popular dessert, done traditionally with plenty of espresso and creamy mascarpone flavours. A bit more of the lady fingers and lighter sprinkling of the unsweetened cocoa powder would have made it even better.


Yet, it’s the panna cotta ($9) that was the hit. The silky vanilla bean base so creamy and luscious it feels like you’re having tapioca pudding without the tapioca, but there’s just enough gelatin allowing the dessert to scoop easily into a spoon. Oh, and that drizzle of salted caramel? What a great finish.


In hindsight, it’s actually a blessing that Cano isn’t located a short walk down the street. The food is so comforting and delicious that I don’t think I’d have the willpower to not visit regularly. In that case, my waistline would definitely suffer from their close proximity.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1108 St. Clair Avenue West

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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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CANO Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

CLOSED: Spuntini (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 116 Avenue Road
Type of Meal: Dinner

Spuntini’s atmosphere is pretty stereotypical of a posh Italian restaurant – dim lighting supplemented with candles, a dark wood motif and walls upon walls of wine bottles.  It’s cozy and comforting, much like the food, and date night friendly if you can score a spot along the walls away from the other tightly packed tables.

Despite the romantic environment, coming here with 2+ people is recommended due to large portion and sharing appetizers are a must if you want a chance at eating your main.  On our visit, we went with five people and chose two dishes to share as starters:
  • Burrata with prosciutto ($14.95) a big hunk of soft and creamy burrata arrives on top of a toasted crostini with a pile of tissue thin prosciutto and peppery arugula salad.  Without a doubt, the one slice of bread is not enough, but Spuntini does provide a bread basket so everyone could easily grab a piece from there.  The fresh burrata was fairly neutral so did require some cured prosciutto to give it flavour.  For someone who does not eat meat and is sharing this with others it would be nice to have more of the condensed balsamic vinegar on the plate to complement the cheese.


  • Although the gnocchi quattro formaggio ($15.95) is actually a main, we all wanted to try it without having an entire portion as it sounds so rich. So, we asked for it to be brought out as an appetizer instead and shared amongst the table. The gnocchi were plump and soft (believe due to adding ricotta to it); I favor the regular potato mix resulting in a harder pasta but this really is a matter of preference as the rest of the table loved it.  The four-cheese sauce made with asiago, gorgonzola, parmigiano and bocconcini was absolutely delicious and a good combination of strong, creamy and mild cheeses so it wasn’t overpowering.  Added cream made this even more decadent and certainly made us glad we decided to share this.

The ravioli di soraia ($18.95) contained five squares of ravioli filled with a delicious seafood mousse (tasting more of crab than lobster).  Perhaps I've been spoiled with my recent UK ravioli experiences but found the dough too thick and filling too sparse; I’d much rather the dish be shrunk down to four smaller raviolis and have more of the crab/lobster mixture in each one.  The sauce of sage, butter and white wine was nice and the slivers of fennel and peppers on top were also good.


My friend's osso bucco, a daily special, was amazing!  Although it was soft from being braised in red wine, the veal shank still held its shape and looked appealing.  Served with the bone, the marrow was left intact and could be easily pushed out and smeared across a piece of bread.  Having only started eating it over the last three years, bone marrow is still a hit or miss (with most experiences not that great).  

This may sound gross, but if you’ve never tried it, it’s the consistency of fat but doesn’t actually taste like it.  The flavour is pretty mild and normally takes on whatever it’s seasoned with, but the jelly like texture can sometimes be off putting. Generally, I like it when it’s been braised for a long time so that all traces of blood are gone and the marrow is able to absorb some of the braising liquid’s flavour. Overall, Spuntini’s was one of my better experiences with bone marrow and the lamb itself also delicious.


Some other dishes I had a bite to try included the rigatoni portobello ($15.95), which had intense mushroom flavours; something other than Portobello mushrooms had to be added to this to make it so earthy.  The pasta was done well and the addition of a bit of pesto and cream balanced everything quite nicely.  Another rich dish made for sharing.


The angonoltti alla California ($16.95) was another filled pasta except using a ricotta & spinach mixture and the pasta being half-moon shaped.  My comment on the filling to pasta ratio remains the same with this dish but I did enjoy the flavourful rose sauce.



If you’re looking for a lighter choice, the spaghetti alla chitara ($14.95) would be perfect.  It’s simply dressed with a garlic, lemon and olive oil mixture but still packs a lot of flavour.  The pasta has more bite and taste to it, on account of being made with whole wheat, and went well with the wilted rapini and roasted cherry tomatoes.



By the end of the meal we were STUFFED, with some having to take their mains to go.  But, we did order a scoop of the hazelnut gelato ($9?) to share. It was deliciously home-made tasting with small pieces of hazelnuts adding a great nutty texture against the smoothness of the ice cream.  Also, it was sweet enough to satisfy without being overpowering.


Spuntini was certainly busy during our Friday visit with all the tables filled and a constant stream of turnover.  I can see why they are so popular – good flavours, huge portions and an unhurried environment that allows for wine and conversation.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10



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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!

Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this: