Gastropost: Team Basil vs Team Mint

This week’s Gastropost mission was Team Basil vs Team Mint and can be found here. Unfortunately, my submission wasn’t featured in the paper but the margarita pizza submission can be found here and the Watermelon Collins can be found here. I submitted the pizza first and then the Watermelon Collins late on Thursday so that wasn’t suprising that it didn’t end up in the post. No love lost. It just means my next submission needs to be even better. The next week is featuring tomatoes, another mission for my Italian household. I have a few ideas of what to do but any suggestions?

Check out the post below:

“I live with Italians so obviously our household is Team Basil. Nonna grows fresh basil in our small little back garden and its aroma is intoxicating as you walk into the backyard. On Monday night, our basil inspired us to make personal Margherita pizzas on the barbecue.”

Rosina

Last week I spent some time on Lake Huron at a cottage with my family. We spent the week going to the beach, watching sunsets and visiting picturesque towns along the coast line.

Sunset in Kincardine.

In Port Elgin we stopped in at an Italian restaurant called Rosina. I realize this isn’t a real link to the restaurant’s website, but this is as good as we are going to get regarding information about this place.

Every town, regardless of its size seems to have an Italian restaurant and luckily for Port Elgin, this is a good Italian restaurant. The interior is modern with rustic touches like the butcher block topped with a huge chunk of Parmesan cheese. Although it is nice inside, you can go in and be served looking  like a beach bum which is what we did. My favourite part of the aesthetic of this place is the little Nonna they have as their logo – she just captures Italian cuisine and eating perfectly.

I took pictures of the menu for my own purposes (I have been to too many small restaurants without websites and only realized it after the fact, forcing me to make up descriptions and ingredients) so I have included them in the off chance that someone from Port Elgin is looking for information. Based on the quality of the food we had that night, I can only assume this menu changes seasonally but I am sure there are some items on here that are year-round staples.

Amelia and Dad both ordered starters.

1. Dad ordered the Caesar Salad

Romaine hearts, crisp pancetta, anchovy croutons, parmigiano fricco, with roasted garlic and caper dressing. I love this parmigiano fricco that came with it. I think it’s a different way to incorporate parmesan into the dish. A modern take on a traditional and common salad.

2. Amelia started off with the Scallops

Pan-seared scallops, smashed avocado, garlic, arugula, pancetta, tomato and black olives in lemon thyme oil. I think it is interesting that they paired avocado with scallops and interesting in a good way. Avocado does not make its way into enough dishes even though it is completely fantastic.

For dinner Dad, Amelia and I ordered pizzas and Mom ordered veal.

1. Dad’s Funghi Pizza

Pizza Funghi with roasted portobello, button and porcini mushrooms, tomato and asiago cheese. I do apologize as this isn’t the greatest picture but it gives you the general idea that this pizza was loaded with mushrooms. Mushroom pizzas, when done right, are delicious. There are so many different types of mushrooms that we don’t get to use in our everyday cooking and a mushroom pizza really highlights the depth of flavour mushrooms are capable of. I liked that Rosina would feature different Italian cheeses on each pizza. This pizza featured asiago, a nuttier cheese that brought out the earthy qualities of the various mushrooms.

2. Amelia’s Pepperoni Pizza

Pepperoni pizza with pepperoni, tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. The pepperoni was spicy which is not common to traditional thin crust pizzas. There is always a slight hint of spice in pepperoni, due to the curing process, but never to the extent that it leaves your mouth feeling hot when you are done. This pizza had that heat.

3. My Fig Pizza

Fig Pizza with fig marmellatta, Gorgonzola, prosciutto and arugula. This is one of the best pizzas I have ever had. The marmellata was sweet and grainy, giving the pizza the essence of figs without the fleshiness that I dislike. The Gorgonzola was creamy, with that strong blue taste that works with the sweetness of the figs to offset the overpowering qualities that figs and Gorgonzola both have. The arugula was crispy and fresh. The prosciutto was salty and a great accent for the sweet creaminess of the figs and cheese working in tandem with one another. My only complaint about this pizza was that the crust was slightly too crunchy for my liking.

4. Mom’s Grilled Fillet of Veal

Grilled fillet of veal, crushed mini red potatoes with black olive, baby carrots, sauteed baby spinach, beet tapenade and sauce agro dolce. Mom really liked this dish – her only complaint was that she ordered her veal medium-rare and and it came medium-well. Apparently this is a common issue when ordering veal.

If you live in Port Elgin or you are just cottaging in the area, this restaurant is definitely worth a taste. Classy and classic Italian flavours and aesthetics.

Happy munching!

 

Terroni – Part II

A few weeks ago I went out for dinner with my sister Amelia to Terroni. This time, hospital we went to the Queen St W location. We went on a Saturday night, tadalafil around 6:00, which for Queen W, is early. But surprisingly, it was packed with young hipsters, young families and old friends sharing bottles of wine and pasta. This location is more rustic, and hodgepodge than the Uptown location, making it quintessentially Queen W. There are tall shelves that line the entrance, full of pasta, sauces and other Italian foods. The tables are wooden, and the walls are filled with antique picture frames lit beautifully by chandeliers. Although this location is rustic and cozy, I think I like the Uptown location more. It is more upscale, and grown up. Uptown Terroni is the type of place I want to mimic when I am an upscale, grown up. I’ll keep you posted when that happens…

The menu is almost identical (I am sure there are slight difference) and we both ordered different things then we did the first time. I want to slowly discover everything on this menu, so if you want to go to Terroni, invite me!

I ordered the special – Lobster Spaghetti. This was delicious and why would it not be? It is lobster. It is pasta. The sauce was sweet, with hints of spice and citrus. The lobster was tender and flaky.  I loved the addition of little tomatoes in this pasta. It added a fresh from the garden quality to the meal. Anytime there is seafood pasta on a menu, I’m all over that.

Amelia ordered the Smendozzata Pizza.

Tomato, mozzarella, homemade spicy sausage, Gorgonzola, and red onions. Another delicious pizza from Terroni.

As always, another great meal.

Famoso

Last weekend Liz and I went to Famoso, help a new Neapolitan-style pizzeria in the Annex.

Famoso is a Western chain that has just broken out into the other provinces – there are two locations in Toronto that just recently opened, discount one in the Annex and the other in the newly renovated Yorkdale food court (which, rx if you haven’t been, you should check out because it is legitimately a thing of beauty and it even has a patio. The patio looks out on the industrial roof of Yorkdale and faces northwards so you can’t even see the CN Tower, but it is a patio nonetheless). It is a great concept – high quality ingredients imported from Italy to make Neapolitan-style pizza as true to form as possible. They even have the traditional wood-fire pizza oven that is typically reserved for pizzerias like Mercanti and Libretto. It’s always nice to see a chain step up their game and bring the customer quality ingredients, made from scratch, at an affordable price, in a convenient location.

You are seated at your table and then you can browse through the menu. Once you have decided what you will be dining on, you go up to the counter and order your food. Once you have placed your order, it becomes full service and they will continue to take any additional orders at your table and bring you all food that you have ordered. I don’t really understand the purpose of this especially since they have someone come over to your table to tell explain the whole process of ordering at the counter. Why can’t this person also take my order? I would assume this is an attempt to have less staff but the place was extremely well staffed, possibly even overstaffed. But I will chalk that up to the restaurant being newly opened and they are still trying to get the flow and feel for the place.

They have a wide selection of pizza featuring traditional pizzas, like the Margarita and your standard pepperoni and mushroom, and then a few unconventional options, like the Californian, which features avocado. They also have a large selection of salads, all of which looked amazing by using fresh cheeses like gorgonzola and mozzarella. I was salivating over other customers’ plates. A large number of their salads have nuts but I’m sure these can easily be omitted. And of course, there are traditional Italian desserts. We didn’t venture into any desserts but the prospect of tiramisu and afagato is too much to pass up in the future.

The service is fairly quick and it should be – they boast that their oven is 900 degrees and cooks your pizza in a matter of seconds – 90 to be exact.

Liz ordered the Pepperoni and Mushroom pizza.

I ordered the Siciliana – Italian sausage, Italian ham and baked prosciutto.

The crust was thin and crispy. My only complaint, which was shared by Liz, was the crust was slightly undercooked in the centre but from my experience, this is a common occurrence. The sausage was nice and spicy, and the ham and prosciutto added another type of smokiness to the pizza. The cheese was creamy and the tomato sauce was fruity without being tart or sugary. The serving was quite large; Liz and I both only ate half of our respective pizzas and took the other half home. The leftovers tasted good cold the next morning but I’m sure this is an abomination to any Neapolitan.

I would suggest this restaurant to any pizza lover. Can it rival Mercanti, Libretto or any other Toronto-Neapolitian pizza staples? Probably not. But it is a good substitute if you are in the area. On my next visit, which I am planning with GC at some point (all Italian restaurants must pass the taste test of an actual Italian) I am debating between the Vesuvio or one of the white pizzas.

Happy munching.

Toronto Underground Market

On May 5th I was lucky enough to go to Toronto Underground Market‘s Street Food Block Party – Cinco de Mayo edition at the Evergreen Brickworks with my friend Lesley.

I had heard about the Toronto Underground Market and their food events but I hadn’t been able to get my hands on any tickets. Tickets to these events are highly coveted and people will spend a fortune on them – they sell for $10 but on the day of the event people were posting comments on Facebook asking for $100 per ticket and people were willing to pay! This is a good sign for the Toronto foodie scene.

I was messaged by Yvonne from Bonfire Catering who offered to hook me up with two tickets as a special thanks for my review and contribution of photos to their soon-to-be redesigned website. So a special shout out and thanks goes out to everyone at Bonfire Catering who hooked me up with the tickets and amazing pizza once I got to the event! I appreciate anyone who encourages and inspires my love of food.

This event is very well organized – on the website it has directions of how to get to the Brickworks by TTC or car and they had free shuttle buses running from Broadview station every half hour. I would suggest this option. We were lucky enough that as soon as we got off the subway there was a bus waiting for us – my only comment on this was the bus should have been bettered marked (on the way home the bus we took had a sign in the window) and there should have been signs in the subway station itself on where to find the buses. A short 5 minute bus ride and you are let off on the grounds of the Evergreen Brick works.

The doors/gates were supposed to open at 5:00 and we were in line by 5:10. The line was insanely long but we did get there about 100 people into the line which isn’t bad. I would suggest coming early, aiming for about 4:45. Security is “tight” – I’m using quotes because I will illustrate a point about this later. They scan your ticket, stamp your hand and you’re in for a night of food, drinks, music and fun. Each vendor had two menus: one early and one late – the late menu started at 9. I wish we had the staying power to last until 9 to taste some of the later offerings but we crashed. Next time!

Because the May edition of the Toronto Underground Market was on Cinco de Mayo most of the vendors served Mexican/Latin inspired menus in addition to/or instead of their standard offerings. I think this was an interesting premise but some vendors were more successful than other. It also wasn’t a true representation of what each vendor/truck truly can do. This just means I will have to go to the June edition to see what they are all about!

We did a few laps just to see which vendors were there and what we felt like tasting first. We were provided with a map at the gate and they did post this map prior to the event so this step was not necessary but I think it is good to situate yourself especially when it comes to epic amounts of food. Next time, I will look at the map beforehand, come up with a list of vendors/trucks I want to try and create a plan of attack. I will be more German efficient next time.

Our first stop was Sullivan & Bleeker Toronto Baking Company.

I was drawn to this vendor because THEY HAD CUPCAKES IN JARS. How often do I say, “I wish this dessert came in a jar with a lid so I could carry it in my purse” ?!

I think this is one of the more brilliant and unique ideas I’ve seen in baking lately and I hope this trend takes hold. These would make great gifts or snacks or just because desserts. I bought two types: S’mores and Cinnamon Toast Crunch and GC and I shared them for breakfast the next day.

The cake was moist and fluffy, the icing was smooth, creamy and sweet. The cupcakes also travelled extremely well. There was no shifting of the icing/decoration, everything stayed perfectly in place. I am in love. And now I have two small Mason jars and hopefully I can try and make these myself! Lesley got two cupcakes: S’mores and Cookie Dough.

Our next stop was ESE.

ESE is serving up LA style Mexican food and it is delicious. I don’t really know which one of the I had but from process of eliminate and Google searches I think I had the Torta Ahogada.

This was essentially a pulled pork slider but to simplify it in that way obviously does not do it justice. The pork had a nice amount of heat, that played with the fatty, juiciness that pork naturally has. The pickled cabbage was sweet and salty and the perfect contrast to the richness of the pork. I could have eaten about 1,000 of these. This was a great bite of Cinco de Mayo.

Our next stop was Bonfire Catering to say thanks to everyone and have some tasty pizza.

The team at Bonfire was friendly and pumped about the food they were serving. I’ll have to admit that when we approached the truck I was apprehensive to own up to being behind Tastebuddies – I’m shy and awkward. But I’m glad I got over myself and asked to say hi to Yvonne. I got to meet a great team behind some great food. To kick off their take on Cinco de Mayo we started off with jalapenos stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon as we waited for our pizza to cook.

There was the perfect charbroil on this little popper. The cheese was so creamy and stringy and the bacon was perfectly crisp. All of this with a subtle undertone of heat from the jalapeno. This is what all jalapeno poppers should strive to be.

I ordered the meat pizza and Lesley ordered the vegetarian.

The meat pizza had spicy chorizo sausage which had a great spice and was salty and so tasty. The wood oven added a great smoky and earthy taste to the crust which is the perfect base for the rich toppings.

Lesley doesn’t usually like olives but she said that the olives worked perfectly with the cheese and it was creamy, salty goodness.

Another hit by Bonfire Catering – Mexican style.

Our next stop was to taste a little Greek cuisine from Kalofagas Greek Food.

I am not a huge fan of Greek food – I love Greek salad and tzatziki and that’s about it. I don’t know what it is. I find it salty and bland. That being said I still went to a vendor that served Greek food.

They were serving up four types of souvlaki and they had display versions of each one which I thought was a neat idea – show people what they can eat which will entice more people to your booth and get people through the line up faster as they can see what they will be getting, which in theory should make the decision easier.

I ordered the Pork Souvlaki.

The tzatziki was creamy and cool and the hot sauce added a little bit of kick. Lesley tried to order the Veggie Burger but it took over 10 minutes so Lesley asked for her money back. It is unfortunate that they couldn’t keep up with the demand of the event. And apparently there are tons of vegetarians who didn’t get to be satisfied by Greek food. No big loss there in my opinion…

While we were waiting for our souvlaki, we noticed this guy:

Right away we thought he was sketchy. He appeared out of nowhere, he didn’t have any signage and he had the world’s smallest deep fryer, but I bet he had a ticket and a stamp on his hand. A woman came over with a very stern look and started talking to the guy and from what we could gather he thought he could just walk in and start frying french fries. Later we overheard him saying he had heard about the event and just decided to come and serve up fries. We started to wonder if he had brought his mini deep fryer on the subway.

And of course, Lesley just had to sample some of his chips.

He had an assortment of toppings – sea salt, rosemary and other herbs, and difference sauces – Lesley loved these chips. Salty, sweet, citrus. Surprisingly good chips from a random, dirty chippy.

After having so much spice we needed something to wash down the heat – and of course, on Cinco de Mayo the only choice is tequila. Tromba was there serving tequila and I have to say, Patron move over, because I have a new favourite tequila. Tromba’s mission is to dispel traditional conceptions of tequila. Their website is witty and sarcastic and edgy – everything tequila is and makes you when you drink it. They made us a drink that was a shot of tequila and a shot of equal parts agave nectar and lime juice served on the rocks. This is one of the tastiest cocktails I have ever had. It was sweet, earthy, crisp, with a hint of citrus and of course, that brilliant tequila kick. This cocktail was the perfect palette cleanser to allow us to enjoy more food.

Next stop – the Cupcake Diner. I had vowed to GC that I wouldn’t buy any cupcakes – that morning I had made 5 dozen cupcakes and I have issues with cupcakes made by other people. But of course, the truck and her are both so adorable that I can’t help it

I ordered the Cinnamon Churros and Lesley ordered the Chilli Chocolate and Strawberry Margarita.

I ate my cupcake later that night for “dinner.”

What is with the side of this cupcake? I don’t even know how this would happen – I assume two cupcakes ballooned together in the oven and then were ripped apart but it was not very nice looking and I would probably not sell/give away for free a cupcake that looked like this. The cake was a delicate cinnamon base and that was about it. The caramel sauce was sweet and not as silky as the caramel that accompanies churros. The churro topper was flaky and sugar coated but not an authentic churro. This cupcake was a cute attempt to capture a classic Spanish dessert but have a churro instead. The cupcake was good in it’s own right but did not capture it’s namesake very well.

But we all know the next time I see this adorable truck I wil order more cupcakes….

We then headed over to Paese.

Lesley ordered the Italian and Mexican Chopped Salad. She was disappointed – it seemed as if they went for colour and texture rather than taste. I order the Pepperoni and Smoke Mozzarella Arancini with Mexican Salsa Verdi. Arancini are rice balls coated in breadcrumbs and obviously this is an amazing combination. I tried these for the first time at GC’s cousin’s son’s 2nd birthday and they were made by GC’s cousin’s friend’s nonna and that woman has skills. These were comparable but I didn’t like the chunks of pepperoni in the arancini. Arancini should be smooth, with hints of cheese and tomato. Besides having crispy chunk of pepperoni they were creamy and cheesy which made my tummy smile. The salsa verdi was a nice nod to Cinco de Mayo but didn’t add anything to the dish.

And I am now searching for recipes for Arancini…

All fooded out and about ready to leave we stopped for one last drink at Spearhead Brewing Company.

This beer is a lighter beer which they likened more to wine than beer. It is also made with pineapple juice. There is definitely a summer trend to create lighter beers with fruity notes (Mill St. iced tea-esque beer). I think if it had been hotter and the beer had been colder I would have liked it more. It is like my dad says about beer, “if your hot and it’s cold then it’s good.” I think I will pick up some of this beer in the future though because sometimes you don’t want something heavy, just a light, smooth beer.

Full and sleepy we left around 7:30 – I think we did pretty good. I learned some things for next time:

1. Bring water

2. Bring containers to bring goodies home

3. Vendors/trucks with take-home items should be visited last

4. High demand items (i.e. lobster rolls) should be visited early

5. Stay, enjoy some music and dancing and drinks and maybe you’ll be up for Round II

This is an amazing event and I can’t wait to go back. Tickets for the June event go on sale on May 18th and I am definitely getting tickets – if you want to come let me know! I love when I can enjoy food with as many people as possible. There is no reason not to attend this event: transportation is taken car of, it is inexpensive and you have tons of notice.

I look forward to future yums by TUM.

Terroni

On Friday I went for dinner with Liz, Amelia and GC to Terroni at Yonge and Rosedale.

There are three locations in Toronto and I chose this location because I could make a reservation online. Yes, I try to avoid as much human interaction as humanly possible. The entrance of this restaurant is confusing: it looks like it should be off of Yonge but it is actually on the side street. The exterior combines sleek and modern architecture with traditional and vintage textures and facades. This juxtaposition continues inside the restaurant.

This restaurant has a very 1960s Italy vibe which is retro, mod and fabulous. I wish I was cool enough to pull this look off in my own house. There are vibrant colours on all the walls, exposed brick, the stairs leading up to the second floor resemble piano keys and the tables had Italian words on all them (our token Italian couldn’t tell us what the significance behind all the words were). My favourite feature in the whole restaurant was the bookshelf on the second floor – it was jammed with books with hilarious and random titles that were arranged on the shelves by colour. It was so fantastic and I want to do this in my own house but that would require buying books for the sake of their spines…

We started off with cocktails – I had a bellini, GC had a Pompelmi , and Liz and Amelia had San Pellegrino’s limonata (they do not serve American sodas with the exception of Coca Cola, obviously). I think I prefer mimosas to bellinis – is this a fair comparison? GC’s cocktail reminded me of the Thyme Collins I had at Yours Truly except it had rosemary instead of thyme. I love the idea of putting fresh herbs in cocktails. It gives them a fresh and bright taste that compliments the sharp bite of alcohol.

Our entrees.

I had the Spaghetti in Canne a Mare.

“Fresh clams and mussels, calamari, scallops and tiger shrimp, light tomato sauce (this pasta is not served with parmigiano to highlight the delicate flavours of the shellfish; following ancient Italian tradition …enjoy).”

This was amazing. The pasta was so fresh and light. All the seafood was cooked perfectly. The calamari was not chewy at all and I love that there was baby calamari and you could see the legs. It just shows you how fresh and real everything is. And the shrimp that topped my perfect little nest of pasta was huge and perfectly cooked. The tomato sauce was fresh and bright but slightly oily but from my knowledge of Southern Italian cuisine (which I am basing on this meal and my current reading of The Godfather) this is common. I would like to eat this again. And again. And tell other people about it and have them eat it repeatedly.

GC had the Puzza Pizza.

White pizza with mozzarella, Italian mascarpone, gorgonzola, mushrooms, and Italian ham.

Liz had the Rigatoni Arcobaleno.

Mozzarella di bufala, zucchini, light cherry tomato sauce,and basil.

Amelia had the Affitisciuta Pizza.

Tomato, mozzarella, smoked scamorza, and homemade spicy Italian sausage.

We all loved our entrees. It was so good in fact that Liz, who frequently says she wishes she could take all meals in pill form, uttered, “I like food,” while polishing off her plate. Shocking! Hearty, fresh, Italian goodness. I am definitely going back for seconds.

And of course we had dessert.

I had the Tiramisu and a Latte.

Tiramisu is tiramisu. It is always delicious and creamy it just depends on how much espresso flavour you want. I would have like a tiny bit more to give it the punch I like.

GC had the Bomba Calda and an espresso

Ordering this was quiet the feat. On the menu it said it was only offered on weekends but we assumed, as it was Friday, we should be able to order this. We asked the server and she said no, the weekend is only considered to be Saturday and Sunday. Fair enough. GC switched his order to something else. The server came back about a minute later and she had double checked with the kitchen and they were able to make this dessert for him, even though it is sacrilegious to make it on a Friday. The bite I had didn’t make me think it was anything special that should be reserved for the weekend – it was an Italian donut with custard in the middle. I did not like the jam that came with it but then again I hate apricots/marmalade so that was to be expected. GC liked it though which is good because it was his dessert.

Liz had the Creme Caramel.

Liz did not like her cookie garnishes. I think sometimes with desserts they add all this fluff to make it seem impressive forgetting that simple works for desserts too. She did like, however, how they cut her blueberries in half.

And Amelia had two scoops of hazelnut gelato.

Overall, we had a great time. This restaurant had a funky vibe that was mod and retro but still comfortable. The food was amazing and could satisfy any appetite and any craving. The quality and freshness of the ingredients could be tasted with every bite. This is my new favourite Italian restaurant in Toronto. It is the kind of Italy I like to imagine – retro, 1960s, with all the glitz and glam of Fellini but still the quality and delicious ingredients that Nonna would use.

Mega yums. When can we go back?

The Mad Italian

Sunday was dreary but we wanted to get the most out of the day. We started by visiting High Park for the blooming of the cherry blossoms.

The cherry blossoms are only in peak bloom for about a week in the middle of April and it is something to check out. There is about 100 cherry blossom trees planted along a path that winds down the hills of High Park. It’s all very Victorian particularly when we went – the air was thick with fog and there was that classic British mist in the air.

After our Victorian stroll we went to The Mad Italian on College for pizza cones.

The Mad Italian is everything a gelato restaurant in Little Italy should be – 1960s-mod, red walls, soccer playing on all the televisions and wine and olive oil posters decorating the walls.

GC has wanted to come here for months – the main draw was the pizza cones. They imported the idea from Italy and it’s the only place in Toronto that has the ability to make these cones. They start with cone shaped dough which is then filled with whatever traditional pizza toppings you want – pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, peppers, pineapple, different types of cheese, olives, you name it. Once filled and topped with an outrageous amount of cheese it is placed in a metal holder on a conveyor belt which rotates into a machine to perfectly cook each cone individually.

These were surprisingly amazing. The dough was perfectly cooked through and crispy as if it had been baked flat. The toppings were tightly packed into the cone so there was the perfect amount of pizza goodness in every bite. There was so much cheese. I think this would be great street food. I could picture walking along a street in Rome while munching on one of these cones.

After eating our cones of pizza we washed them down with gelato.

GC ordered the cheesecake gelato. Unlike past cheesecake gelatos this had legitimate chunks of cheesecake in it. Smooth, cream and light – just like cheesecake.

I ordered two flavours – lemon and blueberry and basil. The lemon was citrus and light. The blueberry and basil gelato is the most unique flavour I have ever had. It was sweet from both the basil and the blueberry but had that fresh summer taste that basil has. I love this combination of sweet fruit and basil and want to try it in many forms, including this Strawberry Basil Soda. This will be my summer 2012 food inspiration – fruit and basil.

This is the perfect little embodiment of Toronto’s Little Italy – unique products from Italy, soccer, gelato and modern style. This is a gelato spot worth checking out.

Pizza Via Mercanti

Today for lunch GC and I went to Pizza Via Mercanti in Kensington Market.

This restaurant is the latest of the Toronto pizzerias featuring Naples-style pizza. It opened at the start of 2012 and since I heard about it I have wanted to go. I am in Kengsinton Market at least every weekend – which is odd because it is not one of my favourite places to go – and we tried to eat here about a month ago but it was packed and rightly so. Today we finally got to go and we both fell in love.

I like walking into a pizza place and seeing the pizza oven. When we walked in we could see the giant mixer kneading the pizza dough into submission. The smell of fresh dough was wafting out onto the street and it was the perfect doughy smell. The foundation of a good pizza is good crust and the smell and oven alone confirmed that this pizza was being built on top of quality.

Everything was so simple, yet complex. Rustic, yet modern. Traditional and classic. I loved the interior of this restaurant. There were these beautiful blue and green tiles in the kitchen that mirrored the colours of the Mediterranean Sea. All the wood reminded me of the gnarled trees that are in the Italian countryside. The art on the walls were these charcoal and almost espresso looking paint on canvas – very interesting. And I’m not using the word interesting in a negative, “Explain your picture” type of way.  The bar featured a mix of Italian beverages – beers, wines, waters and hard liquor. Next time I think I would like to try some Italian beer.

The menus.

This menu explains everything about this restaurant – their vision, the quality of their ingredients, information about the ovens they use and the entire cooking process. This shows both authenticity, expertise and quality. And beautiful, Italian words describing all the menu items but that make me look like a mangiacake as I butcher the language. This just reinforces that I need to look into taking Italian.

Complimentary bread basket which is actually just stone-fired pizza dough. A tasty little teaser of the deliciousness to come. My only wish was that this had come with some olive oil or balsamic vinegar.

Our Antipasti Vari was the Bocconcini di Pizza – the bocconcini was salty and creamy wrapped around basil, salami and all enrobed in pizza dough. These were the perfect little bites of pizza and I could probably eat about 20 of these. When we ordered these we didn’t really know what we would be getting, we thought we would just be getting four balls of bocconcini – which would have been amazing – but this was so much better.

And topped with this…

I love how ruby red these peppers were. GC was laughing at me because he expected my face to fall off with heat but these peppers were sweet with a hint of spicy. The dough soaked up the oil and you could taste the medley of olives and peppers in the oil. I could eat bread soaked in this oil for hours. Maybe I should make my own? I almost bought a book on canning the other day entitled, “Canning for a New Generation.” I clearly should have purchased this book.

Our pizzas.

Bianche Pizza with fior di latte, potatoes, Italian cured bacon (pancetta) and black pepper. I love white pizzas – they are so simple and you can focus on all the toppings. Potatoes on pizza works so well – these potatoes were soft and buttery and worked with the cheese to create an almost scalloped potatoes effect on top of the crust. The pancetta was gorgeous – so much better than regular bacon but still fatty and salty.

The crust was crunchy and held up to all the toppings. It was sweet and salty and was the perfect base for all this goodness. I also like when you bite into crust and you can taste the flour the dough was tossed in. I don’t know why and I think that I am the only person who likes this but I think it just gives me a feeling that the dough was just recently tossed and stretched out.

Rosse Pizza with fior di latte, prosciutto crudo and fresh Parmesan. The tomato sauce was sweet and tasted as if it was only tomatoes, The basil was sweet and tasted like summer. The prosciutto was salty and fatty. The combination of cheeses created a cream base that everything floated on.

We had dessert because again, we couldn’t resist the tiramisu.

Creamy, and a great strong coffee flavour. I love tiramisu and I need to have an event where I can make it.

When we were leaving the restaurant the owner stopped us and asked us in Italian how we liked it. GC being smooth and Italian, responded with a few sentences and I had to hang my head in shame and admit that I can’t speak Italian. We told him we loved it and he proceeded to teach us about the prosciutto they use and how prosciutto is cured (wind versus salt) and the stamps of authenticity on the hock of ham. He told us that they are the cheapest restaurant in this market but that he knows the owner of Pizzeria Libretto and they have a good relationship. They are all pizzane after all.

This restaurant was cozy and relaxed, the perfect atmosphere for enjoying a great meal. The quality of the ingredients was obvious and there was so much passion and intensity behind the entire meal. I would like to go back and order a few different appetizers and sip wine and speak Italian. I would like to appear sophisticated and smooth while eating good food and drink. This restaurant is a nice, classy little place in Kensington and is pure perfection.

Pizzeria Libretto

On March 26th, GC took me on a date to Pizzeria Libretto. It only seemed fitting to revisit the neighbourhood we had fallen in love with the previous day and go to the restaurant we had tried to go to. Pizzeria Libretto recently opened a second location on the Dansforth – now all they need to do is open a location in the north and the south and they will have a Toronto pizza compass which I can use to orientate myself in the city.

The exterior of the restaurant doesn’t stand out from the street but what will catch your eye is the logo for the VPN – Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. This logo just reinforces why we went here – for authentic, quality Naples-style pizza. I don’t know how one becomes VPN certified but I would imagine it is a lengthy and difficult process.

The restaurant features lime green walls, string pendant lighting, beautiful wooden tables and an open kitchen. The kitchen shows the huge pizza oven built by a pizza oven maker from Naples. That is about as authentic Italian as you can get in Toronto. The pizza has a mosaic of tile spelling out the name of the restaurant, a personal touch unique to the restaurant, reinforcing the authenticity of the oven and the restaurant.

I loved how simple the table settings were that I had to take a picture. The table is made of such beautiful, aged wood it resembles stairs of an old Victorian school house. This feel of the furniture continues into the base of the table which has ornate, clawed footings. I love natural, simple furniture especially when that’s what the food is all about. It creates a cohesive ambiance/message throughout the restaurant.

When we walked in, we somehow missed this specials board outside the restaurant so it’s a good thing our server brought the special to our attention because this was a pizza that would have been incredibly unfortunate to miss out on.

The salami was tender and fatty and everything salami should be. The cheese was thick and creamy. The basil was fresh and tasted like summer. The tomato sauce was light and fruity which worked perfectly with the hot honey garlic. Get the idea of honey garlic wings out of your head – this sauce was nothing like that. It tasted like real honey and real garlic and was perfectly sweet to compliment the richness of the meat and cheese.

The crust was so thin that it could barely hold the weight of the toppings and was doughy and crunchy all at the same time. You could taste the smoke and the wood from the oven and the “burn” marks around the crust tasted like a campfire.

GC ordered the Ontario Prosciutto Pizza with tomato, basil and mozzarella.

The prosciutto is so thin and delicate that it looks and has the texture of tissue paper. Salty and tender, it fell apart perfectly in every bite. And this pizza was cheesy. You just can’t tell because of all the delicious prosciutto.

Both pizzas were complimented by a 2010 Negroamaro – I don’t normally go for red wine because I can’t handle it but whenever I eat Italian food I feel like it’s a must. Probably because of Hannibal Lecter. This wine was smooth, and not too dry and stood up to the richness of the pizzas.

We ordered dessert and espressos to finish off the evening.

The espresso had a nice, rich coffee flavour but wasn’t smack you in the face coffee. I find people think espresso has to taste of only caffeine in order for people to believe that it is espresso.

We shared the Libretto Tiramisu and it was divine. The cream was thick and had a wonderful vanilla custard flavour. The lady fingers were espresso soaked but not soggy and falling apart. You could taste the richness of the cheese and the liqueur, all set off by the spice of the cinnamon. All in a convenient little jar – I wish I could just have a jar of tiramisu with me at all time, maybe in my purse with a tight lid?

Overall, it’s like eating in the private kitchen of a delightful Italian stereotype! Not really as that is a quote from Clone High about the Olive Garden. This is a simple, authentic tradition in a contemporary and hip environment. It is warm and comforting but you will still look cool on a first date or out with your hipster friends. This was a hit with me and my overly Italian boyfriend and if that’s not a vote of confidence, I don’t know what is.