Where to DINE Now: Costa Sorrento

Pizza alla Pescatora, Costa Sorrento

I can’t remember my passwords, but I never forget an extraordinary meal. Many years ago, I tasted a beautifully delicate caramelle pasta—pasta shaped like a wrapped caramel candy. I’ve never known the likes of it since. Until tonight. In conversation with Chef Nino Cioffi of Costa Sorrento , it dawned on me that this was the chef, and it was his restaurant all those years ago. Without hesitation, he called out in Italian to a chef in the kitchen to prepare a caramelle pasta with porcini mushrooms and black truffles specially for me.

Pasta Caramelle
Pasta Caramelle

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who eat to live, and those who live to eat. At Costa Sorrento, all who enter fall under the joyous spell of Nino and Dominika Cioffi, who invite us to “Come on in, forget your troubles, and just enjoy.” Nino is third generation in the food industry. His grandfather started a cheese business in their home town in Italy. The purveying of quality ingredients is in his DNA.

Chef Nino has a growing following. Where he goes, his admirers follow. First and foremost, he is from Sorrento, and so his cooking, his traditions, are from Sorrento. Consider this: I’m not interested in a chef’s family recipe of a dish from Sorrento if they’re not from Sorrento, but from another region of Italy, any more than one would be interested in my Bubbie’s traditional recipe for wonton soup. If we want authenticity, Chef Nino’s cooking and the warmth of his and Dominika’s hospitality is as authentic as if we were perched on a cliff-side terrace overlooking the Sorrentine Peninsula.

Bruschetta
Bruschetta

We begin with a beautiful bruschetta of tomatoes, microgreens and artichoke. The crunch of addictive, toasted Italian bread and the melange of textures is accented by floral, silky olive oil called Alchimia by Marina Palusci. Chef Nino has a few Italian olive oils on hand for us to sample, and is only too excited for us to compare them. A glass of wine to pair with dishes to come? “Yes please,” we respond and leave the choice to the Padrone.

Tis the season for clams and mussels, and we can’t wait to dig in to a bowl of these luscious mollusks in their natural juices. Plump and firm, these are the most satisfying mussels we’ve tasted in recent memory.

Clams
Clams

Several inventive dishes are whisked by, wafting aromatics in their wake. Ravioli stuffed with perch and almonds; steaming crisp Pizza alla Pescatora, chock full of seafood; special phyllo pastries filled with ricotta, mozzarella and salami, and served with a cheesy cream sauce; and Bocconcini di Pizza—pop-in-your-mouth, scrumptious-looking pizza bites of fior di latte, ricotta, basil, salami and prosciutto.

Alas, it’s the other tables’ turn to gaze at what the kitchen has in store for us. Thinly sliced eggplant, toasted with cheese, and topped with crisp basil, wraps a melted, creamy serving of flor de latte and ricotta for luxurious savoury goodness. The olive oil, garlic, Italian herbs, melted cheese–all the flavours that make Italian cuisine the most popular in the world–immediately seduce us.

Neapolitan Eggplant
Neapolitan Eggplant

The kitchen carries on its rustic traditions and prepares for us Nino’s signature dish: Spaghetti con Zucchini Alla Nerano, a steaming dish of spaghetti with fried zucchini, and basil with Reggiano sauce. All the ingredients marry together and make love, and after a few luscious tastes, I close my eyes and start humming the old song, The Story of Sorrento.

Spaghetti alla Nerano
Spaghetti alla Nerano

This is just one of the daily changing four pastas, four main courses, and one or two daily pizza selections. Chef Nino tells us he inspired by people, as well as by the seasons and the ingredients, and so if we visit on another night, the menu will have changed. Those who dine out several times a week, can always expect something a little different with each visit. As it happens, one of Nino’s close friends is connected to a local farm, and the vegetables delivered to Costa Sorrento are hand-picked, including a unique type of radicchio that he he includes in his cooking.

See Also

Chef Nino enthuses about his Vesuvio pasta dish in which he boils flying squid into a cherry tomato sauce. It sounds tantalizing, as do the grilled lamb chops and whole seared Adriatic Sea bass, but we are distracted by a four-foot-long sharing board of meats, fish, fries, peppers and market garden of veggies and sauces being carried aloft to a nearby table! Next time? For now, it’s time for dessert.

www.costasorrento.ca
A family tradition, the Cioffi’s also make their own gelato and sorbet. Flavours like pistachio, vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut, lemon and green apple. And what on Earth is Spaghetti Gelato? I am sold on Roche, one dreamy scoop of chocolate gelato with Nutella, Ferrero Roche sauce and cream.

With generosity of spirit, Nino and Dominika Cioffi share their love for traditional Sorrento cuisine and culture, rooted in Sorrento, but also with an inventive flair that makes every dish, every night, unique and authentic.

Costa Sorrento, 179 Enterprise Blvd, Markham, 905-604-2019

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