“God is in the details,” Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Prepare to be dazzled!
In our age, in our city, the mountain has been climbed, the peak has been reached and the flag has been planted. DaNico has opened and nothing will be the same again. “What’s this,” you ask? Read on, lovers of exquisite gastronomy offered in an atmosphere that brings joy to all the senses.
The old Scotiabank building at College and Bathurst has experienced a reincarnation and become a culinary shrine. The owners are Nick Di Donato (Liberty Entertainment Group) Ernesto Iaccarino of Don Alfonso 1890, and Michelin Star Chef Daniele Corona. The interior was created by carpenters, painters, electricians working at their crafts, following the blueprints of the royalty of design herself, international award-winning designer, Nadia Di Donato.
Look at these doors! Reclaimed from an Italian Palazzo, framed by Versace porcelain tiles, they open electronically, and I enter a vast space. There is beauty wherever the eye falls: modern luxurious furnishings of buttery leather curved booths, and printed velvet sofas at tables. A perfect, open, single pink rose in a pretty vase adorns each table. We appreciate the highbacked chairs that add discretion to tables for two at the window walls, and recognize that window treatments mimic the pipes of church organs. Facing the entrance, a huge 27-foot pillar (an original structural beam) camouflaged by an artistic Maple carving. And from her personal collection, the iconic bronze Salvador Dali melting clock. Brilliant, Nadia, brilliant.
Awaiting friends, I perch at the front bar and order my drink du jour of late, a Manhattan. Here, named the Diplomat, it is Da Nico’s own version. The traditional whisky is blended with no less than five different Amari, accompanied by a peach aperitif and a hint of bitters. A sophisticated introduction to our eagerly anticipated dining experience. Each ice cube is branded before use. Yes, with a heated branding iron. Yoo Hoo!! Are you watching Mr. Michelin?
I prepare to be dazzled.
The first of our team of servers, (who I think are all graduates of a Charm School) in their patterned velvet vests, adeptly explains the menu with its two pre fixe alternatives, $150 and $225 pp.
The first dish, Italy in a Bite, sets the dulcet tone of our evening. This clever gastronomic junket across Italy includes little gastronomic treats: rigatoni carbonara is a puff of fried pasta holding a dollop of sauce; cannolo Siciliano, in a nod to the sea, is a squid-ink pastry shell holding tuna and buffalo mozzarella; and my favorite, langoustine tartare with Acadian sturgeon caviar. In a fine-China oyster shell, hiding under a blanket of light lemony sauce is a uniquely large and lush oyster.
And what a pretty dish is here, Granchio al Gusto Mediterraneo, a composition of oceanic BC Dungeness crab swims in green olive coulis, vegies and chives. Encircling the bowl is an edible crisp, lacey necklace, and edible flowers, to be crumbled so they fall into the bowl and add crunchy texture. It’s around this time that my admiration for Chef Daniele Corona increases a hundred-fold. And it continues with the service of a bowl of mini-tortellini, little hats stuffed with braised Ontario lamb and sauced with smoked eel and Barbera wine sauce, sprinkled with caramelized onion and fresh mint.
Sipping Prosecco, eating with our eyes and appreciating each luscious forkful of beautiful food, we begin comparing this meal favorably with dinners at Michelin Stars in Europe. The tablescapes themselves are worthy of mention. Every lovely plate seems to be made to measure for its contents, and then there are the Laguiole en Aubrac knives, the oldest made-in-France cutlery. Impressive.
A lovely slice of grilled tenderloin is from the world’s finest Wagyu, the famed A5 from Miyazaki Prefecture. Adam Waxman, who has made a study of Japan Wagyu and has enjoyed A5 at source in Miyazaki Prefecture, closes his eyes to avoid any distraction as he savors each bite. A Japanese frivolity to enhance the dish is a small barbecue holding a skewer of sliced crispy potatoes and shishito pepper stuffed with ricotta and guanciale.
The grand finale in this culinary drama are the desserts. A blown glass structure with interior caves holds an array of unusually delectable sweets, enough to ungrudgingly share. I crave a superb cup of coffee at this point, and my needs are more than met. With the perfect cup, comes a small bowl of coffee and sugar whip to spoon into the cup (or into the mouth – excuse me please) that adds something akin to religion to the coffee. One would think, at this point, that the experience has ended. Not quite. A pink puffy bowl holds a trompe-l’oell strawberry panna cotta set on house-made goat’s milk ice cream.
We make a visit to the kitchen and peer inside the vault that holds a treasure trove of 450 wines, mostly from Italy, ranging from $70 to $9000 a bottle. Interesting that there is room here for a Chef’s Table for group-privacy. And we’re honoured to shake the hand of Chef Daniele Corona who has given us such a splendid evening. In his handsome white designer jacket, he projects the flawless image that mirrors every aspect of DaNico.
DaNico, 440 College Street, 647 715-1200
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.