Where to DINE Now: Figo Toronto

Figo Toronto, www.instagram.com:figotoronto:

Sara Waxman: There is only one opportunity to make a good first impression. Figo Toronto charms us right from the start with its sophisticated, yet approachable lightness of being. The plant-filled patio wraps around the high-rise office building like a breezy smile. The dining room is inviting and sports an airy pastel design. The floor is polished concrete, the high ceiling is painted with delicate florals, and the room demands nothing of us except to relax and enjoy a calm oasis juxtaposed with the cacophony of downtown traffic. The wine cabinets reach upward to higher-than-usual ceilings in arches, and even the open kitchen and wood fire oven are framed by an archway. I’m reminded for a moment of the renowned Italian architect Palladio who first dreamed up palladium windows. Perhaps designer Alexandre Munge was channelling him as well.

Adam Waxman: This is not your parent’s Italian restaurant. There’s a very fresh, accessible vibe. It’s bright, airy. The expansive windows make me feel like we’re not missing anything outside in the pulse of the intersection. The menu is flavour-forward and cocktail-ready. Fruit and herbaceous notes in the cocktail menu sing of summer. You cannot go wrong with the Appasionata of Smirnoff vanilla, passion fruit syrup, lemon juice, egg white and prosecco. A good cocktail sets the night alight, and is a great way to start.

Figot Toronto Interior, instagram.com/figotoronto
Figo Toronto Interior, instagram.com/figotoronto

SW: It seems to me that today there are more Italian restaurants in Toronto than there are in Naples, and every day, new ones open. Toronto itself is Little Italy and we are the lucky ones. In an unsuccessful attempt to cover as many as possible, it has taken me five years to come to Figo for dinner. Clearly, stiff competition has required these outposts of Italy to do better, tastier and more authentic. Long gone are the days of spaghetti and meatballs and pasta primavera.

The menu is direct and reads as if it was made to order for us: modern Italian filtered through Nona’s kitchen. The two of us are doing mental gymnastics in our desire to taste Figo’s new signature dishes as well as order our traditional favourites. So, it’s decided—we’re sharing.

Stracciatella
Stracciatella

AW: Stracciatella, the burrata filling, is a creamy, refreshing and scoopable palate-opener accented with orange blossom honey and fennel pollen and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. It’s a lush topping for the crunchy grilled sourdough. This is easily shareable and immediately pairs with a sparkling wine, white wine, or beer.

We’ve ordered the Zucchini Fritti, because we just wanted something different, but we thought we knew what to expect. Surprise! Rather than spear-cut and breaded, it is presented as a mound of thin rounds, lightly-tempura-fried, gently dusted with salt and black pepper, and zhuzhed up with wild honey, lemon zest, and lemon crema. We both keep saying, “Okay, last one,” but they’re simply addictive. Each pop-in-your-mouth bite is a perfect balance of crunchy texture with hints of sweet and salt that beckon another cocktail.

Zucchini Fritti
Zucchini Fritti

SW: A family of five is at the next table enjoying pizza. There is a lot of lip-smacking enjoyment emanating from that direction, and it’s contagious. I wave to our ever-watchful server, “We’ll have what they’re having.” Our Pizza Diavolo is slathered with tomato sauce and topped with flor di latte, parmigiano, bomba chili, and soppressata. Pizza heaven.

We discuss the correct way to eat pizza. I pick up the slice and fold it. Sometimes, with apologies, I use a knife and fork. Depending on the crust, some people hold it straight up. The verdict: any way you want, as long as it gets into your mouth. But when did you ever see anyone eat the entire crust, edges included. The charred bubbles on the edge of this pizza are so perfect and tasty, I cannot just leave them uneaten.

AW: The edge of the pizza, the cornicione, is often discarded on the plate by kids, by me, because it usually has the personality of dry cardboard. But this is sourdough, so there is a more dynamic flavour profile, and it’s been rested for days to the point that the chemistry of the yeast and the lactic acid have had time to do what they need to do in order to elicit the right flavour and crunch. Pizzaiolos should follow the mantra of “no bite left behind.” Clearly this kitchen takes pride in that, and we leave not one crumb left behind.

Diavola Pizza
Diavola Pizza

We’ve selected Diavolo, the Italian word for devil. I’m often too cynical to order pizza, because often restaurants don’t pay enough attention to the crust—and that’s the backbone of the whole thing. A restaurant can invest thousands in a state-of-the-art Neopolitan pizza oven, but if the dough is just industrial and refined, it’s not going to be great. This is great. Even the toppings are proud to be served on this, so let’s talk about that.

The tomato sauce, fior di latte, parmigiano, black olives all compliment, in concert with each other, while the bomba chili and soppressata add that swift kick in the palate of devilish spice and heat. It’s not overpowering, but it’s also not shy to let you know it’s there to give just the right distinction. This is a definite a patio-pleaser.

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Hanger Steak
Hanger Steak

SW: We’re agreed on the 8 oz. Hanger Steak, medium rare. And what a thing of beauty it is. I wonder if they cook it in the pizza oven since it’s so evenly crusted. It’s presented glistening with olive oil, partnered with a half-grilled lemon and salsa verde. You know, you don’t have to go to a steak house for a delicious steak, and you wouldn’t find this at a steak house anyway. The price is right, and for those like me, who do not often order a steak, the flavour and satisfaction-quotient of this steak make it a winner. It is lean and juicy with all the hints of an Argentine asado. With the wonderfully fresh notes of the lemon and the salsa verde, I’m not sure if I would pair this steak with a red wine or white wine. Why not experiment with both?

AW: Several dishes here seem to incorporate southern Italian elements from Sicilian, Calabrian and Apulian cuisines. The Casarecce al Polo is pasta made in-house with harissa mixed into the dough. Not for the faint of heart, the spice from the harissa combined with the nduja is prominent. Add to that a velvety smokiness, a splash of white wine, and the sharp but smooth edge of parmigiano, and we can taste that this is a kitchen that appreciates flavour. A generous portion of octopus and the subtle crunch of the pangrattato make this an innovative dish of textures and flavours atypical for a Toronto menu.

Casarecce al Polpo, Figo Restaurant
Casarecce al Polpo

SW: We’re told that unique dishes on this menu are creations of a collaborative team of chefs, helmed by Executive Chef Zach Albertson. I’m watching the young chefs in the open kitchen, confident and relaxed, as if they know the guests are loving their food.

AW: The good thing about sharing is that I don’t have to make up my mind. Our wooden board of Chocolate Torte and Tiramisu is the right compromise. The torte is densely textured budino and amaretti with almonds and an ooze of salted caramel. I love the balance of this with my espresso. Tiramisu swept across Toronto dessert menus in the mid-late ‘80s, and then gradually petered-out, only to reappear when a kitchen had something special up its sleeve. It’s been a while since we’ve ordered one, but this thick and richly-textured puck-sized confection reminds us why it was so popular in the first place. Another great pairing with espresso, and a final cool and sweet spoonful before exiting our front row seat to the centre of action in a downtown Toronto city night.

Figo Toronto, 295 Adelaide St W, Toronto, 647-748-3446

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