A glowing white orb of Burrata flanked by lusty Bresaola and heirloom tomato salad; crisply fried artichoke hearts on mint-infused yogurt; al dente buckwheat spaghettoni textured with vegetables and dressed with garlic and harissa oil; freshly made fettuccine with lamb ragu bianco and San Marzano tomato sauce. And that’s just the beginning. Close your eyes and you’ll think you’re in Italy dining on the rustic, muscular cooking we all love. Where have you been hiding Ovest? At last I have found you.
On a recent weekend there is not an empty table in this warm spacious room, not at the large round tables, or my favourite corner table, or even the smaller tables for two. Reminiscent of a wine cellar, an interesting selection of Italian wines and Prosecco adorn the space. While the beautifully planned room itself has a variety of seating options, the bar seems to be the first to be filled. The staff radiates a familiarity and warmth without overpowering our evening. Clearly they’ve been trained by a friendly commander in chief.
Giacinto (John) Tedesco has reinvented and rejuvenated Ovest with generous portions, gentle pricing and a European sensibility toward service and hospitality. He is master of his do- main and his educated palate and wealth of experience sets the tone. Mentored by Luigi Orgera at the renowned La Fenice, it is no surprise that classic manners and style with substance have been transported to this haven of glorious Italian cuisine. His visits to each table are anticipated, and his humour and understanding that people have come to Ovest for a great evening prompts his congeniality.
They’ve struck the word ordinary from their vocabulary before they crossed the threshold. The kitchen team has the right attitude: enthusiasm, the joy of discovery, and the personal satis- faction of executing dishes that steam and sizzle and elicit ooh’s and aah’s when they’re set on the table. There are no idle hands in this kitchen. Ah, this is the way we want pizza crust to taste! We leave not one crumb behind. This kitchen runs on youth, integrity and a desire to get it right, with passion, curiosity and respect for tradition, but more importantly for authenticity. Executive Chef Rajan Chopra uses year old sourdough as starter and lets his dough proof for four days. He throws that pizza dough in the air as if to the manor born.
Order Risotto del Giorno with saffron and braised brisket, or short rib and red wine, or cuttlefish ragu and black tiger shrimp, and you will be seduced into the growing loyal clientele. In collaboration with Lugano Fine Foods, Ovest brings to the table 100 percent pure Carnaroli rice from Riserva San Massimo, that grows up to 175 cm high on approximately 100 hectares cultivated in the unique and extraordinary fertile ecosystem of the natural reserve of Parco Ticino in Lombardy.
An obvious camaraderie of spirit, mentorship and partnership that emanates from the top to each member of the kitchen staff and to front of the house staff, keeps the joy of cooking at these stoves. And the menu is a refreshing excursion into the Italian countryside.
And yet, no matter how busy, there is always room at the inn. When John’s cell phone rings and a regular asks for a table that evening, the answer is always, “for how many, my friend.”
www.ovest-to.com, 788 King St W, 416-214-6161
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.