One of the pillars of DINE has always been the “Sara Says” ambiance reviews of restaurants that we recommend. Here, we highlight dishes and design.
Authentic Italian cuisine is right at home in this spacious, comfortable restaurant. The experience begins at the top, as owner John Tedesco greets every guest with genuine enthusiasm. Seated at polished wood tables, we have a good view of the open kitchen and spectacular pizza oven, the wall of interesting wines, as well as the long marble bar at the entrance. The Ovest style means generous portions of traditional Italian dishes, moderate pricing, and European service. Here, style meets substance. The kitchen uses year-old sourdough starter and lets the pizza dough rest four days. There is always a spectacular risotto di giorno, like braised beef brisket and saffron, or short rib and red wine, or cuttlefish ragu and black tiger shrimp. We start with crispy artichokes and mint-infused yogurt, flash fried sardines and a vibrant salad of seasoned beets with whipped ricotta and candied pecans. Equally enticing are main courses of baked, whole branzino and chitarrine pasta chock-full of seafood and tossed in arugula pesto. At the end, a freshly made cannoli. This kitchen runs on youthful enthusiasm, integrity, and the desire to get it right.
◗ 788 King St. West, 416-214-6161, www.ovest-to.com
In this most handsome of restaurants, each time a guest returns, they experience a rush that comes from entering a special place, Casa Loma. International celebrities, athletes, stars of stage and screen, the political arena as well as regular folks from the neighbourhood come for celebrations, or just because they love the food and the ambience. Some prefer the Oak Room with its dazzling leather booths, antler chandeliers, and unique portraits of The Queen at one end of the room and Prince at the other. In the Bar, the main events are an ice filled raw bar, and a well-stocked wine and spirits bar. The artwork, Dali and Warhol among others, punctuates the ambience with a sense of irreverence that sweeps away any sense of stuffiness. The dramatically-lit patio is the most romantic perch in the city. The wine menu comes on a tablet with geographical notes. Waiters are educated about the fish and fowl on the menu, as well as the merits of beef from Nebraska and Kansas; Canada beef from Alberta, Ontario, PEI and New Brunswick; Australian beef; Wagyu from Kagoshima, and more cuts like rack of lamb and veal chops. Enjoy the full experience with a tableside Caesar salad, and end with tableside flaming crepe suzettes.
◗ 1 Austin Terrace, 416-353-4647, www.bluebloodsteakhouse.com
Everyone’s favourite neighbourhood restaurant, with three locations, covers the city with a warm Italian embrace. The designs follow nature with warm elements of wood, stone and brick. A pasta maker turns out fresh pasta including spelt and gluten-free, sauced with seafood, Bolognese, or pesto to name just a few. At the fiery open pizza oven, a pizzaiolo tosses dough in the air and prepares Neapolitan pizzas and calzones to order— and there is more than a dozen from which to choose. Turning to the substantials offered on the menu, we are delighted with whole grilled Branzino with its array of local vegetables, and beef short ribs that partner with rich Gorgonzola polenta. The grill master has a fine hand with chicken and steak. Each location has its own lively bar scene: Yorkville is on two levels and has an open patio in summer. Yonge Street has a wine angel who swings on a trapeze to retrieve your bottle from the glass enclosed wine room, and King Street features a Salumeria. Each location has private dining rooms for meetings or parties.
◗ Look for Cibo in Coral Gables, Miami and South Beach. 522 King St. W; 416-504-3939 2472 Yonge St; 416-925-0016 133 Yorkville Ave, 416-925-2143, www.cibowinebar.com
Reactions to this new restaurant/lounge are unanimous. Wow!! Proving once again that lighting is everything, the drama of the changing colour installation and futuristic design entices us to stay in the lounge. Behind the bar, multi-screens of VIV TV take us to exotic travel locales. Comfortable in faux snakeskin chairs, in an airy two-story room, we watch the mixologist create cocktails that are as delicious as their witty names imply. The menu offers a trove of small plates that race around world cuisines: Japanese, Morrocan, Chinese, Peruvian, and of course, our own Atlantic seafood and oysters. A Peggy’s Cove Lobster Po Boy and a glass of Prosecco perhaps? Or Moroccan cashew- and garlic- marinated beef brochettes to pair with a more robust cocktail? A favourite is the mini crispy eggplant Parmigiano of three crunchy pockets to pair with wine. A huge wooden board with all the fixings for mini Peruvian Burritos including beef, heirloom tomato pico de gallo, Manchego cheese and lettuce chiffonade to fold into tortillas is a conversation piece. While shareables abound, don’t forget about their classic sizzling steaks. As the lounge flows into the dining room, it is worth a visit just to see the extraordinary ceiling décor. Whimsical, playful, and flavour forward, VIV is a hot date night destination.
◗ 8 Colborne St, 416-350-8188, www.vivatthecosmo.com
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 Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.