Not just any chef can pull off a wholesale reinvention. In his five years at Bestellen, Rob Rossi was all meat and potatoes. He’d grill rib-eye, shave mountains of charcuterie and roast whole suckling pigs (it was worth making enemies over the last crackling). Now, in the same location, he’s opened an Italian restaurant that’s an elegantly nimble Vespa in a derby of unreliable Fiats. Barnboard, butchery-themed murals and Edison bulbs are out; sculptural, curvy tube lighting, wool-panelled walls and white-shirted waiters pushing bar carts stacked with elusive amaro are in.
Rossi’s cooking is now lighter and more exacting. As at old-school trattorias that do a handful of things exceptionally well, there’s usually pecorino-dusted bites of deep-fried, sausage-encased Castelvetrano olives and a meaty, bone-in pork chop encrusted with toasted fennel seeds that’s even more memorable when dabbed with apricot mostarda. Rossi’s bagna cauda is one crudité plate you won’t want to pass up: there’ll be something green (blanched broccolini spears, cucumber soldiers), something red (bitter endive leaves, peppery radish halves) and a garlic-anchovy dip that’s earthy, sublimely fishy and slicked with a fine olive oil.
The final measure is Rossi’s pasta. It’s worth a look at his Instagram to see a guy who has found his happy place cranking out rustic noodles and hand-forming mechanically precise ravioli. My pick is a tangle of pappardelle, the ribbons retaining just enough bite, coated in an oxtail ragu.
Giulietta, 972 College St., 416-964-0606, giu.ca