At Il Covo, two Buca expats bring Italian back to taco- and tapas-heavy College Street

Little Italy: The Next Generation

Two Buca Yorkville expats are bringing Italian back to taco- and tapas-heavy College Street

By Mark Pupo| Photography by Dave Gillespie
| May 10, 2018

Pass through the heavy, Game of Thrones doors, and you’ll swear you’ve entered a vintage ­Venetian tavern of nail head–trimmed chairs, country landscapes and solid crockery. The brass wall panels wouldn’t be out of place in a confessional booth, and dimmed sconces lend everything the glow of patina. But this trendy spot is the new home of chef Ryan Campbell and manager-­sommelier Giuseppe ­Marchesini, both last of Buca Yorkville, the most lavish of Rob Gentile’s upmarket Italian restaurants.

At Il Covo, two Buca expats bring Italian back to taco- and tapas-heavy College Street
Step off College Street and into Il Covo’s dimly lit, Venetian tavern–like dining room.

Il Covo is an ­anomaly: an Italian restaurant that doesn’t serve pizza or family-style plates of pasta. The specialty here is cicchetti, the Venetian equivalent of Spanish ­pinchos—­grazing food best consumed while standing at a bar with a glass of wine. Campbell’s are ­fancier: golden-fried finger sandwiches of bay ­scallop and side stripe shrimp; a flower-shaped ­buffalo-ricotta-and-thyme ­dumpling in a hen’s broth so clear and intensely chickeny it would make most nonnas jealous; and tender ­brisket, slow-braised in a Calabrian licorice liqueur.

Vegetarians would cringe at my favourite dish: ­Campbell braises carrot spears in pork fat rendered from jamón ibérico, rests them on a clove-scented ­carrot emulsion, and finishes them off with toasted lentils and (more) pork. The menu includes a legend, in obeisance to our dietary-restrictive times, noting which dishes are made with nuts, lactose, wheat, shellfish, egg, pork, garlic, onion or black pepper. What else is left?

At Il Covo, two Buca expats bring Italian back to taco- and tapas-heavy College Street
Insalata liquida is a verdant salad of gem lettuce, peppers, pickled lemon, fennel pollen and cerasuola olive oil.

 

At Il Covo, two Buca expats bring Italian back to taco- and tapas-heavy College Street
Tramezzino fritto, triangles of fried bread sandwiching side-stripe shrimp and scallops, are served with a smoked lemon mayo. (For a bit extra, guests can get a caviar upgrade.)

Downstairs is a hushed wine cellar stacked with interesting and exclusively Italian finds, like a pleasantly funky, unfiltered orange wine from Molise, and sweeter ones to complement a dainty espresso-flavoured layered sponge cake. The wait staff is mostly Italian, too, as are many of the options in a list of honeys to pair, for a surcharge, with a selection of Italian cheeses. (This is, I believe, our city’s first restaurant with a honey upgrade.)

Everything is assured and polished—almost theatrically so—but also calculated: at the end of the meal, you’re presented with a miniature treasure chest, containing your not inconsequential bill.

Il Covo ★★★½
585 College St., 416-530-7585, ilcovo.ca

At Il Covo, two Buca expats bring Italian back to taco- and tapas-heavy College Street
For the stella di ricotta in brodo, an aromatic hen’s broth is poured over a flower-shaped ricotta dumpling.

 

At Il Covo, two Buca expats bring Italian back to taco- and tapas-heavy College Street
For dessert, la chiarina, sponge cake layered with vanilla cream and Valhrona chocolate, comes with a quenelle of espresso gelato.

 

At Il Covo, two Buca expats bring Italian back to taco- and tapas-heavy College Street
Chef Ryan Campbell (left) and sommelier Giuseppe Marchesini.
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