Introducing: Ceno, Av and Dav’s latest spin on haute Italian
To set up a new Italian restaurant in the epicentre of Yorkville’s Mini Italy—that short stretch of Avenue where L’Unita, Sotto Sotto, Maléna and Spuntini pretty much join hands—is quite a gambit. And it’s a good thing for Ceno, which opened up here last month, because despite pervasive trappings of Italian-ness, this is not exactly an Italian restaurant. It’s close, though: nearly all the staff hail from the motherland (maitre d’ Juri Giannelli uses his mother’s maiden name to prove his authenticity), its moniker is Latin for “to dine” and service is based on the old-world tradition of schooled waiters.
The menu, too, is based on Italian standards, but spruced up with features from other cuisines. The gnocchi ($35), for example, is handmade and doused in crustacean bisque, making it more French than Italian. The Italese carpaccio ($18), is laid out like a standard Caprese salad, but with smoked Canadian salmon instead of tomato. And while venison may be perfectly common in North Italy, it is rarely grilled bone-in ($38) and accompanied by blueberry compote like it is here. “If you served that in Italy, they’d look at you like you’re crazy,” says co-owner Silvio Spano. His executive chef and co-owner Mario Feola should know. He once headed up a restaurant in Italy known as U Pazz (which roughly translates to “the crazy one” in a Neapolitan dialect).
Gustave Dore lithographs are scattered about the place, but otherwise decor is contemporary and simple (halogen lights, crackle glass and a copper bar with a granite top). But the focus is on food and service anyway, with most of the staff having earned their stripes at high-end restaurants around the world. The Ceno team eschews pre-made food items, so nearly everything is made in-house, including bread, charcuterie, pickles and tofu (as part of the cosmopolitan tapas menu). As sous chef Bruno Soleri puts it, “passion is the main ingredient.” And with no shortage of well-established restaurants in the vicinity, Ceno will need as much of that ingredient as it can spare.
Ceno, 137 Avenue Rd. (at Bernard Ave.), 647-352-8822, ceno.ca.