New Reviews: Ortolan, Pizza e Pazzi and Obikà
1211 Bloor St. W., 647-348-4500
By now the formula is familiar: young chefs set up small, idiosyncratic restaurant in down-at-heels neighbourhood on shoestring budget and compensate for limited chalkboard menu and no-reservations policy with good food and reasonable prices. Damon Clements and Daniel Usher, the chef-owners at Bloordale Village’s new local-focused bistro, just a few doors down from the House of Lancaster strip club, happen to do a better job with the formula than many of their peers. The cooking is outstanding much of the time: superb potato gnocchi with chopped mint, early-season asparagus, creamy, melted mascarpone and grana padano cheese, for instance, or hangar steak that’s gently charred at its edges and busting with beefy flavour on top of a caper brown-butter pan sauce. Desserts are great, none better than the tiny jam pot of chocolate mousse that tastes of expensive cocoa beans. Service is spot-on. Among the quirks here: there is no vodka or gin (the owners loathe generic white spirits). Closed Sunday and Monday. Mains $14–$20.
PIZZA E PAZZI
1182 St. Clair Ave. W., 647-352-7882
This latest entrant in Toronto’s developing Neapolitan pizza war is a great addition to Corso Italia. The room is modern and casual with sliding glass doors that open out onto St. Clair West, and the pies—flash-fired in a wood-burning oven by a young, dark and handsome pizzaiolo who wears a kerchief around his neck—will taste familiar to aficionados of Queen Margherita and Pizzeria Libretto. The best thing about the pizzas is their soft-crispy crust, which comes nicely charred (but not too much) and fragrant with woodsmoke. The margherita pizza is excellent: simple, deeply flavoured San Marzano tomato sauce and creamy Italian buffalo mozzarella, just the way it’s supposed to be. Even the dessert pizza is excellent: that same great crust slathered with Nutella and melting banana rounds. Other menu offerings are hit-and-miss. The gnocchi is brought in rather than made in-house, and the lasagna, though nicely prepared, is a tad too basic—there’s good pasta, good, meat-enriched tomato sauce and a puddle of well-made béchamel on top, but little else to it. Service is friendly, if a bit shaky at times, but made vastly more entertaining by the waiter with the hectolitre of Dippity-do in his hair who wears his red pants well below his hips, with white boxer briefs sticking out. Mains $10–$26.
181 Bay St., 416-546-1062
Tucked into a corner of Brookfield Place’s gorgeous, swooping Santiago Calatrava–designed atrium, Obikà is the first Canadian outpost of the Italian cheese chain. It’s a brilliant place to sample ultra-fresh mozzarella di bufala Campana. The burrata—a freshly stretched mozzarella shell filled with mildly buttery, milky ricotta—is easily the sexiest cheese on the planet. It’s served in great abundance here, as part of the $34 mozzarella platter (a must), and blended into a risotto that would be humdrum without it, but soars instead. The cheese is by far the best reason to come here; aside from the good desserts and well-made pizzas, the rest of the menu is disappointing. One night’s slimy, discoloured arugula salad is a disgrace. Unpolished service. The place is part of a franchise and feels that way. Closed Sunday. Mains $15–$16.