Where chef Gabriele Di Marco gets dim sum, burgers and gelato around Yonge and St. Clair
Chef Gabriele Di Marco is in a Sicilian state of mind. His recent annual trip to the sunny Mediterranean island has provided him with much of the inspiration for the dishes on the menus at Oretta and Capocaccia Trattoria. “Even though I was born and raised in Sicily, I never stop learning about my culture, and I love to share my discoveries with our diners. In a city as diverse as Toronto where you can get anything your heart desires, it’s reasonable for people to ask why they should choose your restaurant,” says Di Marco. “So it’s been my mission to create important food memories by taking guests on gastronomic journeys to Italy. It’s so rewarding when I watch someone’s face light up after they’ve tried a bite of something I’ve made, and then tell their dining companion that they have to try it, too. That’s when I know I’ve succeeded.” He strives to further immerse people in Italian culture with a series of monthly multi-course meals, each one spotlighting a different region of Italy. “The most recent dinner at Oretta focused on Sicily and much of what I plated was food I grew up eating: swordfish, Silician pistachios. And the wine we serve at these dinners is imported from Italy—you can’t find any of it at the LCBO.”
For the last three years, Di Marco and his family have called midtown home. “I used to live in Parkdale but once our son was born, I wanted to find a quieter area to live, and midtown was perfect. It’s also really close to Capocaccia, and a quick TTC trip to check up on Oretta.” Di Marco loves the area for its walkability factor and its many shops and eateries. “Many of my discoveries were made with my wife and baby. In warmer weather, we go out every Sunday and simply wander. It’s become a family ritual I look forward to.”
1450 Yonge St., 416-962-4825, holychuckburgers.com
Di Marco lives close to this midtown burger counter, but was introduced to it by one of the staff members at Capocaccia Trattoria. “I initially thought it was just another run-of-the-mill burger joint, but it’s so much more than that.”
Go-to item 1: The Holy Chuck burger, a double cheeseburger with bacon and caramelized onions.
Tasting notes: “The fact that they can ask you how you want your burger cooked means that they’re confident in the freshness of their ingredients. They grind aged steak in house every hour and they hand roll the patties. I love this burger because you can taste the beef and the quality of the meat. They instruct you not to add any extra toppings to the Holy Chuck burger, and I agree—sometimes less is more.”
Go-to item 2: Foie gras and truffle shake.
Tasting notes: “Wow, that’s intense. It’s so decadent. The truffle-foie combo really hits the back of your palate and then lingers for a while. They nailed the sweet-savoury element.”
Go-to item 3: Funnel cake with vanilla ice cream, strawberries and Nutella.
Tasting notes: “It’s puffy fried dough with just a touch of sweetness. It’s crisp on the outside but moist on the inside. I love the temperature contrast between the cold ice cream and the warm funnel cake. And the strawberries complete the dish with a refreshing element. With something like this, I like to assemble the perfect bite with a bit of everything.”
Go-to item 4: Nutella Pops.
Tasting notes: For these, they freeze scoops of Nutella then dip the frozen orbs in a corndog-style batter. So when they’re deep-fry it, the exterior is golden-brown and crispy but the inside is filled with warm hazelnut-chocolate ooze.”
Kwan Dim Sum
1496 Yonge St., 416-901-6618, kwandimsum.ca
Kwan Dim Sum has become a Sunday tradition for Di Marco and his family. “While I do enjoy a classic egg-based brunch, dim sum has become our go-to treat. On the weekends, this place is packed but the lively atmosphere just adds to the experience.”
Go-to item 1: Chicken ya-ca mien (à la carte menu)
Tasting notes: “I love my carbs and I love pasta, and this is my kind of Asian-style pasta. When we come to Kwan we always end up over-ordering, so we usually end up getting these noodles to-go. At home, my cooking hack is to add blanched rapini and Oretta’s Italian chili paste to them.”
Go-to item 2: Honey-glazed beef ribs (dim sum menu)
Tasting notes: “This is my protein. For this dish, I forgo the chopsticks and just use my fingers—it’s messy but satisfying. The meat is thin but so tender, and that sweet glaze is addictive.”
Go-to item 3: Deep-fried shrimp dumplings with wasabi aïoli (dim sum menu)
Tasting notes: “I usually try to eat clean and healthy but once in awhile, we all need a cheat day. And these are my weakness. They’re wonton wrappers stuffed with juicy shrimp and deep fried—what else is there to say? Except for maybe watch out for the steam when you take a bite.”
2076 Yonge St., 647-346-0125, puntogelatotoronto.com
The OG outpost to this award-winning gelato shop, Gelateria Buccianti, is actually in Rome. “When I moved to Canada, many people butchered my last name, so rather than use it for the shop name, I kept it simple and easy to pronounce. Hence, Punto Gelato, which simply translates to ‘gelato spot’,” says owner Alessandro Buccianti. Over the years, his mom’s recipe for the gelato base has been tweaked and modified, and today, they make over 200 flavours with ingredients imported from Italy. “For me, each flavour is like a person—you want to bring out its best and unique traits,” says Buccianti. Di Marco first learned about Punto from a friend. “He told me this spot was the real deal and that they don’t use food colouring or preservatives like a lot of other gelato places do,” Di Marco says. “My favourite flavour is pistachio and Punto makes theirs with 100 per cent pure pistachio paste sourced from Sicily. The pure stuff with no added sugar is definitely not cheap—a couple kilos will run you at least $300—but it’s absolutely worth it because you can really taste the difference.”
Go-to item 1: Pistachio and cassata Siciliana in a sugar cone.
Tasting notes: “I can eat gelato year-round, even in the winter. Sicilian winters are still pretty warm, so it’s not unusual to enjoy gelato in the colder months. Torontonians don’t really associate ice cream or gelato with winter, but gelato is in my DNA.” Di Marco says that good gelaterias are judged by their pistachio flavour. “If there’s too much sugar, it’s a deal breaker. And cassata is a very traditional Sicilian dessert made by layering sponge cake with ricotta, candied fruit and liqueur. I really enjoy Alessandro’s creative cold spin on it.”
Go-to item 2: A cappuccino.
Tasting notes: “They use Electra espresso machines, one of the top Italian brands,” says Di Marco. As for the single-origin whole coffee beans, Punto Gealto use Centrale, a traditional espresso blend, sourced from Barocco. “It’s very creamy with dark chocolate notes. And here’s a pro tip to enjoying a properly made cappuccino: when you add the sugar, it should take at least four seconds to penetrate the foam. That’s how you know a skilled barista has frothed the milk properly.”