Where chef Kshitiz Sethi eats butter chicken, pizza Pugliese and pav bhaji fondue in Midtown and North York
At only 24 years old, Paese chef Kshitiz (that’s pronounced “Sha-tizz”) Sethi won the Canadian semi-finals for Barilla’s Pasta World Championship earlier this year. He’s currently in Paris representing Canada in the finals, which take place October 10 and 11. His award-winning dish for the semi-finals was spaghetti made with sardines, sultana raisins, pine nuts, saffron and fennel tops, finished with a sprinkle of toasted breadcrumbs. (You can try it for yourself at Paese until the end of November.) While the ingredients of his pasta dish remain the same, Sethi says that the appearance has changed quite a lot since the semi-finals. “I’ve been practising a lot and timing myself,” says Sethi. “I live with my sister, and she’s getting pretty tired of eating it every night. She brings leftovers to her office.”
Sethi hopes to open his own restaurant soon. “Every special I’ve created at Paese has sold out, so diners are receptive to my creations. And the last few pop-ups I’ve participated in at the Taste of India Food Festival, my Indian dishes have sold out, as well. So I’m thinking my restaurant will be about honouring my roots and showcasing New Delhi street food.”
Between working at Paese, prepping for the competition, planning a restaurant and squeezing in a trip to Italy before the Paris finals, he still found time to explore midtown Toronto and North York for delectable dishes. “When I first immigrated to Canada in 2016, I was finding my bearings, and Midtown and North York felt like home,” says Sethi. “Not only because the first restaurant job I landed was in that area, but because a few notable establishments brought essential comforts and flavours of home to me. So even though I now live in the west end, Midtown and North York both have a lot of sentimental value for me.”
The Copper Chimney
2050 Avenue Rd., North York, 647-436-2538, the-copper-chimney.com
“I was first introduced to this place when I came to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Since then I’ve been coming here on my own a lot.” Sethi explains that the restaurant, which specializes in North Indian fare, offers excellent value for money, and that they don’t mess with the classics. “They do traditional Indian cuisine here. I especially love their breads and curries. And—unlike some other Indian restaurants—the food isn’t heavy or greasy tasting.”
Go-to item #1: Butter chicken with whole-wheat roti.
Tasting notes: “Butter chicken was invented in Delhi, India where I grew up,” Sethi says. So, in other words, he knows when it’s the real deal. And for him, Copper Chimney’s version is legit. “This is the best butter chicken in North York. There are so many versions out there, but this recipe honours and respects the classic flavours. For instance, purists do not include onions, and this dish doesn’t have any.”
Go-to item #2: Palak kofta with lachha paratha.
Tasting notes: “Think of palak kofta as spinach dumpling balls made with cottage cheese, green chilies, ginger and garlic.” Sethi thinks the lachha paratha is perfect. “It’s charred and crispy, perfectly flaky and yet sturdy enough for me to scoop up the soft dumplings with. And it has these beautiful little buttery pockets. If you asked me to eat palak kofta with a knife and fork, I’d struggle with that. Indian food is best eaten with the hands.”
Go-to item #3: Ras malai.
Tasting notes: “This is the perfect dessert for me. It’s kind of like a very soft cheesecake combined with bread pudding. I can eat like 10 of these.”
Go-to item #4: Masala chai.
Tasting notes: “It’s a staple and found in every North Indian home. I like to enjoy it after dessert, as you would with an espresso or cappuccino. Back home, though, people traditionally drink it early in the morning before starting their day.” Chef Jok Bhahadur Rana explains that they perfume orange pekoe tea with cardamom, cloves, black pepper, ginger, milk and sugar.
101 Eglinton Ave. E., 416-599-2822, buca.ca/bareglinton
“This is where I went right after I won the semi-finals. I came with two of my friends and my Paese manager Salvatore Morra. It was actually his birthday that day, so you could say we had a lot to celebrate.” Sethi thinks chef Rob Gentile is kind of a rock star, in terms of what he’s doing for Italian cuisine. “I definitely look up to him—he’s always one of the ones to watch.”
Go-to item #1: Pizza Pugliese.
Tasting notes: “This is the best pizza crust I’ve ever tried,” says Sethi. He says that’s because it reminds him of focaccia. “They use high-protein flour and Yukon Gold potatoes in the dough. Then it’s cooked in a deep-dish pan with a lot of olive oil—so you get this crispy bottom and a fluffy interior—and topped with loads of stracciatella cheese and summer truffle. It’s just perfect.” The Buca team adds that they import truffles from Tuscany and that the kitchen uses four bespoke olive oils for various dishes.
Go-to item #2: Nodini.
Tasting notes: “These are served fresh out of the oven, topped with rosemary and garlic. They’re so addictive, I pop them two at a time. And they go perfectly with a cold Peroni.”
Go-to item #3: Cavatelli with Newfoundland calamari, squid ink, ’nduja, fennel and pecorino.
Tasting notes: “I just love how well-balanced this is. The pasta is house-made and is cooked perfectly al dente. And then there’s the spice from the sausage, and umami from the cheese. And the seafood is super tender. Lastly, the fennel gives it a fresh taste. I love pasta. Before I landed my job at Paese, my knowledge of pasta shapes was limited to macaroni and penne—the noodles I used to get in school lunches in India. I guess you could say I’ve come a long way, and I have my Paese family to thank for that.
Go-to item #4: Panzanella salad.
Tasting notes: “It’s so colourful and vibrant. There’s a lot of thoughtfulness with the combo of flavours: the sweetness of the heirloom tomatoes, the tang from the barrel-aged balsamic vinegar, the buttery crunch from the ciabatta croutons and a kick of salt from the Bariole olives.”
Go-to item #5: Bombette.
Tasting notes: The strip loin involtini sourced from Oakville’s Woodward Meats are are rolled meat wonders with scamorza cheese and lardo. They’re sprinkled with maldon salt to finish. “These are perfect, you can actually taste the quality of the meat,” says Sethi. “It’s crispy on the outside and so tender on the inside. The thing to do is try a bite without lemon, and then try a bite after you’ve squeezed some lemon on. The acidity of the citrus really makes the flavours pop.”
Go-to items #6 through #8: Bomboloni, zeppola and tiramisu.
Tasting notes: “I have a huge sweet tooth—once I start on dessert, I cannot stop. I guess it has something to do with my dad’s bakery back in New Delhi. When I was young, I’d help him make the cakes, pastries, cookies. The Tiramisu de Buca is a must because it deviates from the classic version. I especially love the crunchy bricolut—it’s like sponge toffee sponge meets crisp shards of caramel—which is made with 18 different spices. The flavour profile is overlaid with chocolate and coffee notes.”
1835 Yonge St., Unit 101, 647-508-4455, tamasha.ca
Owners Karan Bajaj and Riddhi Sukharamwala opened Tamasha, their Bollywood-themed restaurant, earlier this summer.“I bonded with them at the Taste of India Food Festival. After that, they invited me to visit and I’ve been hooked ever since. I have to say that Toronto is at least 10 to 15 years behind when it comes to Indian fusion food, but this place comes the closest to replicating such tastes and innovations— I’ve yet to find anything else that is as good.” Dish names are inspired by Bollywood expressions and films, and there’s dancing and guest DJs on Fridays and Saturdays. “It’s my go-to spot for Indian fusion dishes and street food with a contemporary twist. It’s also great for late-night, because the kitchen doesn’t close on until 2 a.m. on weekends.”
Go-to item #1: Gol gappa shots
Tasting notes: Chef Hemant Negi describes this vegan dish as thin semolina shells with a potato filling. “Think of them as an amuse bouche,” says Sethi. “They prime your stomach for everything else that you’re about to eat. There’s an addictive quality to them, probably because of the salty-crunch factor. I can easily inhale 20 to 30 of these.” To eat them, Sethi says to pour a bit of the spicy jal-jeera into the shells and then quickly pop the entire thing into your mouth. The potent jal-jeera is seasoned with a spice mix of cumin, ginger, lemon, mint, dry mango powder and coriander leaves. “It’s kind of an explosion of flavours, and it really wakes up your palate.”
Go-to item #2: Mere Tandoori Momos Ayenge! And Zarur Ayenge! (Translation: When will my tandoori momos arrive!)
Tasting notes: Originally a Tibetan recipe, these chicken dumplings were adapted to New Delhi tastes with the addition of deep-frying and spiced sauces. Sethi says it’s essential to dunk the dumplings in the house chutney. “It’s made with tomatoes, ginger, garlic and lots of chilies. I love that it’s so spicy.”
Go-to item #3: Pav bhaji fondue.
Tasting notes: This dish is a play on Swiss fondue, where a rustic gravy dip meets cheese. Chili powder, Kitchen King masala, marble cheese and curds are mixed in with puréed potatoes, green peas and cauliflower. It’s all placed over a burner and topped with a pat of butter right before it’s served. Diners then skewer a few bread cubes and dip them in the bubbly mixture as they would a traditional fondue. “Butter and cheese—how can you go wrong?” asks Sethi. “It’s very rich but balanced nicely with the light and crispy bread cubes. This is a great snack to share or have as an evening indulgence.”
Go-to item #4: Sharaabee mango lassi with vodka. (Translation: Drunk lassi.)
Tasting notes: “I could get in trouble with too many of these. This drink is made with Indian mangoes which, in my honest opinion, are the best kind. It’s naturally super-sweet from the fruit and then tempered with creamy yogurt. Then you get that alcohol kick that rounds everything off. I enjoy this for breakfast too—minus the booze, of course.”