What’s on the menu at Bar Ardo, a new Sicilian-inspired cocktail bar

What’s on the menu at Bar Ardo, a new Sicilian-inspired cocktail bar

It’s from the team behind Italian restaurants Ardo and Dova

Raw Nova Scotia scallops finished with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, a touch of salt and a dash of fennel powder

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Name: Bar Ardo
Contact: 169 King St E., barardo.ca, @bar.ardo
Neighbourhood: King East
Owners: Roberto Marotta and Jacqueline Nicosia (Ardo, Dova)
Chef: Roberto Marotta
Accessibility: One step up to get into the restaurant (there is a portable ramp); washrooms are not wheelchair accessible

Running a restaurant is no cakewalk—especially these days. Yet chef Roberto Marotta and Jacqueline Nicosia, partners in business and life, make it look easy. Bar Ardo, their third and latest endeavour (just down the street from their first baby, Ardo), transforms a heritage building on King East into a splashy cocktail bar based around the couple’s globetrotting experiences. “It’s a collection of our travels together,” says Nicosia. “You know those little dishes that you think back on and they spark something? That’s what this entire place represents.”

In particular, the two were inspired by places they’ve been in Europe, where the dining culture is more laid back. “There’s a higher importance on enjoying life,” says Marotta, who’s put together a menu bursting with bright Mediterranean-style plates that are sure to spark all kinds of joy. It’s the type of all-encompassing place where guests can gab over late-morning brunch, stop by for a signature tipple after work and linger over a plate of wild-shrimp linguine later that evening.

Related: Inside two restaurateurs’ Sicilian wedding celebration

Jacqueline Nicosia and Roberto Marotta, owners of Bar Ardo, an Italian cocktail bar in Toronto
Nicosia and Marotta

 

The food

Bar Ardo’s menu is an extension of the restaurant’s warm, inviting vibe, with lots of Sicilian influences reflective of the pair’s heritage. Marotta is from Milazzo, a port town on the northeast coast of Sicily. It’s where the couple first met 15 years ago—he was living there at the time; she was visiting family. They bonded over their shared love of food and travel and have spent their years together in Toronto, championing Sicilian ingredients and feel-good hospitality. “If you want a few things to share and nibble on, you can do that,” says Nicosia. “Or, if you want a full dinner, you can have that too.”

Grilled romaine with caesar dressing
Sautéed curly escarole with pistachio pesto. $14

 

A dish of cucumber spears on a bed of cannellini bean purée
Having enticing vegan options was really important to Marotta and Nicosia. Inspired by fresh Lebanese-style dips, the Cetriolo rests cucumber spears on a cannellini bean purée featuring an unapologetically bold hit of garlic and punchy red peppercorn flakes. $16

 

Roasted cauliflower and chickpea fritters
“This was a memory of a Moroccan dish that I had many years ago,” says Marotta of the Cavolfiore, a whole roasted cauliflower that’s first steamed and seared. It’s garnished with a Basque-style dressing of paprika, olive oil, red wine, parsley and chives. $18. (The chickpea fritters to the left are sold separately for $14.)

 

Confit artichokes in a breadcrumb coating, and grilled sourdough topped with whipped butter and Sicilian anchovies
To minimize food waste, Bar Ardo uses leftover house-made sourdough for its breadcrumbs, which are scattered across these confit artichokes (above) before they’re put in the oven. The appetizer is finished with shaved pecorino, mint, capers, herb-infused green olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. “My grandmother used to do a version with a full artichoke. There’s a lot of memory behind this dish,” says Marotta ($18). And—for a satisfyingly salty crunch—house sourdough is grilled and dressed with whipped butter and Sicilian anchovies (below). “It melts in your mouth,” says Nicosia. “It’s dangerous how delicious it is.” $13

 

Raw Nova Scotia scallops finished with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, a touch of salt and a dash of fennel powder
The bright and fresh Capesante has been an early favourite. “This definitely represents Sicily,” says Marotta. The vibrant dish finishes raw Nova Scotia scallops with extra-virgin olive oil (that Marotta produces in Sicily), lemon juice, a touch of salt and a dash of fennel powder. There’s also orange, cucumber and green apple for added freshness. $19

 

Baked mussels topped with breadcrumbs
“We have these in Sicily every summer; it’s something my mother does,” says Marotta of Bar Ardo’s mussels au gratin. The Salt Spring Island bivalves are covered with a simple mix of sourdough breadcrumbs, parsley, basil, black pepper, salt and olive oil before they’re baked. $14

 

Lightly seared beef tartare
For the Battuto di Manzo, hand-cut beef is lightly seared for a smoky flavour. Instead of shallots, chives and capers are incorporated throughout. On top, confit garlic takes the place of raw egg yolk. It’s served with sourdough crostini. $21

 

Linguine with shrimp
This wild-shrimp linguine gets its bright-yellow hue from ground North African annatto seeds infused in olive oil. “The seeds amplify the shrimp’s umami,” says Marotta. Into the sauce also go lemon, thyme and butter. It’s finished with finely shaved tuna bottarga, a delicacy from Sicily that adds a touch of salinity and complexity. $27

 

Steak frites
“Sometimes all you want is a nice steak,” says Marotta of Bar Ardo’s take on steak frites. The cut is a five-ounce filet mignon tenderloin with a richly layered house-made demi-glace that takes 72 hours to make. The lemon mayo is also made in-house. “That’s liquid gold right there,” says Marotta. $38

 

Tiramisu
And for dessert, there’s a lemony take on tiramisu. $13

 

Lemon gelato with candied lemon
Bar Ardo’s kitchen wasn’t complete until they brought in a soft-serve ice cream machine. “I love the machine, but it’s like a small airplane. There are so many buttons and parts to put together,” says Marotta. The finicky equipment allows the kitchen to get creative with flavourful swirls of gelato that change often. This is a lemon gelato with house-candied lemon. $13

 

The drinks

The wine list leans heavily on Italian and Sicilian selections and features many by-the-glass options (including champagne). “The cocktails were inspired by classics we’ve had in other countries—but they’re our playful takes on them,” says Nicosia, who took the reins on the cocktail menu, which features a picture of her nonna raising a coupe. Nicosia is also quite particular about garnishes, and each one is meant to complement the drink it accompanies. “I always present each cocktail like it’s a jewel,” she says. There’s also a temperance section with drinks that go beyond your typical alcohol-free options, featuring cocktails made with distilled zero-ABV spirits including a smoked tequila. “I wanted people to have more than just sparkling water with a slice of lemon,” she says. “It’s about having options that are just as beautiful and delicious.”

A sour cocktail made with bourbon, Amaro Montenegro, Aperol, lemon juice, egg white, charred pineapple and pink peppercorns
The Piña—a blend of bourbon, Amaro Montenegro, Aperol, lemon juice and egg white—is Nicosia’s take on a whiskey sour. The pièce de résistance is the addition of pineapple. “We char the pineapple on the grill so it caramelizes. Then we blend it with pink peppercorn,” she says. A booze-free version of this smooth and warming sour also appears on the list of temperance cocktails. $18

 

A bartender torches a grape to garnish the Uva Margarita, a tequila-based cocktail at Bar Ardo in Toronto
The light and refreshing Uva Margarita is made with tequila blanco, lime juice, Mandarino (a mandarin orange liqueur) and Malvasia wine (an aromatic Italian wine with notes of tropical fruit and citrus). It’s garnished with a grape that’s been rolled in sugar and brûléed. The inspiration for the garnish comes from Nicosia’s memories of living in Japan. “During festival season for the cherry blossoms, there would always be stands with people selling sticks of fresh fruit dipped in sugar,” she says. $18

 

A vodka-based, martini-like cocktail served with a spoonful of caviar on the side
For an indulgent and saline sip, the Carla Carla is made with what they call ocean-infused vodka. “We infused vodka with oyster shells, samphire (an edible plant that grows in salt water), cucumber, salted Sicilian capers and a lemon twirl,” says Nicosia. This interesting take on a martini is served with a spoon of caviar on the side for a touch more ocean-y goodness. $26

 

A non-alcoholic cocktail at Bar Ardo
Here we have the Pilot Life, a drink from the temperance list made with zero-proof gin, cucumber, sugar snap peas, mint, lime and sparkling water. $14

 

The space

Nicosia and Marotta both love art deco glam and wanted the space to feel at once lived-in and fresh. Chic gold light fixtures hang from the ceiling, illuminating original beams intentionally left exposed. “The flooring isn’t 100 per cent perfect, but it’s this beautiful wood flooring that I definitely didn’t want to tear up,” says Nicosia. This intersection of old and new can be seen throughout the space, which is set in one of the oldest heritage buildings in the city. New plush coral banquettes and chairs cozy up to used marble tables that show some wear. “We were going to fix them, and then we thought that’s part of the beauty of aging, so we left them,” she says. During the day, the space fills with natural light from the large floor-to-ceiling window facing bustling King East. On the white-brick feature wall, three custom paintings by acclaimed Sicilian artist Sergio Fiorentino add a mesmerizing pop of deep blue. “We wanted to put something special, and his three pieces are spectacular,” says Marotta.

Bar Ardo's bright dining room with a window looking out to King Street East in Toronto

Sheer curtains close off the dining room at Bar Ardo, a Sicilian-inspired cocktail bar in Toronto

Looking into the open kitchen from the bar at Bar Ardo in Toronto

A bar stocked with glassware and bottles of liquor

The dining room at Bar Ardo, a Sicilian-inspired cocktail lounge in Toronto

Two-top tables in the dining room of Bar Ardo, an Italian cocktail lounge in Toronto

Cozy couch seating in the window at Bar Ardo, a Sicilian-inspired cocktail bar in Toronto's St. Lawrence neighbourhood