What’s on the menu at DaNico, a super-swanky Italian restaurant with a Michelin connection
It’s housed in the old Scotiabank building across from Sneaky Dee’s
Contact: 440 College St., 416-542-3789, danicotoronto.com, @danico.to
Owners: Nick Di Donato (Liberty Entertainment Group), Ernesto Iaccarino and Daniele Corona
Chef: Daniele Corona (Don Alfonso 1890)
Accessibility: Fully accessible
When Nick Di Donato decided to embark on his latest passion project, it wasn’t because he had time on his hands. The CEO of Liberty Entertainment Group is currently operating six restaurants (BlueBlood Steakhouse, three Cibo locations, Don Alfonso 1890) and two event venues (Casa Loma, Liberty Grand), and he’s a silent partner for King West resto-clubs Pizza Wine Disco and Paris Texas. As if that weren’t enough, he’s about to turn 8,000 square feet of Union Station into a new steak-and-sushi concept called Blue Bovine.
But, despite his very full dance card, the Toronto restaurateur jumped on the restored heritage site at College and Bathurst as soon as it came up for lease. “We were not in the market for a new restaurant, but I didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to do something spectacular with this building,” says Di Donato. “And I knew that Daniele—who won us a Michelin star under the Don Alfonso umbrella—was itching to come out and do his own thing. This place just made sense.”
Having said that, the extraordinary new stomping grounds for Daniele Corona’s Asian-influenced, modern-spun Italian soul food is a backdrop rife with whimsical design touches (like an original Salvador Dali melting-clock brass sculpture) meant to invoke in diners the same delightful surprise they feel after a bite of crispy puffed micro rigatoni carbonara.
Having moved here from Italy five years ago to lead Don Alfonso 1890 to a Michelin star, Corona has picked up a few tricks from the multicultural staff he’s worked with in Toronto. Heavily influenced by some of his Asian co-chefs, Corona immersed himself in studying the beauty and simplicity of Japanese cuisine. Now at DaNico, he applies many Asian techniques (both in design and flavour) to the intentionally disorienting modern Italian menu. It’s best enjoyed as a tasting experience ($225) but is also available as a three-course prix fixe with options ($150).
A selection of tweaked classic cocktails takes a back seat to the wine program, which is available by the glass or bottle or as part of a classic or premium wine pairing to complement the tasting menu. The wine list features over 450 labels and aims to highlight Italy’s extensive wine regions and varietals from the north to the south while also featuring some standout grapes from the rest of the world. (Which is to say, there is plenty of wine from Burgundy and the Loire Valley as well.) Bottles range from an affordable $70 to a mind-boggling $9,000.
Set within a restored bank across the street from Sneaky Dee’s, the grand room—much like the food—has a rather transcendental, theatrical vibe. Nadia Di Donato, who designed the restaurant, refers to it as a “bespoke space,” and the vibe is part gothic church, part luxurious living room and part castello ballroom.
Notable details include an entryway marked by towering wood doors reclaimed from an Italian countryside palazzo and framed by Versace tiles, steel-pillared window treatments that conjure the pipes of a church organ, a structural beam transformed into a 27-foot-tall Corinthian-inspired pillar of maple, the original bank vault (it holds wine now), an Italian-imported antique fireplace, and a luxurious dining area with smooth velvet banquettes.