Since moving downtown, I've been lucky to have so many amazing neighbourhoods to discover. I'm not far from Little Italy but until October, when I was invited to join The Culinary Adventure Company's walking tour, it remained unexplored. Of course, when you think Little Italy, you immediately think pizza, pasta and cannoli. But hanging with Chef Scott Savoie who runs the tour company, it just opens your eyes to how far from the truth that is. Little Italy is one of the most gastronomically diverse neighbourhoods where traditional Italian cooking and culinary experimentation co-exist peacefully. Here's a look at just what we savoured.
Okay, Sidecar isn't on the tour. What is located above it is where the tour begins. Either way, Sidecar is noteworthy as it's known for it's amazing take on local ingredients and is something of an institution in Toronto. They have a great prix fix menu (($25 for three courses; Sunday to Wednesday) and came highly recommended by Savoie and fellow food lover @coopspeak who was on the tour with us. I made a mental note but haven't tried it out yet.
Toronto Temperance Society
I loved the mystery of this member's only private club that actually requires a swipe card to get in. It made us feel extra special as we stepped into the dimly lit bar area of the TTS (as Torontonians refer to it), which specializes pre-prohibition cocktails and is known to have one of the most extensive liquor collections in Toronto.
St Germain and ceviche (right); Cilantro MuleSavoie chose two delicious cocktails for us to sip on. First, a refreshing combination of St. Germain elderflower liqueur with soda water and Prosecco (it was like summer in a glass) and then an attitude filled Cilantro Mule with gin, ginger liqueur and cilantro. Accompanying the cocktails was a beautiful charcuterie platter with house-made bread and mustard. And if that wasn't enough, we also savoured some spot prawn ceviche and marinated olives. We all left hoping we could score a membership swipe card, which can be possible only if another member recommends you. If you get in, don't leave without trying their dirty martini.
Briscola; the motley tour crew
After a quick walk east, we stepped into Briscola where Savoie promised we would have the best short ribs in town. What we didn't expect was the delectable truffle pizza with caramelized onions, fresh burrata with roasted tomatoes and deep-fried olives with orange that preceded the main event! Make no mistake, these are no tasting plates. Wearing pants with a nice stretchy waistband should be a requirement when booking the tour.
I've never had deep-fried olives before and this was absolutely delightful. This was the second of the trilogy of olives prepared differently, the first being the marinated version at TTS. Softly scented by the orange rind, these made an addictive nibble as we sipped on some red wine and waited in anticipation for the short ribs.
I couldn't resist one of the larger slices that tasted wonderful with a light dip in the balsamic vinegar that was offered on the table - a nice little tip shared by Savoie. Aside from great recommendations of where to eat in Little Italy and explaining ingredients while we were eating, Savoie does a great job of playing host and treats everyone like an old friend rather than a tour client. You see that great picture of every at the top? We were actually that giggly and happy at the end of our meal at Briscola.
How can you say no to a fresh plate of silken burrata? This picture was snapped quickly because we all made a beeline for the plate and swiped most of the cheese barely after it made it to the table. We were all getting pretty full at this point and then the gorgeous short ribs made its grand entry.
Braised short ribs
Served on a creamy farro risotto, these ribs were a warm hug on that cold, rainy night in October. Just as the name suggests, the meat was succulent and soft. It just slid of the bone and provided a nice textural counterpoint to the al dente farro. Although a tad on the sweet side for me, it was still a delicious end to the meal.
The last stop
LAB (Live and Breathe) was pretty exciting because we went from rustic-inspired food at Briscola to really modern interpretations. Aptly enough, the website cites the cuisine as 'Modern Italian Gastronomy' and chef Howard Dubrovsky is known for inspired creations like risotto with tomato water, saffron, Parmesan and basil creme fraiche orb. The menu takes inspiration from molecular gastronomy and Dubrovsky obviously has a great time playing with new flavours and textures.
Now talk about drama. Here is Dubrovsky getting ready to prepare LAB's signature smoked Manhattan, a modern take on the old favourite, made with hickory-smoked Triple Sec. And it resulted in...
... a beautifully smooth drink with a delicate smokiness that balanced the sweetness perfectly. It was a lovely start to what would be a truly memorable meal that started with the best pumpkin soup I have ever tasted. We enjoyed the Manhattan while nibbling on some warm olives, the final of the trilogy to be enjoyed.
Butter poached lobster
I quite literally inhaled this. It was served with corn done five ways and included the husk as the garnish and some corn smut as well. Innovative and so creative, it was around now that I realized that I was getting quite full.
Duck two ways
I started to lose the battle unfortunately with this gorgeous plate. I adore duck and was able to savour just the ravioli and a slice of the breast. The jus was the most deeply flavoured sauces I have tried and seemed to have a perfume of juniper berry.
The meal ended with a rosemary olive oil cake and vanilla plum sorbet. I loved the cake and managed to wolf it down and just treated myself to a small spoonful of the sorbet just as a palate cleanser. Talk about being suitably fed and watered! I had to decline when Savoie offered a digestif of chamomile grappa. The whole tour group was laughing, tweeting and swapping numbers by the end of the meal and we all parted with warm hugs and handshakes. Savoie certainly played chef, historian and host to the tee and had everyone in splits most of the time. To learn more about the tours that he offers, log on to the website.
Disclaimer: This tour was an invitation from Savoie and I did not pay for the same.