“Does Toronto need ANOTHER Italian restaurant?” This was the question on Vv Magazine’s Nicki Laborie‘s mind as she entered Ovest Cucina e Vineria. Well, she certainly got her answer… and then some!
These days, it’s very rare that a new Toronto wows me – especially if it’s Italian. Don’t we have enough? So when I venture over to Ovest Cucina e Vineria, the new Italian eatery on King Street West conveniently located just below Studio Lagree, I don’t expect much more than great conversation with a girlfriend that I don’t get to see enough – who also happens to be a foodie and owns a few restaurants herself. We both go in knowing the food will be good and the vibe will be warm, but what we get is so much more than that.
Ovest is located at a very interesting angle; not quite street level but not quite in the basement. The result? A view of the twinkling lights from cars and streetlamps, yet without the loudness of sidewalk action. The vibe upon entering is warm and friendly, but not so casual that they don’t take your coat and escort you to a table. We are seated right in front of the open kitchen and the first thing I notice is the overjoyed chef Luca Stracquadanio (Terroni LA, La Bettola di Terroni), who is expediting and clearly ensuring the food is plated exactly as it should be. I immediately notice that all the sous chefs are smiling and seem to feel little stress, which in my books means this chef is doing something right.
I immediately notice that all the sous chefs are smiling and seem to feel little stress, which in my books means this chef is doing something right.
A server arrives to our table and immediately makes us feel important – but as I notice a little later, it’s not because I am media, it is because every table receives this kind of attention. He starts off by introducing us to the concept of Ovest: it’s an Italian wine bar where guests can enjoy a casual glass of vino at the bar, or opt for an elevated culinary event by Chef Luca. He continues to explain that the chef’s training and specialty is to combine traditional Italian cuisine with French cooking techniques, making his food a completely unique experience.
Looking around the huge 4,700 square foot room with dim lighting and rustic furniture, I see a lot of salumi boards going out and each is received with great joy. I also notice an octopus carpaccio, and what looks like a cured fish dish. I inquire as to what these are and soon learn that the latter is a swordfish carpaccio, one of Chef Luca’s signature dishes — suddenly, I’m starving. My friend and I delve into the menu to choose what we want to eat. Then it dawns on me that I may have been wrong in assuming this would be just an average meal.
After reviewing the menu a few times, we finally decide to share two appetizers, one pasta, and one main course. The server confirms that our choices are excellent and we’re ready to eat.
Obviously, we start off with the smoked swordfish carpaccio with fennel, orange, white anchovies, and drizzled in olive oil. Immediately, my friend notices the quality of the olive oil, and I notice the delicate flavour of the swordfish. Paired with the fennel, the orange, and a small touch of white anchovy, it’s like a beautiful medley of sweet, salty, licorice flavour, and olive oil that you can taste. The portion size also doesn’t go unnoticed and I think on another day, I could potentially eat this as a main.
Next, we opt for the steak tartare with a Dijon soffritto sorbet. Here, tradition meets modern as the taste oozes proper French tartare that includes capers, celery, and high-quality chopped beef (not mushed). But the kicker in this dish is the Dijon sorbet served on the side, which adds an ice cold, mustard punch with a sweet underlay. Wow. At this point, I am fully aware that I pre-judged what may be one of Toronto’s best new Italian eateries.
As I think this, the best dish of the evening arrives and just by the looks of it, we both jump in. The handmade Agnolotti Del Plin is stuffed with braised veal shank, topped with shaved truffles, and sits in a “light” butter sauce. The portion is thankfully small because the richness of this dish has us both eating slightly faster than usual. Each bite is like a home-cooked meal with a touch of luxury. The agnolotti is light and airy, making it easy to enjoy every morsel without feeling full. Truly, a spectacular dish.
I should add that throughout this entire meal, sommelier Giammarco di Loreto is serving us the perfect wines according to what each of us enjoys as well as what we are eating. While this restaurant feels casual and rustic, the overall experience is much more elevated than one would expect.
Last, we enjoy the rabbit Nodino di Conigloi; rabbit loin stuffed with porcini mushrooms and wrapped in speck, served over a cauliflower purée with charred Brussels sprouts. At first, I am undecided about this dish that looks like art on a plate but, yet again, my first bite is spectacular and I cannot stop eating. It is clear that Chef Luca uses top-quality ingredients, but keeps each dish simple without adding too much of anything. His combination of flavours leaves us both completely shell-shocked at the delicious meal we’ve just experienced.
It is clear that Chef Luca uses top-quality ingredients, but keeps each dish simple without adding too much of anything. His combination of flavours leaves us both completely shell-shocked at the delicious meal we’ve just experienced.
We don’t order dessert but Chef pops over and asks if we like apple or chocolate better. Five minutes later, he brings over a beautiful chocolate nest and his signature canoli. The chocolate nest is delicious, but it is heavy and we are unable to finish it. The canoli has us fighting for the last bite. Enough said.
Upon leaving full and completely satisfied, Chef Luca comes over to give us both a big bear hug. His charm is intoxicating, and both my friend and I are already planning our next meal at what may just be one of Toronto’s best new Italian restaurants.
Ovest Cucina e Vineria is located at 788 King Street West.
Hours of Operation:
Lunch Monday to Friday from 11:30am to 2:30pm
Dinner Monday to Wednesday from 5pm to 10:30pm | Thursday to Saturday from 5-11pm
If you’ve checked out Ovest Cucina e Vineria, what have been your favourite dishes thus far? Let Vv Magazine know your thoughts on “Reviewed: Ovest Cucina e Vineria on King West” in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.