Vv Magazine’s Libby Roach gets the scoop on the Esplanade’s pizza and pasta joint, Pastizza.
Pastizza has been unofficially open since August on the Esplanade, kitty corner to Toronto’s now world famous St. Lawrence Market. The prime location makes it a no brainer for a quick pre-market nosh (never go shopping hungry, especially here!) or a gourmet meal and a bottle of wine after a (winning) Raptors game. Lunches offer a steady stream of suits coming in from the countless towers surrounding the area. Clearly location was an important element when co-owners Paolo Paolini (formerly of Splendido) and Thomas Baker (owner of the Sonoma-area winery Thomas George Estate) undertook the renovation of the building that took years to complete.
Floor-to-ceiling windows shimmy light into every nook and cranny of this staggering 5,000 square foot complex of a restaurant and, with two storeys, you can bet private functions are on the menu. A massive 30-foot tall waterfall-esque wine tower all but announces that wine isn’t merely relegated to red or white. Here, the selections do show a flair for nepotism; the wine list is like walking into Thomas George’s estate cellars in California. While that certainly hinders your choices — especially if you’re looking to pair your 12-layer lasagna with a feisty Barbaresco, but considering that most bottles float around the $38.00-50.00 range, you could drown your sorrows and just order a second bottle for that value.
The food menu also offers decent bang for your buck — pasta mains and meats hover from $11.00-25.00 range for ample-sized portions. Starters, like the Cavolo Nero ($9.00) salad, show co-owner’s Paolo Paolini’s pedigree — this is probably the best kale salad in the city. A glass of Thomas George Tempranillo ($11.50) brings balance to the sweet and spicy notes from the peppery caramel dressing. Bits of dried fruit and slivers of red pepper and carrots add a pop of colour, and toasted pine nuts act like croutons and give it an extra crunch.
Pizzas here are blasted in a high-tech electric oven, ensuring an even crust and no carcinogens making their way into your dough — or airspace. Still able to hit high temps like their wood-burning counterparts, these ovens deliver the goods in mere minutes, like the Uovo ($19.00). Usually it’s leftover pizza from last night for breakfast — but here, the pizza comes topped with soft poached eggs, pancetta, and mushrooms; classic brekkie staples reinvigorated to lunchtime offerings.
Another dish in disguise is the Ravioli Con Castegne ($16.00), a stuffed pasta that could be almost as equally tasty as a dessert. Filled with ground chestnut and ricotta cheese, the three raviolis come dressed in brown butter with playful hits of colour from the fresh pomegranate seeds. Pancetta and crispy sage add a sensible level of salt and dimension to the otherwise candy-like dish.
For the meat lovers, the Guanciale di Mazo ($25.00) is not to be missed. Braised beef cheek falls apart almost on command, blanketed by an earthy jus and field mushrooms. The slab of smoked Gouda gratin potatoes do a good job mopping up the meaty juices, but the side of Swiss chard is limp and lacklustre — reminiscent of my childhood growing up eating boiled veg at my British grandmother’s house. At least here, I don’t have to sit at the table until I finish them.
Caramella ($7.00) is obviously a popular dessert — I saw two separate people discreetly come in and eat it for lunch at the bar. This warm sticky amaretto-based pudding comes sopping with caramel sauce and sugared almond slivers, paired nicely with not too sweet vanilla gelato.
Old Town, as this neighbourhood has been trying to market itself as, is due for some new restaurants and, with its curb-less sidewalks and distinct pedestrian-friendly vibe, they will no doubt reinvigorate the area. Although terrace season is firmly behind us, sun worshippers take note — Pastizza is flanked by two patios, adding up to a sunny 100 seats. Kind of like a ‘new’ Spaghetti Factory — this time, gloriously for adults.
If you’ve dined at Pastizza, let Vv Magazine know what your favourite dish has been in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.