Pizza and Gelato at Eataly

EatalyLocation: 55 Bloor Street West, Toronto (inside the Manulife Centre)
Website: https://www.eataly.ca/

After years and years of speculation and hype, Eataly finally opened in Toronto last month; judging by the intense crowds, it’s a hit.  Apparently there were lines just to get in for the first few weeks, and on a recent visit on Saturday, the place was absolutely packed.

Eataly

So was it worth the wait?  It’s hard to say based on one relatively brief visit, but I’m gonna say yeah, it was.  It’s basically an enormous, high-end Italian grocery store crossed with a food hall.  They sell all kinds of really interesting looking stuff, and all the food I tried was tasty.  It’s delightful.

I tried a couple of things.  First up was a pizza at La Pizza & La Pasta, a sit-down restaurant with a wood-burning oven that pumps out authentic Neapolitan pizzas.

Eataly

The meal started with some seriously good-quality bread, which came with a bowl of intensely nutty olive oil for dipping.

As for the pizza, I had to try the margherita.  As I’ve said before, I think it’s one of the world’s few perfect foods.  It’s also a great way to judge the quality of a pizza joint; its simplicity puts the technique of the kitchen in full display.  There’s no fancy ingredients to hide behind.

Eataly

The version they serve here didn’t blow me away — the crust was slightly lacking in substance and flavour — but it was a solid B+.  In particular, the pizza had a perfect amount of char from the blazing hot oven.   The person manning the oven clearly knows what he’s doing.

Eataly

Just around the corner from the restaurant is Il Gelato Artigianale, which has a whole bunch of tasty-looking flavours of gelato on offer.  I went with stracciatella, and I quite enjoyed it.

Eataly

I found it a bit overly sweet at first, but the combo of the sweet ice cream and the very bitter chocolate (they’re definitely using a darker chocolate than the norm) won me over.  And the gelato itself is nice and creamy, even if it was slightly on the thin side.

Quality Pasta (and Even Better Dessert) at Terroni

TerroniLocation: 1095 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.terroni.com/

I didn’t think it was possible to be offended by a bread plate, but Terroni proved me wrong.

The bread plate at Terroni costs six dollars.  And fine — I understand that restaurant margins are dangerously thin, and that charging for bread is increasingly becoming a thing.

Terroni

The issue is that the plate comes with three tiny, dried-out slices of over-toasted white bread with a few drops of olive oil sprinkled on, four pieces of taralli (which is essentially an Italian breadstick), a small handful of olives, and… that’s it.  No butter, no olive oil, just mediocre bread and a few olives.  For six bucks.  Get the hell out of here with that.

Terroni

Thankfully, the rest of the meal was much better.

I had the Garganelli Geppetto, which is a pasta dish that comes with “dandelions, homemade spicy italian sausage, fontina, parmigiano, extra-virgin olive oil.”

Terroni

A dish like this is a bit of a tightrope walk — the “sauce” is essentially oil, so it’s going to be somewhat greasy by default.  But this one goes a bit too far, and feels oilier than it should be.

Still, it’s a tasty dish — the sausage is above average and has a mild spicy bite; the cheese adds a good amount of saltiness and a mild funk, not to mention some gooey meltiness; and the pasta itself is perfectly cooked and satisfying.  It’s good stuff.

Terroni

I can’t remember the name of the dessert and I can’t find it on the menu online, but it was essentially a croissant filled with Nutella, hazelnut gelato, and whipped cream.  It was easily the highlight of the meal.  It was shockingly delicious; the Nutella and the creamy gelato (which adds even more hazelnut flavour) go amazingly well together, and the tasty croissant is a perfect vehicle.

Ice cream cones are officially dead to me — I want all my ice cream in a croissant from now on.

Amazing Fresh Pasta at Famiglia Baldassare

Famiglia BaldassarreLocation: 122 Geary Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://famigliabaldassarre.com/

Famiglia Baldassare is a busy place.  I knew this before I even went there, and yet I was still surprised at how busy it was.

It doesn’t help that the place is absolutely tiny, with maybe four or five small tables.  It gets packed immediately, so your odds of snagging a table are slim.

Famiglia Baldassarre

My dining companion and I wound up eating on one of the handful of tables outside (that may or may not have belonged to the neighbouring coffee shop).  It was cold and drizzly, and yet as soon as I started eating that amazing hand-made pasta, it all clicked into place.  Totally worth it.

The “restaurant” is actually a side business for Famiglia Baldassare; mostly, they supply freshly-made pasta to various restaurants around the GTA.  But if you come at lunch during the week (and are willing to brave the aforementioned crowds), you can choose between two delicious pasta dishes.

Famiglia Baldassarre

On this particular visit, it was cacio e pepe and carbonara.  I went with the carbonara, which was indulgently rich without feeling overly heavy.  It was cheesy and silky and amazing, with satisfying pops of meatiness from the guanciale.  It was maybe a touch too salty, and I wish the guanciale had been crisped up a bit more (it wasn’t really crispy at all), but it was otherwise a superb bowl of carbonara.

And then of course there’s the pasta itself, which is the real star of the show.  A really good fresh pasta is radically different from the dried stuff you can buy at the supermarket.  It’s got that dense, chewy texture that’s fairly irresistible.  It’s so good.

Also: don’t pass on the bread they have off to the side.  It’s some of the best bread I’ve had in a while, so clearly, everything here is pretty great.

Satisfying Grilled Cheese at the RH Courtyard Cafe

RH Courtyard CafeLocation: 3401 Dufferin Street, North York (inside Yorkdale Mall)
Websitehttps://www.restorationhardware.com/content/category.jsp?context=TorontoCafe

Since I’ve already established that the restaurant at the Restoration Hardware in Yorkdale is better than it has any right to be (I was shocked at how decent the burger was), it shouldn’t be a surprise that the grilled cheese is quite tasty.

It’s a classic, no-frills grilled cheese.  This is a dish that a lot of places feel the need to gussy up, with toppings and condiments aplenty.  But grilled cheese is perfect on its own; all you need is good quality bread, cheese, and a whole bunch of butter.  No ornamentation is necessary.

RH Courtyard Cafe

And that’s exactly what the RH Courtyard Cafe gives you: the cheddar cheese is sharp and gooey, and the bread has the perfect amount of substance, with a crispy exterior and a soft interior.

It’s also ridiculously buttery, as it should be; if you can hold a grilled cheese sandwich without your hands instantly becoming slippery with grease, then you need to throw it right in the garbage.  It’s worthless.

But then there’s the price.  It’s 19 bucks.  As good as it is (and it’s quite good), it’s still just a grilled cheese sandwich, which might be the easiest (and cheapest) thing in the world to make.  So it’s hard to justify spending that much on it.

Classic Eats at Swiss Chalet

Swiss ChaletLocation: 5980 McLaughlin Road, Mississauga
Websitehttps://www.swisschalet.com/

This is going to be a short one.  Because I just had the quarter chicken with fries from Swiss Chalet, and come on.  Do you really need me to describe this for you?  I’m pretty sure that you can legally lose your Canadian citizenship if you’ve never tried Swiss Chalet’s chicken.

Swiss Chalet

I know there are some people who think that Swiss Chalet has gone downhill and that it’s just not very good, and I think those people are nuts.  I can’t speak to anything beyond the chicken and the fries — it’s all I ever order — but those two items are still quite tasty.

And at eleven bucks for the chicken, a heaping portion of delicious fries, and a roll, it’s a pretty great deal.  Yes, white meat is a couple of bucks extra, but lets face it: dark meat is superior in every regard.  That’s not even an opinion.  That’s fact.  It’s just science.  It’s tastier and more moist.  I have a theory that people who prefer white meat don’t actually like chicken very much, because white meat is just a dryer, blander version of dark.