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.

Tasty Middle Eastern Food at Azkadenya

AzkadenyaLocation: 235 Queen Street West, Toronto
Website: https://www.azkadenya.ca/

I’ll admit that I didn’t have particularly high expectations for Azkadenya, a “mezza diner” with locations all over the Middle East.  Aside from the fact that it’s a chain restaurant, the slick decor and quirky dishes made me think it would be style over substance.

Azkadenya

Well, don’t judge a book by its cover, I guess?  This place was actually quite good, though the restaurant is clearly at its best when it sticks with the classics and doesn’t mess around too much.

Azkadenya

We started with the hummus, which is creamy and tasty.  It didn’t quite knock my socks off, but it’s a solid bowl of hummus.  It helps that it comes topped with healthy amount of good quality olive oil, with a bottle available on the table to top it up (which you should absolutely do — hummus and EVOO are best friends and should never be apart).

Azkadenya

Actually, I should mention the multiple bottles at the table — there’s olive oil, a couple of tasty hot sauces, a tahini sauce, and something labeled “sour but sweet” that I completely forgot to try (I know, what’s wrong with me?).

Servers are constantly walking around to replenish your supply of pita bread — they bake these things fresh in what appears to be a wood-burning oven, so yeah, they’re quite good.

Azkadenya

Next up was the falafel, which comes in an order of eight.  This was easily the highlight of the meal.  They’re nicely spiced and not too big, which gives you the perfect ratio of crispy exterior to fluffy interior (too many places make huge, almost tennis-ball-sized falafel, and the crisp-to-fluffy ratio is all wrong).  They’re also not dry in the middle, which is another common issue with falafel in the GTA.  They’re really good.

Azkadenya

Then there was the beef “shawarma.”  I’m putting that in quotes because, I’m sorry, but this isn’t shawarma.  It comes essentially looking like a kabob (though the beef is sliced, even if it doesn’t look that way).  It’s a fun gimmick, and the presentation is certainly striking, but it’s not shawarma.  It tastes nothing like shawarma.

Azkadenya

Still, it’s tasty enough for what it is.  The meat is tender and nicely marinated.  Once you put it in a pita with some of the condiments (it comes with pickles, tahini sauce, garlic sauce, and tomatoes) it’s quite satisfying.

Azkadenya

Last up was the kunafah pops, which takes the traditional Middle Eastern dessert and turns it into little deep-fried balls.  Like the shawarma, this was the restaurant being a bit too clever for their own good.  All of the textures are wrong — the exterior is a bit too crunchy, the cheesy interior doesn’t quite have the gooeyness you’re looking for, and it has a mild oily flavour from the fryer.  It certainly wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, but traditional kunafah would have been vastly superior.

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.