Choices, Choices, and More Choices at The SOS

The SOSLocation: 118 John Street, Toronto
Website: http://sospasta.ca/

I know that this is an odd complaint that most people probably won’t agree with, but I’ll admit that restaurants that offer a million different combinations kind of bug me.  If you’re going to do this, at least give me a few suggestions so I have an idea of what works well together.  How am I supposed to know which sauces compliment which pasta varieties?  And which toppings work best with those?  I’m not a chef.  Why are you getting me to do your job for you?  Do you want me to come into the kitchen and cook my meal as well?

The SOS

Which is to say that at The SOS they have 11 types of pasta, 10 sauces, 11 toppings, and absolutely no guidance on what goes best with what (at least not without asking the cashier and holding up the line like a jerk, which I didn’t particularly care to do).

The SOS

Thankfully they have a daily special; on this particular day it was panko-crusted mac and cheese, which I obviously ordered.

The SOS

It’s quite tasty.  The pasta is perfectly al dente, and the sauce is incredibly rich and creamy, with a mild cheesy flavour.  The crispy panko offers a nice bit of texture.  It’s slightly underseasoned, and nothing about it rocked my world, but it’s a solid bowl of mac and cheese.

More Delicious Pasta at Shiso Tree Cafe

Shiso Tree CafeLocation: 3160 Steeles Avenue East, Markham
Website: https://www.facebook.com/ShisoTree/

I mentioned recently that I generally prefer checking out restaurants I haven’t tried over revisiting ones I have.  There are, however, exceptions to that rule, such as: Shiso Tree Cafe, a restaurant that fuses Japanese and Italian cuisine with some seriously delicious results.

On this visit I had the shoyu mushroom spaghetti: “shimeji, enoki, king oyster mushrooms in mentsuyu butter sauce.”

Shiso Tree Cafe

It’s so good.  It looks a little bit dry in the photo; a lot of the sauce is at the bottom of the bowl, but once you mix it up, it becomes creamy and amazing (and the sauce is rich enough to cling perfectly to the pasta — there wasn’t any left in the bowl when the spaghetti was done).

It has an incredibly satisfying buttery/savoury flavour, and the various types of mushrooms add a nice variety of textures and flavours.  It’s a top-notch bowl of pasta.

Shiso Tree Cafe

It’s also an incredible deal; every pasta on their lunch menu costs twelve bucks and comes with a salad, soup, and a slice of garlic bread.  The salad looks a little sad, but features a sesame-infused dressing that’s a cut above the standard Japanese-inspired salad dressing you’re expecting.  The creamy seafood soup is rich, flavourful, and packed with tasty chunks of seafood — it’s way better than a free soup has any right to be.  The garlic bread is quite tasty, too.

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.

Delicious and Unique pasta at Shiso Tree Cafe

Shiso Tree CafeLocation: 3160 Steeles Avenue East, Markham
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/ShisoTree/

Italian/Japanese fusion might sound odd on paper, but aside from the fact that Italian restaurants are actually quite popular in Japan, Shiso Tree Cafe is amazing.  All you need is one bite of their food to put any doubts to bed.

Shiso Tree Cafe

I tried a couple of starters: the tera-goma tebasaki (perfectly cooked chicken wings with a crunchy exterior and an addictively sweet glaze) and the tarutaru fries (amazing fries with homemade tartar sauce for dipping).  But their pasta is the real reason to come here.

Shiso Tree Cafe

I had the nori tsukudani: “braised nori sauce, onsen tamago, ikura, scallops, mentsuyu.”

It was so good, with the vibrant Japanese flavours making it really stand out from your average bowl of pasta.

The braised nori sauce tasted exactly how you’d hope it would: like nori, but in sauce form.  There’s something a bit odd (and very delightful) about taking such a familiar flavour and putting it in a new context.

Shiso Tree Cafe

And the onsen tamago (which is kind of like a silkier version of a poached egg, with a white that’s just barely set) was the perfect compliment.  It essentially liquefies into the pasta, coating the noodles and giving them an eggy richness.

The sweet, perfectly-cooked scallops match really well with the seaweed-infused sauce, and the greens add crunchy pops of freshness.  The pasta itself is, as you’d hope, perfectly al dente.

It’s certainly an unusual bowl of pasta, but it’s one where all of the flavours have been so perfectly considered.  It’s amazing.

Shiso Tree Cafe

I finished with the chestnut creme brulee, which was a fairly ingenious spin on a classic dessert; the rich chestnut flavour complimented the custard perfectly, and the crackily torched sugar on top was as satisfying as ever.