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Introducing: Lil’ Baci Taverna, the midtown outpost of the Leslieville Italian spot

Lil’ Baci Taverna owner Mark Bacci (Image: Karolyne Ellacott)

After years of feeding Leslievillers at Lil’ Baci, restaurateur (and filmmaker) Mark Bacci has headed north, opening up midtown’s Lil’ Baci Taverna. Planted on a corner lot on Yonge between Eglinton and Davisville, the Italian restaurant’s younger sibling has cut down on pizza and beefed up pretty much everything else. Inspired by the flavours and ingredients of southern Italy’s cuisine, Taverna aims to be a neighbourhood eatery straight out of a heart-warming Italian flick.

Designer Suresh Singh outfitted the light-filled space with wood and marble-topped tables. Subway tiles cover an accent wall, while Italian city names are boldly spelled out in the back. Bacci used muriatic acid on the mirrors to create an antiqued effect—although breathing in the powerful stuff left him ill for two days. An open kitchen is visible from all the seats, while another, less open one fills up the basement. Still in the works are an upstairs space for private functions and a wraparound patio out front.

Weary of Italian cuisine having become synonymous with pizza, Bacci and chef Larry Santos (Terroni, Mangia e Bevi) have built an extensive 50-dish menu that diverts from usual Italian suspects. “The food comes out when it’s ready,” Bacci stresses, noting that the menu has been built to encourage sharing. A charcuterie board features house-smoked duck bresaola, duck and pork pâté, mortadella with pistachios and testa (pig’s head) with pistachio gremolata ($17.95). Vegetable options include fava beans, Swiss chard and garlic ($5.95), while the pan-roasted Mennonite chicken dish arrives with olives, tomato and jus ($16.95). For those who can’t resist the call of pizza, the funghi version pairs cremini, shimeji and oyster mushrooms with taleggio, and is topped with truffle oil ($17.95). Dessert picks include vanilla panna cotta with cherries cooked in port, pistachios, and dark chocolate. Bacci tells us there’s more where that came from—an on-location sweets shop is currently on his to-do list.

Lil’ Baci Taverna, 2013 Yonge St., 647-748-6300, lilbacitaverna.com, @lilbacitaverna

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  • Michael

    When I read above that – Bacci stresses “The food comes out when it’s ready,” – I had to laugh and I must say that nothing could be more accurate about this place. But, that’s not necessarily a compliment. When I went we ordered the crudo to start, and the steak with a side of roasted cauliflower for me and the duck ragu pappardelle for my date. The side of roasted cauliflower came to the table first (yes by itself). I inquired immediately about the crudo???
    “It’ll be right out”, replied the server as he left the side of cauliflower on the table (a competent server would have taken the cauliflower back and returned with a crudo). About five minutes later (no exaggeration) my dates pasta came to the table by itself. And another 6 minutes later my steak came out (yes more than ten minutes after the side dish). Of course, the crudo starter came out dead last while we were eating our mains. It was not busy and timing food so that a table of two get their starter first, and their meals at the same time, isn’t too much to ask for.

    My date’s pasta was inedible. Under-cooked fresh pappardelle with the texture of damp bristol board and the flavour of raw dough. The condiment was an insult to the word “ragu”, watery, blonde and bland, lacking any resemblance to any other ragu (good or bad) that I’ve ever had. Even though my date’s inedible pasta sat untouched our server never asked if things were “ok” and just cleared the table after we shared my under seasoned steak (with the big gnarly piece of silver skin) and cold roasted cauliflower.

    I might as well tell the rest – At the start we were seated to some bread / olive oil and our server came to take our non-alcoholic drink order. They waited until after we were seated and into the complimentary bread to disclose that they didn’t have a liquor licence yet. Now we felt obligated to stay even though it was a weekend and my date and I were looking forward to wine with our dinner. Then – at the end of the meal the server asked if we could please pay cash because their debit / credit card machines hadn’t been set up yet. No liquor / no electronic payment…… These are things that should clearly be disclosed before seating and serving a customer.

    Here’s a thought. If you don’t have a liquor licence and you don’t have electronic payment set up. … Those are signs you’re not ready to open. The brutal service and the brutal food proved it.

  • MPW

    Just go up the street to Zucca for some real Italian food and excellent service.

  • Shawn

    Wow! So far away from my experience. Yes they didn’t have a license but they were up front about it. The food was awesome and I enjoyed sharing with my table. Restaurants have growth pains, they were open like a day when we went, a couple of bumps, but i seen much worse at restaurant sopen forecer. I am for sure going back, some of the best food in the city.

  • Holly

    Food was awesome. Service was awesome, they had liquor. And the room is amazing.

  • Alexandre

    Went here the other night and thought it was fantastic. The service was great and so was the food. A friend had told me to try the buratta and beets and it was delicious.

    The pasta, i believe was made from scratch, was really good – almost buttery. The duck ragu was also exceptional. The server informed me they receive the whole duck and do all the preparation there. I think it’s such a breath of fresh air to such a stale boring neighbourhood.

    I’ve not heard anything bad about the place from people I’ve sent there either. I hope that it stays around for a long, long time.

    P.S. The pana cota dessert was effing to die for.

  • Aaron

    Just left Lil Baci Taverna. It was packed! People waiting to come in.
    We had the charcuterie board, papardedelle, cavatelli and ravioli. Everything was good. Will definetly recomend and go back.

  • Paul

    Just went there tonight, the place was supper packed! we ate the chicken liver mousse, a few pastas n pizzas… The cavatelli is to die for! and the gnocchi melts in your mouth! both pizzas really nice crust n well seasoned…
    Nice job guys!

  • Joanna

    Good food. Cozy place, good music. Cavateli and gnochi were the best ones. The cake with dulce de leche and chocolate tart were pretty good

  • Felipe Boff

    We’ve been there about 2 weeks ago and could taste couple of dishes (from appetizers to dessert). Besides being a chef’s friend, I have to say the food was delicious ! All fresh and homemade !!
    We tried the TOSCANO STYLE CHICKEN LIVER MOUSSE, CRISPY FRIED BLISS POTATOES, POTATO GNOCCHI w PASSATO DI POMODORO, BEET & GOAT CHEESE RAVIOLI, RICOTTA CAVATELLI and couple of desserts which I don’t recall the names… but, still can remember the taste… :-)
    Some of the portions could be bigger though (or cheaper)…
    Great job ! Keep going !!

  • Jessica

    Everything homemade. Good food, good price. Head Cheese very rich, good match with the pistachio on top. Service was ok. Just a few seats on the shade by 6pm.

  • Henry Blumenthal

    To Michael….you make valid points about your experience and I agree that a professional would disclose and serve on time. I put most of this down to the casul laissez-faire attitude prevalent in this owner. He ought to have been more prepared. Personally I think the first food (bread) should arrive within 15 minutes of ordering. When you have food in front of you you will not be keeping track of how long courses take to arrive.
    The liquor licence issue blame lays with the fascist policies of your LCBO. Why is it that one cannot receive a liqour licence before the restaurant opens? Please write to your MP and complain.

    Will I go to this restaurant? Absolutely Yes!
    This is the type of restaurant every neighbourhood dreams of having. Real food crafted with expertise. New restaurants take time to get everthing running on all cylinders.

  • Jeff Sonnen

    Henry, when I saw Michael comments about this restaurant, some things came to my mind. He posted it so fast, as soon this article came out that I thought he was waiting for that. A restaurateur from the neighborhood? Looks like Lil Baci Taverna is bothering a lot!
    I agree completely about the license point of view. Yes, I do prefer a restaurant with liquor license. But that’s not gonna make me have a bad impression about a place.
    I went there before and after they got the liquor licence. Yes, they always accepted credit cards (using the old paper method before). Yes, they had some bumps. But they were honest about their situation, admitting they were learning with the first days they were opened.
    From my first experience to my last one, just have to say they are improving a lot.
    Look for most of the italian restaurants in town (and around that neighborhood), everybody is offering always the same! The owner(s) and chefs have big balls in trying a menu like that, full of veggies, all pastas and charcuterie made from scratch and in a small open concept kitchen.
    Dont know what those guys have at the basement, but they must have a lot of people working to keep that quality and such a big menu.
    Congrats to this team, that is going to change the food panorama between Davisville and Eglinton.
    Please, start selling your bread daily as soon it comes out of the oven.
    And Michael, if you are looking for antepasti, primi and secondi and pastas coming from a box, that’s not the kind of place for you.
    Cheers

  • TJ
  • Allegra

    Last time I went for brunch and as usually it was delicious! The Benedict with truffle oil is the best way to start a saturday morning! French toast? appealing! Also,I must say that they have the best gnocchi in town! Having an italian background or not you’ll feel the difference to taste a genuine Italian food!

  • RSmith

    Great pizza, loved the brussel sprouts one. Will recommend.

  • Felipe

    Hey Michael,

    Felipe chef de cuisine at Lil Baci. Sorry we couldnt take care of you properly on your first visit. And thank to everyone who is enjoying what we are doing. Please give us another try. We won’t let you down. And we promise your experience will be amazing!l next time!

  • Julia

    I didnt have the chance of trying Lil Baci Taverna yet, but I liked the attitude of the chef writting to this unhappy customer.

  • Sarah

    They dont have good food, they have great food! Delicious brunch…

 

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