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New Reviews: Ortolan, Pizza e Pazzi and Obikà

ORTOLAN star ½
1211 Bloor St. W., 647-348-4500
OrtolanBy now the formula is familiar: young chefs set up small, idiosyncratic restaurant in down-at-heels neighbourhood on shoestring budget and compensate for limited chalkboard menu and no-reservations policy with good food and reasonable prices. Damon Clements and Daniel Usher, the chef-owners at Bloordale Village’s new local-focused bistro, just a few doors down from the House of Lancaster strip club, happen to do a better job with the formula than many of their peers. The cooking is outstanding much of the time: superb potato gnocchi with chopped mint, early-season asparagus, creamy, melted mascarpone and grana padano cheese, for instance, or hangar steak that’s gently charred at its edges and busting with beefy flavour on top of a caper brown-butter pan sauce. Desserts are great, none better than the tiny jam pot of chocolate mousse that tastes of expensive cocoa beans. Service is spot-on. Among the quirks here: there is no vodka or gin (the owners loathe generic white spirits). Closed Sunday and Monday. Mains $14–$20.

1182 St. Clair Ave. W., 647-352-7882
This latest entrant in Toronto’s developing Neapolitan pizza war is a great addition to Corso Italia. The room is modern and casual with sliding glass doors that open out onto St. Clair West, and the pies—flash-fired in a wood-burning oven by a young, dark and handsome pizzaiolo who wears a kerchief around his neck—will taste familiar to aficionados of Queen Margherita and Pizzeria Libretto. The best thing about the pizzas is their soft-crispy crust, which comes nicely charred (but not too much) and fragrant with woodsmoke. The margherita pizza is excellent: simple, deeply flavoured San Marzano tomato sauce and creamy Italian buffalo mozzarella, just the way it’s supposed to be. Even the dessert pizza is excellent: that same great crust slathered with Nutella and melting banana rounds. Other menu offerings are hit-and-miss. The gnocchi is brought in rather than made in-house, and the lasagna, though nicely prepared, is a tad too basic—there’s good pasta, good, meat-enriched tomato sauce and a puddle of well-made béchamel on top, but little else to it. Service is friendly, if a bit shaky at times, but made vastly more entertaining by the waiter with the hectolitre of Dippity-do in his hair who wears his red pants well below his hips, with white boxer briefs sticking out. Mains $10–$26.

OBIKÀ star
181 Bay St., 416-546-1062
Obikà Tucked into a corner of Brookfield Place’s gorgeous, swooping Santiago Calatrava–designed atrium, Obikà is the first Canadian outpost of the Italian cheese chain. It’s a brilliant place to sample ultra-fresh mozzarella di bufala Campana. The burrata­—a freshly stretched mozzarella shell filled with mildly buttery, milky ricotta—is easily the sexiest cheese on the planet. It’s served in great abundance here, as part of the $34 mozzarella platter (a must), and blended into a risotto that would be humdrum without it, but soars instead. The cheese is by far the best reason to come here; aside from the good desserts and well-made pizzas, the rest of the menu is disappointing. One night’s slimy, discoloured arugula salad is a disgrace. Unpolished service. The place is part of a franchise and feels that way. Closed Sunday. Mains $15–$16.

(Images: Igor Yu )

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