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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.


PIZZA E PAZZI star ½
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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These restaurants are recommended by our anonymous reviewers. Restaurant bills are paid by Toronto Life; reviews have no connection to advertising. Stars are awarded for food and wine quality, as well as presentation, service, atmosphere, ambition and originality. All of our restaurant reviews can be found at torontolife.com/restaurants/.

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  • Dan

    PIZZA E PAZZI is the real thing. They serve amazing food. here are few reviews: http://bit.ly/q2O3eM

  • anni

    went there last week it was great and I also heard they are opening a new location up at St. Clair and Christie can’t wait.. the food was so good

  • Ben

    Decided to go for dinner because of the positive Toronto Life review. Boy did they get it wrong. I had the antipasto and Pizza ‘nduja. My companion had the seafood scialatielli. We waited for almost 20 minutes for the antipasto to arrive which is unacceptable for a dish that needs no cooking. It finally came, and was just a pile of meat and cheese, with no accompanying olives or marinated vegetable to cut the oiliness of the meats. Then, before we finished the antipasto, the server brought my companions scialatielli. Two of the clams were closed, and when my companion asked for more mussels instead, the server merely said it was supposed to be that way, and brought it to the kitchen to pry them open. The pasta was also undercooked (not just al dente) and the server said that’s how they do it. He didn’t offer any consolations. Then my pizza arrived. It was mostly a mound of doughy crust, too-acidic sauce, and gloupy cheese. There was hardly any ‘nduja (which the sever even pronounced wrong) and it was soggy. The only redeeming factor was a different server who offered us desert and coffee on him, which we politely declined. Toronto Life stated that the pizza was on par with Libretto or Queen Margherita, but it was even close. The menu was typical Italian fare, nothing special. Too bad, it would have been nice to have a place like Libretto or QM so close to my home.

  • Drew

    I went there last night and it totally blew me away.. I just came back from Italy and have been searching for that place that makes me feel like home.. Pizza e Pazzi has captured the essence of Authentic.. The sauce was the key ingredient, the dough was cooked to perfection.. It has been a long time since I felt at home in Toronto.. This has made my week.. I recommend this place to everyone

 

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