VERTICAL: Banker bar…with chops?

416 214 2252  |   $19-25 Pasta/Risotto, $25-50  Mains

 

Eating in the financial district during weekdays is usually an exercise in banker avoidance. When the business model is built around alcohol sales on the patio, it’s hard to find somewhere that puts great emphasis on food. I was skeptical about Vertical for this very reason, but I think it’s safe to say you can eat well here even surrounded by our suited friends.


Photo Credit: blogTO

Food

A read through the menu shows you this is more than a bar. It reads very modern Italian with everything you’d expect to find in the apps and pastas, along with some mains that veer away from the traditional. 

The four of us decided to start with three apps that we all agreed were the highlights of the meal.

The lamb meatballs in tomato sauce (above) were delicious - juicy and full of lamb flavour you’re looking for when you order lamb. I also enjoyed the focaccia with it to sop up all the leftovers. 

Next up were the five balls of arancini (above) filled with saffron risotto and fontina cheese. I will always order arancini when I see them on a menu because, when perfected, nothing is more addictive. That, and they’re usually tasty even when botched.

That said, I thought these were pretty darn good. If you don’t like saffron, avoid these, because the risotto is rife with it. I enjoyed the bold flavour, along with thin exterior and accompanying sauce. Just a touch more fontina would have won it for me. I’m very picky.

This was a dish that tasted as good as it read on the menu. Seared scallop, watermelon, speck, corn and watercress. Watermelon and corn makes sense. Speck and scallop makes sense. Fresh, juicy, porky goodness.

The first main that caught my eye was the halibut over spinach, with a fennel and star-anise puree along with a porcini and potato ’crochetta’. In theory, sounds like a really smart flavour profile. 

The good: Most of the fish was perfect, with an excellent crispy layer on top and moist, flaky interior. Spinach was a nice strong compliment. The mix of textures throughout the dish was really successful.

The not: The puree was ultra mild to the point where it was hard to say what it tasted like. The filling of the crochetta didn’t yell porcini either.

I think this dish has huge potential, but I really missed the promise of fennel, star-anise and porcini.

You may think the above is a ravioli, but this stamp-shaped pasta is called Sfoja Lorda. Vertical fills it with halibut and services with lobster, tomato, and wild fennel. I’ll say the star of the dish was the halibut filling, which I’ve yet to have in a pasta dish. My issue was the lobster is overwhelmed and the fennel flavour was missing again.

The last dish looked beautiful. The risotto of the day was also lobster, so we said why not?

The mouth feel was great and the flavour was pleasant, but I really wish something had stood out. Lobster meat is really quite subtle so anything to dial it up is appreciated and I just felt like I was missing it again.

The last dish of the night was the dessert above. I can’t seem to find that night’s dessert menu online, so I’m not going to take wild guesses at the ingredients. What I do remember is that the cake fell apart really easily, got sopped up in the sweet sauce below and turned into a bit of mess with the cocoa-flavoured sauce.

Dining Date Night

You may have heard me mention this service before, but I’m just going to reiterate how useful and easy it is. 

It lets you make a reservation at some solid restaurants for $10 during off-peak nights (usually excludes Fridays & Weekends) for up to six people. In exchange, they give you 30% off the entire bill including alcohol. The four of us save $40+ and turned this pricier place into something pretty affordable.

Click below to sign up. Highly recommend it:

 

Service and Ambience

So here’s the obvious part: during weekdays in the summer this is a bar for business people in the financial district (and those eager folks that pursue them). If you don’t like that atmosphere, you may be put off. If you’re not and don’t mind a lively patio in a great location, this is your scene.

 

On the service side, I was impressed. The great thing about these restaurants is that the kitchen isn’t particularly bombarded with orders so your food comes out pretty quickly. Our server was also very attentive and was always around when we needed her.

The Reco?

This was a really tough one. The apps were great and definitely reco-worthy, but the mains and dessert all had some issues that held them back from fully delivering on the menu’s compelling promises.

Without the 30% off, I’ll say Vertical borders on being too rich for what it delivers. That said, the apps give me faith that there’s more delicious food to be had here, and with the available discount, there aren’t enough reasons not to come back.

Other reviews:
 Food Junkie Chronicles (tasting menu)   |   Toronto City Gossip

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited August 2, 2012

Vertical Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

GUSTO101: Decent Italian 101

416 504 9669   |   $12-$15 Pizza and Pasta  

 

I’ll be the first one to admit I’m wary of ‘trendy’ new Italian restaurants in King West. As the area gets more and more saturated with restaurants, I get increasingly skeptical. A friend of mine said she’d enjoyed her last visit, so I brought of bunch of friends to check it out on a Friday night.


Photo Credit: Toronto Life

Food

The menu features everything you expect to see: fritti, insalate, antipasti, pasta, pizza, a few mains, and contorni. The variety is solid and the prices are surprisingly reasonable across the board which is refreshing given the area. 

We started with smoked eggplant and prosciutto on three large crostini (above). I don’t know if it was the campfire scent coming from the nearby pizza oven, but there was smokiness here and the simplicity of it was appealing and delicious.

Next was the calamari (above), which is always a good test. Definite pass with really tender, lightly battered rings. The roasted garlic aioli on the right tasted great too.

What I really didn’t understand was the pickled cucumber and jalapeno salad in the middle along with the balsamic reduction. The presentation was confusing since I was eating the calamari ‘chips-and-dip’ style, so I had to cut up the salad and use a fork to combine it all…at which point the flavours just didn’t make sense to me.

Another ‘gotta try’ item was the arancini (above). I order them every time I see them because I’m always in search of perfection. Even when they come up short, it’s hard to make them taste bad. To me, it’s gotta be thin and crispy on the outside filled with a 1/3 melted cheese, 2/3 risotto mix.  

These had a thin outer layer, but no crispiness. The inside wasn’t cheesy enough, although the mushroom and fontina risotto had good flavour to compensate.

For the mains, the table had two pizzas. The first was their classic prosciutto (above). For those of you who like crispier/floury crusts, this will be to your liking. I was also fond of the tomato sauce.

The other pizza was the Da Dee with thin slices of sweet potato topped with spanish onions, lots of crispy kale, and some cow milk mozzarella. It was pretty tasty, but I felt like the bitterness of all the kale wasn’t quite balanced with enough salt or cheese. 

We finished off with two pastas: a mushroom fettuccine and rigatoni with lamb shank. I thought the fettuccine was passed al dente, but what it didn’t lack was earthiness. It’s packed with portobello, oyster mushrooms, porcini AND truffle paste. That plate needed a green or something because that was intense.

The rigatoni was well-received around the table and the lamb was tender and not particularly gamy. 

One last thing, the dessert menu is pretty limited and there’s no beer on tap (only a few bottles available). The wine menu is quite extensive though and there’s even wine on tap. I had a cabernet sauvignon-malbec blend that was simple and fruity; it’s pretty good value too at only $1/oz.

Service and Ambience

From an interior design perspective, I really liked the grunge/loft feel. My guess is it used be a garage (there’s a big garage door at the front). Much of that ‘bricks and mortar’ style remains, and all the sunlight that seeps through from the front really lights up the place on a nice day. There’s a patio out front too, but it doesn’t yet have a liquor license if a drink in the sun is what you’re in the mood for.

On a busy Friday night, the staff managed to hold a table for six of us by turning two tables sideways. The improv was smart and worked for us. Our server was also knowledgeable about the menu and called all the women at the table ‘senorita’ (most of them enjoyed this). 

The Reco?

Toronto has yet another casual but authentic Italian restaurant that you’ll probably enjoy. Nothing on the menu wowed, but it all tasted reasonably good and the service along with the ambience charmed me. Couple all that with the fact the prices are reasonable and the location is central, and it’s a decent choice downtown.

Other reviews:
 blogTO  |    Foodies Inc.

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited May 4, 2012

Gusto 101 on Urbanspoon

ENOTECA SOCIALE: Would reco, not rave

416-534-1200    |    $13-21 pasta

 

Along with Buca, a lot of folks would claim this as one of the best and most authentic Italian restaurants in the city. Having had way too many people ask me about my experience here (non-existent), it was time to head over and get a good sampling.

Food

The menu is composed of two main sections: sharing plates and pastas. Food is roman-inspired, very classic flavour combinations, and a few twists to keep it interesting. I was advised before going that pasta portions weren’t very large, so this is the kind of menu you should comfortably order a few appetizers from, a pasta, and a dessert.

We started with three apps:

Arancini filled with mozzarella di bufala and soppressata (above): Nice thin crispy outside, rich dense and melty center, and fresh tomato sauce along the bottom. Only one problem…where’s the soppressata? None of us could find it inside or outside.

Baked kale, thinly sliced persimmon and king oyster mushrooms, farro and pine nuts (above): Really nice salad. Similar flavour profile to the one at Buca, but the crispy bits of the baked kale were excellent, and the level of seasoning, and layered flavours of sweet, salty, bitter, and nutty made this a winner.

Grilled octopus, pepper puree, and potatoes: I’ve heard buzz about this, but thought it was missing something. Grilled octopus was very tender and had a nice charred flavour, potatoes were bland, and the puree along the bottom couldn’t really kick up the taste of it all. I think a crispier potato and more of the sauce drizzled over the top would have done it.

Then came the three pastas:

Rutabaga mezzaluna (half moon pasta), pickled chaterelles, and lemon maple butter (above): Rutabaga with the lemon maple was a great combo, pasta was beautifully al dente and thin, and the chanterelles over top were good for texture and acid. If you don’t like sweet, you may find the butter a little strong admittedly.

Papparadelle, lamb ragu, guanciale and pecorino: I had a bite of this and new instantly it was great. The ragu was less saucy and more about the meat: the way I like it. the lamb was gamy enough to pick out but with a bit of pleasant heat as well. Really nice.

Bucatini alla’amatriciana (tomato, pecorino, and guanciale): From someone who’s been to Rome and had great versions of this, I was told it was comparatively excellent.

And we finished with three desserts:

Ginger & molasses cake, stout toffee sauce, blood orange, rosemary meringue & lovage cress (above right): Cake was moist and gingerbread-y, toffee sauce kinda stuck to the plate, rosemary meringue was barely there and didn’t taste like rosemary, and the blood orange was a dotted puree that reminded me of dried apricots. This had a lot of potential: put actual thin slices of blood orange, would have really elevated it.

Panna cotta bianco, pear mostarda, pine nut & rye flake crumble (above left): Very clean flavours, nice flaky crumble, good dessert.

Chocolate & fig tart, balsamic, rosemary cream, candied walnuts: Really liked the combo of dark chocolate, fig and balsamic. Three very strong flavours working together, and a great light tart crust that was really nice.

Also, I don’t often comment on the wine selection, but it’s very impressive here with some hard-to-find vino if that’s your cup of tea. They’ve got taster sizes as well that let you sample some of the fancier stuff without breaking the bank.

Service and Ambience

I liked the atmosphere inside. For ‘one of the best’, it didn’t feel at all pretentious. Liked the tile work throughout, good lighting, and the long bar area looked really well setup for dining (some bars offer the menu, but aren’t really comfortable spots to eat).

I thought service was friendly and very attentive. A little excessive on menu explanation (particularly with respect to the feed of cow turned bistecca). For a fairly large space, the dishes came out at a good clip and we went through the whole meal comfortably in about two hours.

The Reco?

This is a good Italian restaurant I would happily come back to. My issues came down to some things that disappointed me from an execution perspective, but I think there was a lot here to be happy about. I’ll be back. Cheers.

Other reviews:
Globe and Mail   |    National Post  |   NOW Magazine

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Jan 22, 2012

Enoteca Sociale on Urbanspoon

PIZZERIA LIBRETTO: Delicious, but best in town?

416-532-8000    |    $10-17 pizzas

 

There’s enough hype about Pizzeria Libretto to generate a line outside its doors before opening at 4pm on a Sunday. Camping out at Fishbar during happy hour worked like a charm. 

Food

This is a pizzeria, so guess where I’m starting. Libretto promises that it’s pizza follows the strictest of Neopolitan guidelines, with the end product being, “soft, elastic, easily folded as would be a pamphlet (aka LIBRETTO)”. Nowhere is the word crispy used. So that’s not part of the promise.


Source: Lucas Richarz

All three of the pizzas we ordered executed on this promise. The crust was soft, elastic, and could be very easily folded. You could definitely taste the flour. But none of our crusts (ironic given the name) had any crispy or crunchy texture.

  • House-made Sausage Pizza (above): Really good sausage with tons of flavour, sweet caramelized onions and chili made this a winner. Tasted great.
  • Ontario Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza - Very traditional combinations so nothing surprising. That said, killer tomato sauce. First thing you notice when you bite into it is the freshness of the sauce. Cuts right through the peppery arugula and salty prosciutto. 
  • Speck, Fig, Gorgonzola, Walnut, and Honey Pizza - If you haven’t had this flavour combo before I’d recommend it, but if you have, there’s nothing that really stands out. Well balanced, a bit more speck and honey would have livened it up a bit in my opinion.

Aside from pizza, we also tried the lamb shoulder and saffron arancini with sun-dried tomato pesto. Crispy outside, gooey inside, and the pesto is the best thing on the plate. If I’m being picky, I prefer the inside to have more al dente risotto texture than melted cheese, and the lamb didn’t come through for me. I thought saffron was a nice touch though.

The Tiramisu I ordered for dessert had great coffee and liquor flavour and was very light. Too much cream/mascarpone for me though; in the cup, it was a little more like pudding, as the lady fingers got really soft and lost their fluffy quality.

Service and Ambience

I’ve heard some people complain about the service, as I’d imagine the bustling atmosphere can overwhelm some servers. Our experience was nothing like that. Staff were on the ball, willing to answer any questions, and the water jug was always kept full. I asked our server how good the Tiramisu was, and she told she’d buy it if I didn’t like it. That answer alone is worth a half star.

The interior of the place is fun, lively, and aesthetically interesting. The hanging individual light bulb thing is getting a little repetitive, but it looks great so I’m not blaming anyone.

The Reco?

In my opinion, this is not the best pizza in town and the reason is the crust. A good pizza to me is thin, crispy, and doughy with well-defined, balanced flavours. Libretto misses on the crispy altogether, but stays in the game because the ingredients keep it authentic-tasting and delicious. The ideal pizza to me: Terroni’s pizza crust with Libretto’s toppings. Maybe that’s Queen Margherita Pizza? Guess we’ll have to test out that contender too.

Other reviews:
Toronto Life   |   dine.TO    |    Singles and Pairs

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Oct 23, 2011

Pizzeria Libretto on Urbanspoon

LA BETTOLA DI TERRONI: Simple Italian done well





416-504-1992   |   $10-20 entrees

Decided to drop by here pre and post Vintages’ Women in Wine event last night.

Food

Menu reads like a run-through of Italian flavour combinations 101. There’s really nothing you haven’t seen before if you’re familiar with the cuisine. I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘twist on traditional’ kind of place.

We ordered some arancini and mixed seafood fritti to start. Arancini were great: nice thin, crisp, hot exterior with a beautiful cheesey risotto texture within. In contrast, the mixed seafood fritti was a miss. The filling was indistinguishable (we suspect shrimp mixed in with the fritter batter?). On top was a carrot salad (meh) and some bacon (yum) that ended being the only flavour on the plate.

For the main, I ordered the chitarra special (thick square-cut spaghetti here) with zucchini, pine nuts, pecorino, and mint garnish. Pasta was al dente and quite dense, and the flavours were clean and simple. Chunks of pecorino and a more generous mint serving would have added more depth of flavour for me.

The pear, gorgonzola, walnut, prosciutto pizza was good, little light on the cheese, but the crust is both fluffy and crispy. Very unique crust. Octopus salad provides a good serving of octopus (light on the ‘salad’) and was bright and flavorful according to others at the table.

Upon returning to the restaurant later that night, we asked for an off-the-menu affogato (crema ice cream with espresso poured overtop). Done right and much appreciated. I also ate the cannolli with honey and pistachio. Not overly sweet filling and well-crisped shells. Definitely enjoyed it.

Service and Ambience

Our server Christina was great all night, offering friendly recommendations, and serving us promptly. It was nice to have a native Italian to converse with (not all servers are Italian, we just got lucky).

Ambience-wise the place has a modern tavern feel with some nice design choices on the place mats and a quirky light fixture arrangement with tops of fire extinguishers.

The Reco?

I like the concept here and I think it’s executed well for the most part. The prices are reasonable, the food is authentic and we had wonderful service.

Other reviews:
Toronto Life    |     blogTO     |      Toronto Star

Posted by: Jacob, Visited Oct 4, 2011

La Bettola di Terroni on Urbanspoon