Nearly two years in Toronto, and I’m still discovering great restaurants within a four-block radius of my home. I’ve always got a restaurant on the other side of the city–or in a different city entirely–on my list, but ask me about some place I can see from my building and I don’t have a clue. Caffe di Portici wasn’t even on the radar, but I wanted to avoid a repeat pizza experience elsewhere, so I hopped on Urbanspoon to search just before the subway went underground. Caffe di Portici popped up with a 94% approval and only two dollar signs. Better yet, just before I lost connectivity, I saw a review from a purported Calabrian native who flew her whole family to TO just to taste the food at di Portici. While this seemed wildly unlikely, the hyperbole sealed the deal and we headed that way.
The great adventure almost ended before it started, as my Android decided to map di Portici at Bay and Scollard. I confidently led the way there–without looking at the address as my helpful friend TV later pointed out–and we trooped through the driving rain to a barren street corner. As I’ve had a certain predilection of late for searching out recently deceased restaurants, I immediately thought that another one had bitten the dust. Luckily, buddy decided to get involved, checked the address, and used Apple Maps (wtf?!) to get us the long block back to Yonge. Meanwhile, we’d already told our other friend KM to turn around because the place was out of business, only to tell him to do another about-face a few minutes later.
It was all worth it once we got inside. We were immediately offered a table in the fancy “upstairs” section. Granted, there are only three stairs, but it still felt good to survey the whole restaurant from our lofty height. There were a good three menus–one multi-page laminate, one in sheet protectors, and one graphic postcard–not to mention the wine list. This felt hard, but we settled in for some serious study while we waited for KM.
The postcard caught my eye even before the wine list (unusual, eh?)–so I studied the list of six or so Fagioli with a helpful picture on the other side. These turned out to be the authentic country cousins of Pasta e Fagioli–sans pasta. Picture Italian chili or a warm bean salad–yum! We narrowed it down to either the Arrabiata or the Bianco and waited for KM to make the final decision. Meanwhile we settled on a bottle of Domaine Boyar Cabernet Sauvignon, pretty much because we’d never ordered a Bulgarian wine before. KM decided on the Fabioli Bianco, which turned out to be a warm and perfectly seasoned mixture of white beans, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and pickled eggplant. Our waiter remarked that it made for a healthy meal, so it seemed like the perfect appetizer for the three of us.
The wine was not bad. I’m a Tempranillo-Rioja-Syrah-Grenache fan when it comes to wine–big and fruity (shut up.)–and this fit the bill. Maybe not as well-rounded or deep as I typically like, but really drinkable. The food was fantasic, and a great value. I had the Beets Pasta, which was a large serving of perfectly al dente rigatoni, roasted beets, balsamic reduction, and house-made tomato sauce. The flavours of this dish worked really well; the spice of the tomato sauce and bite of the vinegar were a nice balance to the earthy sweetness of the roasted beets. The portion was large enough that I saved half for lunch the next day–for $12.95!
KM tried the Pizza Quattro Formaggi, with a crispy-chewy thin crust topped with mozzarella, gorgonzola, parmigiano reggiano, and bel paese. TV went for the Queen Pizza, with mushroom, proscuitto, and mozzarella. Both pizzas looked and smelled great–and got rave reviews. These 10″ pizzas were $11.95 and $12.95 respectively.
Two other aspects of this restaurant are worth mentioning. The first is the overall look and ambience. The decor was really eclectic–lots of bright white, chrome, and glass mixed with displays of Italian products like olive oil, tomato sauce, canned tuna, etc. There were a couple of counters, one “downstairs” and one “upstairs” I think for ordering coffee and pastries during the day. The products displayed around the restaurant were for sale–TV bought two bags of Amaretti cookies ($3 each) made with apricot kernels. We killed one bag over espresso and Sambuca, and he took the other bag home. The place was really lively, with a fun staff and some eclectic customers. Down on the “main floor,” we saw two women practising their mixology for a couple of hours by creating shandy beers and who knows what else. They finally stumbled out with bags of purchased sodas and food. Pretty fun to watch.
More importantly, the staff at di Portici was amazingly friendly and helpful. Our waiter was attentive and engaged, and one of the managers offered us espresso on the house when she found out it was our first time in the restaurant. All together, it made for a great night.
We all agreed we would be back to di Portici–especially in the summer when the big patio we saw will be open!
Facebook Page with Menu: http://www.facebook.com/caffeportici