My tram rattled across Queen Street bound for The Beach. I hopped off at Pape and found myself standing in front of the vintage race car sign which hangs over the entrance of Ascari Enoteca. The sun was just starting to set across the city and I smiled as a crimson orange hue cast itself through the Autumnal foliage in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood.
Ascari was just about to celebrate its one year anniversary. I remember missing out on their media launch party the year before as I was galavanting around the Galapagos so was thrilled to finally indulge. Ascari is brought to you by the fantastic team at Table 17 one of the most popular neighbourhood restaurants in the East End. I reviewed their brunch and dinner last year and was always pleased with the relaxed atmosphere, professional service and execution of their plates.
Ascari would be my fourth restaurant review for Eatzclub a fantastic new Toronto based diners club which supports Daily Bread Food Bank. I have been so pleased to talk to the owners and staff at Blu Ristorante, Chiado, Arisu and now Ascari. All share their honest enthusiasm for being involved in an initiative that gives back to those in need.
I was pleased to have Tina Rasmussen the Artistic Director at World Stage, avid foodie and globe trotter joining me at the table. I had been meaning to invite her to a restaurant review for months. The timing proved to be perfect as she had just returned from Ireland and Korea and I was just about to fly off to South Africa. We spent our dinner chatting secretly about the upcoming season. I was thrilled with the diversity in her programming and can’t wait to check out the World Stage Lineup starting this February!
We started off our meal with two spirited cocktails followed by a white and red suggested as perfect pairings. The kitchen prepared dishes off menu which were whisked in front of our noses two by two (Noah’s Arc analogy rings true). Ascari prides itself on its simple and straight forward menu which showcases inventive salads and pastas that pay a homage to the flavours of Italy.
Throughout the course of our meal Tina and I realized we had much in common: a shared passion for swimming, travel, fine dining and the theatre. As we sipped on our vino and twisted our noodles I realized our common thread: we are both adventure junkies. We discussed the astonishing and often mind boggling high’s one feels when on the road, inspired by dance, storytelling, a new culture, fantastic food and the realization of how one can do something differently. We also laughed about how ingesting all of these experiences is exhausting and often involves a mood of loneliness and forced introspection. I’ve always commented that I write better when I am alone, especially when traveling. While having a companion at the table, on the plane or in the theatre is ideal for your heart and soul…solitude is often most necessary to digest our reactions and properly interpret them into sound judgements and vocalized impressions.
Ascari’s romantic little dining room created a platform for us to both talk about the honest reality of our lives. I found it most interesting when Tina connected our conversation about theatre and travel to the meal we were exploring. She noted, “I would never have ordered half of the dishes which we have had this evening but I’m so surprised and delighted by sampling these new dishes. Adventuring into the unknown to discover a new gem.” An interesting juxtaposition for someone who travels around the globe looking for the worlds finest theatre companies to perform in Toronto. That night Ascari Enoteca’s fantastic dishes acted as a vehicle to express what we are both striving for. Turning our heads away from normal and sampling something fresh, something brand new, that inspires our mind, body and spirit.
We sampled (* notes my favorites)
Stirling Moss *
prosecco, pimms, lemonade, lemon twist
campari, martini rosso, ruby red grapefruit juice, sparkling water
pecorino, lemon zest
Albacore Tuna Conserva *
white beans, pickled red onion, fried bread
Bocconcini di Bufala *
celery, white anchovy, white port vinaigrette, toasted almonds
endive and infornate olive salad, roasted orange mayonnaise, pickled mustard seeds
Linguine alla Puttanesca
tomato, anchovy, capers, smoked cod, gaeta olives
Taliarihi Fungi *
porcini cream, gorgonzola, hazelnuts, mint
Banana Zeppole *
cinnamon sugar, brown butter caramel
Torta di Cioccolato al Olio d’Olive
goat cheese creme fraiche, hazelnuts