Buca

604 King Street WToronto, ON M5V 1M6 Canada • (416) 865-1600 • buca.ca/king.html
 

I hadn’t been to Toronto in over a decade, but I remember having some great meals there. In fact, if you ever read my review of Mercer Kitchen, then you will know that it was the sushi pizza from Toronto that is somewhat responsible for finding my wife. So, it probably goes without saying that I didn’t really need another reason to love the Toronto food scene more than I already do, but then Buca happened.

An epic love story all its own, spanning across eleven rapturous dishes. It was like a scene out of Gone With the Wind- me running into the arms of antipasti, secondi and dolci… and antipasti, secondi and dolci all running into my mouth.

To start, Buca is a massive, industrial space right across the street from another strong Italian option, Gusto 101. That said, Buca is a cut above by all measures, including price tag. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t worth every last loonie.

From the get go, Buca served up more wow’s than Sam and the Firefly, starting with their salmon crudo with goat yogurt, zucchini blossoms, capers, cipollini and dill. Quickly followed delectable, little, warm rosemary, garlic and olive oil bread knots and a strong charcuterie board loaded with assorted cheeses and salumi.

And then Buca stopped playing around and brought the heat. Showing off in the most unlikely of places like a salad of mustard greens filled with berries from a local farm, dressed with goat yogurt and an olive oil of the gods.

This was then chased by a simple, beautiful buratta pizza. But all of this matters not, because the bigoli, aka duck egg pasta with duck offal ragu, venetian spices and mascarpone came in like the second coming and stuck the landing like Mary Lou Retton, crossbred with a cat wearing spikes on its feet.

The prime rib might’ve been the most mortal of the dishes we had or perhaps it was more a dimension of comparison, because it was served back to back with the branzino which stole the show.

For the final act, the dolci, Buca reimagined a Tiramisu with espresso soaked tapioca biscuits, mascarpone and chocolate mousse all layered deep in glass I wish was a yard in hindsight. And while the gelato was no slouch either, after that Tiramisu I could’ve just curled up in a ball and died happy.

Easily among the best Italian restaurants in the world, including Italy.

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Il Leone Mastrantonio

22 Cobern Street | corner of Prestwich, Cape Town Central 8001, South Africa
+27 21 421 0071 • www.mastrantonio.com/il-leone-mastrantonio

This cozy Italian charmer is a pleasant surprise for being hell and gone from Italy. But as good as it is, I assure you it is nowhere even close to as good as the reviews make it out to be on Google and TripAdvisor. So go in with tempered expectations and I think you’ll be happy.

From the outside to the inside, the place has an inviting old-school vibe about it. Sadly, the crowd has an old-school vibe as well, so keep your voice down, because apparently at several places in Cape Town people like to eat in libraries. Luckily they don’t live in New York or they might starve. Either that or they’d live off takeout.

But I digress. In terms of the food, they kick it off right with a visit to the wine room to check out their offerings firsthand. The antipasti offerings are also solid, from the creamy buratta to the grilled octopus and bruschetta. Nothing exceptional, however. The real stars are their pastas. I had both the Bolognese and the carbonara and both hit the el spoto. Again, nowhere near Ultimate status, but for South African Italian, you could do a lot worse.

Like with dessert for example. I found their gelatos to be so lacking in flavor it was hard to tell which flavor was which, coming off more as just scoops of frozen cream.

Via Veneto

3009 Main St. Santa Monica, CA 90405 • (310) 399-1843 • viaveneto.us
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Caught between Capo and Piccolo, Via Veneto is yet another extremely strong, authentic Italian right on Main Street in Santa Monica. They have a great wine list, very good service and a simple, but nice décor.

For eats, I highly recommend doing a split ravioli order as they have some of the best I’ve ever had. Try the lobster and the asparagus as a dynamic duo. Or if you’re into three-ways, add the sweet potato as well- they’re all good. But believe it or not, the asparagus reigns supreme.

They do many other things well too. From carni to antipasti to salads like the caprese. But none of them can even touch the ravioli. So if you don’t think you’re in the mood for ravioli, don’t go. It’d be like going to Disneyland when you’re not in the mood to be around kids.

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La Mela

167 Mulberry Street New York, NY 10013(212) 431-9493 • lamelarestaurant.com

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There are scores of “authentic” Italian restaurants in New York, but most of them require labor intensive decisions on your part, like ordering. Well, at La Mela, which is Italian for “The Apple,” they don’t bother you with such pesky details.

Our server arrived at our table of eight and simply asked “Red or white?” People fell on both sides of the question and so- Boom! BOOM!!! Two magnums of house wine, one red, one white, landed on our table.

Next up, antipasti? Yes or no? We opted for yes and in about 10 minutes or so an assortment of antipasti dishes were spread out before us. Giving everyone a taste of everything. Sort of like in picture above, plates were subdivided at times to make sure we didn’t miss a thing. And it was right about then that I got it. This must be what it’s like to eat at someone’s house in Italy who loves to cook and force feed their guests. I say “force” with love, mind you, because nothing about it felt forced and I truly enjoyed about 90% of what they brought.

For entrees it was- Chicken? Fish or Meat? Or any two? Or all three? We went all three and once again they returned a bit later with a number of dishes each made with the respective protein. And again, they were all pretty good I have to say.

And while one might assume that what came next was dessert, yes or no? Well you would only be half right. Before that, the entire place broke into song, complete with mandolin in hand, as this authentic Italian family danced around the restaurant serenading us while making “interesting” gestures with what can only be described as a giant dildo made of gourdes and Christmas lights. It sounds more offensive than it is. It’s actually quite amusing. And just one of the many things that makes La Mela a memorable, one of a kind experience.

4 teeth

Aromi

Mánesova 1442/78, 120 00 Praha 2-Vinohrady, Czech Republic
+420 222 713 222 • http://www.aromi.cz

126911-14-aromi-prague

When in Prague, the temptation is to take in one of the amazing Czech bier gardens and in all honesty, should definitely do that too. However, if you find yourself growing tired of Eastern European fare, than I strongly urge you to take in one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had in Europe. And strangely enough I’ve been to Italy twice and Aromi is better than 95% of the meals I had in Milan, Rome, Venice, Florence and Tuscany.

From a killer wine list to an amazing olive oil served with the bread, things started off with all systems go and not a hitch followed. Everything was delicious from the antipasti to the pastas, entrees and dessert. And for a land-locked country, even the seafood was excellent.

Service was friendly and attentive, offering great recommendations and the décor is warm and elegant, yet inviting enough to welcome even the most casual of diners.

It was easily my favorite meal in Prague- well, tied for my favorite, after all, bier gardens do have their merits.

5 teeth

Tarry Lodge

18 Mill St. Port Chester, NY10573 • (914) 939-3111tarrylodge.com

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I have been here thrice and I have to say, other than Eataly I think I might like it the best of Batali’s restaurants. And I’ve been to all of them except Po. Granted, Batali isn’t actually the chef at Tarry Lodge, and that may be a good thing, considering it doesn’t seem like he has the time to stay on top of any of them. Perhaps that’s why Eataly works so well?

Some of the highs at Tarry are the Bellinis for brunch, the grilled corn antipasti, the strawberry and fennel antipasti, the pepper antipasti- okay fine, all of the antipastis were pretty damn good.

For the pastas the trio funghi pasta was very good and dessert was also quite toothsome, I believe it was the chocolate cake with bitter orange and pistachio. Pizzas are just okay IMO. Much better “Batali” pies to be had at Mozza and Eataly.

The location is just about the only thing I could flat out do without. It’s in a less than desirable area of Port Chester. But once inside, you’ll forget where you are as you immerse yourself in good service and great food.

4 teeth

Maialino

2 Lexington Ave. New York, NY 10010(212) 777-2410maialinonyc.com

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The bread alone is worth 3  knives. In fact, you have to be very disciplined not to scarf down so much that you can’t enjoy the rest of the menu.

That said, if you manage to exercise some restraint and make it to the menu, the antipasti options we had were all good. The fried artichokes being great. The octopus being solid. And the mushrooms being WOW! Fungus never tasted so good.

As for the pastas, we did a little menage-a-sharesy between the suckling pig, carbonara and the amatriciana. The clear winner was the carbonara, follow by the pig. The amatricana was just so-so.

And for dessert, we all split the olive oil cake with mascarpone. Good-ish, but not amazing.

Decor while casual, has its charms and the location can’t be beat. Also, while the decor itself is far from fancy, there is a distinct high-end vibe to the place so it feels special without feeling ostentatious. And the service matches, friendly and very accommodating.

Looking forward to going back.

4 teeth