ON DAY THREE of its existence, Vero Trattoria on Bayview Avenue is packed by 6:30, and people are still lining up at 9:30 on a Wednesday evening. Even more peek in and keep walking, deterred by the lineup. This in a location that has put the final nail in many a restaurant’s coffin. Why?
Much of the credit must go to owner Joe Bonavota, the directing hand at Bar Italia on College Street. I arrive cranky having been assured that reservations are unnecessary, only to be greeted by a lineup.
However, before I can start whining, a hot piece of aromatic bruschetta is in my mouth. Somehow, throughout the next three hours, Joe manages to keep the line moving, tables turning, and everyone is happy. Even though Vero has just opened, the staff is slick and experienced, and nothing is overlooked.
The room is sleek and simple but punctuated by glittering chandeliers.
Vero is promoted as a home of regional Italian cooking, but other than grilled sardines and stuffed figs, there is little that is novel here. The promised bronzini is, tonight, swordfish. Other than veal dishes and one or two specials, it is all about antipasti, pizza and pasta — fine by me.
As we are choosing, we nosh on warm rosemary focaccia with an artichoke-parmesan spread.
Sarde alla griglia ($9) offers up two grilled sardines, stuffed with fresh herbs, swimming in a sea of lemon. The first mouthful packs a wallop, but by the last bite, I regret having shared it.
Melanzane alla parmigiana ($10) is that old favourite eggplant parmigiana, but oh what a difference a few decades makes. Memories of brick-heavy concoctions fade as we lose ourselves in layers of lightly panfried eggplant topped with a zesty tomato sauce and graced by a blend of grated mozzarella and grano padano cheeses.
Since my pal is doing the pasta thing, and the pizzas at the neighbouring table would feed a small family, I opt for vitello saltimbocca ($22): veal, prosciutto and sage in veal jus served with gnocchi and vegetables. As soon as the plate is set before me, I remember why I rarely eat scallopini — the paper-thin semi-porous meat is devoid of any taste and entirely dependent upon the sauce that blankets it. Here, the jus just isn’t muscular enough, and the result is bland. On the other hand, those gnocchi are ethereal and a mere half dozen is a tease.
Pappardelle all Bolognese ($15) sees flat egg noodles in a meat ragu. The sauce is plentiful with lean meat and tomatoes but could use a bolder hand with spicing. The wine list offers a treat. Rarely do I find Amarone by the glass, and even though this one is a bit rough, it is rich and luscious on my tongue. A plentiful list of wallet-friendly Italian labels is well-suited to this menu.
The last half hour of dinner highlights what is special about Vero. We begin chatting with Chris and Chris at the next table who insist that we share their second bottle of Chianti. Is this really Toronto?
Only two desserts on offer: tiramisù and praline semifreddo, both at $7. The former is overdone but the latter offers some novelty. Essentially it’s a frozen mousse that is custard based; shortcuts are often taken by using gelato as a base. Tonight, the concoction, layered with praline and topped by meringue, is the perfect foil for the strong tastes of the first two courses.
Vero is the kind of eatery that we all hope will open on our block: casual with high energy, good food with gentle prices, and the kind of place where Chris and Chris will offer you some wine.
Ratings are on a scale of one to five stars