Toronto, ON M5V 1M5
Ascari Enoteca has been a favourite in Leslieville for nearly a decade, serving select European wines and fresh handmade pastas in its trendy yet intimate 38-seater. Partners Erik Joyal and John Sinopoli have long been cooking up something on a much larger scale, though, and the new Ascari is now open at King West and Portland Street.
“We always thought Ascari was the kind of concept that had the legs to be in other neighbourhoods,” says executive chef John Sinopoli. “When this location was presented to us, we just knew there was room here for what we do.”
The new space is bright and welcoming, with a floor design that invites movement while protecting the intimate vibe that Ascari Enoteca has carefully cultivated. Joyal and Sinopoli have tucked a portrait wall off to the side that pays homage to famous Formula One drivers from the 1950s, including Alberto Ascari, for whom the restaurant is named after.
“We knew one of our biggest challenges would be figuring out how to maintain the original ethos of east end hospitality when serving a much wider demographic,” recounts Joyal. “But that will always come through our staff, our food, and the stories behind our wines.”
Since Ascari Enoteca is predominantly a wine bar, the new locale’s impressive menu has seized the opportunity to showcase the talents of Sinopoli and chef de cuisine Michael Lam. Old favourites mingle in the company of innovative newbies, and you’ll find yourself pausing to admire the immaculate presentation of each dish before diving in.
“I knew I wanted a whole section just on crudo, and I told chef Michael I wanted fresh, bright textures,” says Sinopoli. “I thought we would work through a few before landing on our signature, but then he presents the sea bream and I knew there was no need to wait—we had found it.”
The Orata ($18) features Mediterranean sea bream, compressed rhubarb, pistachio vinaigrette, and Sicilian olive oil. It’s one of the staff’s favourites and after tasting it, there’s no wondering why.
The agnolotti di zucchine ($25) is one of the new creations you’ll only find at the larger location on King. A truly impressive array of flavours and textures, these handmade bites of pasta are stuffed with ricotta and mascarpone, and topped with a truffle zabaglione (lightly fluffed egg yolks that offer a foamier texture than a custard) and crispy zucchini flowers.
The insalata di burrata ($21) sources delicious burrata from an award-winning Wisconsin producer, and serves it surrounded by crisp spring peas, baby gem salad, and a dusting of mint crumb.
The new menu also features a section of protein-forward dishes like the ippoglosso (Halibut) ($36). An artful display of onions sits with simmered leeks, fregola pasta, and pan-roasted halibut on a bed of chive cream.
Despite the array of new menu items, the restaurant has remained true to many of the classics.
The broccolini fritti ($12) is battered up in a simple combination of flour and water, and finished off with lemon zest and pecorino cheese. The new menu has this favourite sitting alongside three new fritti options, and since all of the batter is egg-free, most fritti can be made vegan if you forgo the pecorino.
Another sacred classic that Ascari regulars will be happy to see is the spaghetti alla carbonara ($23), which brings handmade pasta together with guanciale (smoked pork jowel), pecorino cheese, black pepper, and egg yolk.
The new Ascari's wine program focuses specifically on small producers in mountainous and volcanic regions of Italy. The cocktail menu is fresh and inventive, showcasing high-quality Italian options wherever possible.
Tony DaSilva and Jason Ruggeberg, the cocktail menu curators, have whipped up the ideal choice for summer: Elena’s Eyes ($14). Named after the princess of Montenegro, this cocktail mixes amaro Montenegro and Skyy vodka with lemon, cantaloupe water, soda, and mint – all items which are native to Montenegro.
Ascari also hopes to bring a bit of Italy to the pace of the 9-5 grind with the introduction of its aperitivo hour, where patrons can trickle in from surrounding offices, buy a cocktail, and graze from a spread of complimentary antipasto.
“In Italy, this ‘cocktail hour’ can range from carb-loaded dishes at kitschy pubs to sophisticated hotel ‘high-tea’ type things,” explains Sinopoli. “But what it really is, is social. And that right there is what we want to bring to the neighbourhood.
Posted on: June 25, 2019 By: Saliha Chattoo