Downtown Italian restaurant for birthday dinner?
I'm taking my boyfriend out for his birthday (we're late 20s) and am leaning towards Italian. Somewhere with amazing gnocchi and a quiet and cozy - but not pretentious - atmosphere would be great. We are not wine drinkers so I prefer somewhere that won't try to push us into ordering a bottle. I am thinking of Trattoria Giancarlo but am wondering if it's maybe a bit too stuffy? Any other suggestions would be great. :)
I'd say via oliveto (on bloor between bathurst and spadina) would fit the bill quite well. It's a nice little family-run place. Very friendly service, and absolutely fantastic homemade gnocchi. There are other, fancier more expensive places with bigger menus and wine lists, but I've never ever had a bad meal at via oliveto. It's also got a nice, warm atmosphere, which was improved by the Restaurant Makeover show. On the wine front, they do have a well-chosen wine list, but they've never tried to push anything on my wife and I. They've got some decent cocktails and beer selections, too. One of my favourite things in there is that they've got a bakery in the basement, and the whole restaurant is often filled with the scent of toasting rosemary. Yes, they do their own bread.
via oliveto's gnocchi is just... sublime to me.... perfect softness to toothiness with a rich and thick tomato sauce that you'll want to eat up with a spoon.
the space is a little open and less cozy but it helps to remove people from around you as if you're all alone. it's very simple and nice. incredibly reasonably priced as well.
Fieramosca is good, but I really love Trattoria Giancarlo, in fact it is one of my favourite places in the city. The food is out of this world, the wine list (although not really a list, more of a wine "wall") is vast and the ambiance is great. Not stuffy, a hint of classy but mostly low key. Go, and get the carpaccio to start.
One of A Kind Pasta and Grill on Queen St near the Trinit Bellwoods Park is one of my favorite restaurants. Very reasonable, with an extensive pasta menu. I've taken my Italian BF and several Italian friends there, and everyone loved it. My favorites are the bianca y nero, a squid ink pasta served with seafood and the One of a Kind pasta, which has everything and the kitchen sink (veggies, duck, shrimp, chicken, sausage, etc). Very cosy and intimate, reservations are a good idea.
For a very special birthday dinner (expensive, but VERY worth it)try Noce, at the corner of Queen Street West and Walnut. A fine menu and lovely service.
For great food in a larger restaurant setting with old fashioned service, try Romagna Mia at George and Front Street West.
The gnocchi at Noce are amazing....very expensive, but probably the best gnocchi I've ever had.
I found Romagna Mia to be excessively salty the last time I went...
Tutti Matti is another good option...they overcooked the fish- but my salad (it was a special that day with fava beans, bocconccini and tomatoes) and the barley risotto were fantastic.
Coincidentally, I was at Trattoria Giancarlo on Saturday night and between the 4 of us, there were only 2 glasses of wine ordered. Over the years, I have found this restaurant to be a bit "attitudey" but friends of ours love it and so we sometimes go with them.
Happy to report that the dinner was one of my more memorable meals in the last several months. No attitude at all came from our near abstention from alcohol. The atmosphere was fantastic - a packed patio and inside (we were inside), lots of candle-light, very friendly service. And yes, the food - highlights were a great bistecca fiorentina (Cumbrae's thick rib-eye, great char-grilled flavour), delicious spaghetti with lemon cream sauce, excellent wild mushrooms with polenta to start as well as an organic salad special with fresh, crisp veggies (tomatoes, cukes, raw candy-stripe beets and a chevre/balsamic dressing). For dessert, we had the molten chocolate cake with salted caramel sauce - heaven. The caprese was okay - fresh high-qualities tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella but it needed salt and a bit more olive oil - and the sides with the steak and grilled garlic shrimp were also a bit blah. I agree that the menu is on the pricey side but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for a nicer evening out.
I'm also a big fan of Noce (prefer their patio to inside, delicious pastas) and Zucca though for cozy cool atmosphere, I'd give Giancarlo the nod.