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Quattro Ragazze (follow up: specific It. rest req)

So, pangolin and the kitchen rats went to Quattro Ragazze (1792 Danforth) this evening. My brief take on it is, if you go with the proper attitude and expectations, you'll have a great time. Don't expect Centro, etc.

Here's the long version:
There's a slight disconnect, in that the design/decor is a little more sophisticated than the menu and the service, but not terribly so. As well, if you visit the website, the website is a bit misleading; the tableclothes are not red-and-white check - they're in fact white (how dare they?).

We four entered, and were shown to a table (very spacious - could have seated six), and given our menus. We decided on drinks quickly (bottle white, bottle red, a couple bottles of water), and the wine was delivered, and opened, and the server left. The wine was ours without tasting from the bottle. The wine list is quite limited, having five reds by the bottle and one white (a so-so garganega/chardonnay blend). We ordered our antipasti, and delayed ordering the mains. The server's response to staggering the order: no problem. Before I continue further, I should say that the menu is designed as individual plates, but we explained to our server that our plan was to share "family style", so she brought large individual plates so that we could treat the delivered dishes as serving platters. What follows below is the collective verdict of four of us - there was very little disagreement about anything.

Our antipasti:
Breaded artichokes: these arrived in a sizzling dish with garlic and parsley, and was one of the highlights of the meal. All of us were suffering from the heat this evening, and it was a great reviver. Everyone wanted more.
Bruschetta with anchovies: great, even for those who fear anchovy, because there is also tomato, in perfect balance to mollify the salty bite. Everyone agreed that this was excellent.
Antipasto Italiano (for two): would have been enough for three, easily. Very nice selection of assorted salume and veg. Given the price, the bocconcini was surprisingly good and slightly fresh, not rubbery.

The mains:
Linguini carbonara: generous portion; its only fault was an assertive saltiness, which we couldn't decide was because of the pig or a heavy hand (I strongly suspect the latter). That said, two rats took more from the plate.
Fried calamari: not battered, but a light flour dusting. Greaseless. Lovely. Light. Tender. Dressed only with lemon.
Risotto del giorno: this giorno, it was portabello and saffron. Unbelievable, the saffron was not over-played, but was merely a grace note. Not a huge amount of mushroom, but certainly tasting of it. One of the rats said it could have used more cheese, but given how much food we ordered, and the temperature outside, less cheese was, in my opinion, a virtue.
Veal Chop with veggies: ordered medium rare, and so delivered. At $13.95, I was expecting something small, or grossly substandard. (Disclosure: I was in the mood for veal, but given the price, I ordered this as a test.) The veal was not the very best quality, but it was really good, and actually quite large. Everyone at the table was surprised. It was strongly, properly, seasoned. The veggies were rather a careless after thought. Not bad, just phoning it in.
Lamb chops: ordered medium rare, and so delivered. Praised by the person who ordered it (I was getting full, so I didn't taste), though the vegetation was the same as with the veal chop. Both the veal and lamb came with roasted potatoes - quite good.

Dessert:
One pistachio gelato, one hazelnut gelato, one chocolate cannolo, espresso all around.
Next time, I'm saving room for gelato, and I am not a sweets eater. They had a lovely, refreshing intensity. The cannolo was very nice. The espresso had none of that insipid watery quality that is increasingly common - good crema.

Service: Friendly, and informal. This is very much a family place. Some might find the service a bit slow, BUT.... if you're in the neighbourhood, you're not going anywhere else - you came for dinner, because there's not much reason to be in the neighbourhood. As well, from the beginning, I think that we had the vibe of a table that was settling in for the night, without anywhere to rush to. On the upside, it means that you're not going to be rushed out because they want to turn the table two - or three - times over the course of the evening. They weren't rushing us out.

The wine list does need a bit of attention. The one white had a slightly oily and sweet quality which wasn't really desirable. It's obvious that the list has been chosen for value - and good on them for doing that - but it could be done a bit better. That's a minor complaint.

As to style... this is not boutiquey Italian cuisine. This is rustic, Italian home cooking. It's true to its roots. It doesn't pretend to be anything that it isn't. This isn't Mario Battali (God love him, because I respect him without reservation) - it's his nonna.

So, all that food (oh, and there were doggy bags), three bottles of wine, two Heineken, espressi, water.... for four, $250 including tax, not tip. And (as Nigella Lawson would say), how good is that?

Highly recommended for a long, informal night out. And, you could probably bring the kids without much problem. What kid doesn't love spaghetti and meat balls?

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  1. Great - thanks for the review. I've been meaning to visit here since it's in my 'hood. I'll have to rustle up some of my own 'rats' for a visit.

    1. Thank you for your thoughful and thorough review. Sounds like you guys had fun! I will check this place out, especially since I can walk there (and stagger home).

      1. I'm glad this place has been brought up as I've had a couple of tasty meals there. Try the sandwiches, they are huge, cheap and delicious. Especially the eggplant at 4.95. I also second the recommendations for the antipasto and the anchovie bruschetta. The sun-dried tomatoes are homemade by the owner's sister in Sicily. The wine list was short and expensive but we asked for house wine by the litre and it was much more reasonable.

        Marie

        1. I've been wanting to try this place for quite a while. The only thing holding me back? The wine list. Good Italian food without good Italian wine is pointless. Please implore them to improve it. One of the many joys of Italian wine is that it doesn't have to be expensive and revered to be good. Buying for value is easy. They just need to make the effort. In the meantime, I'll keep checking their website.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Googs

            For our two bottles of red, we went with a Nero d'Avola, which was quite acceptable.

          2. Great review. Thank you for being so thorough and detailed!

            1. Another Restaurant Makeover legacy?
              Used to be called Europe Planet http://www.foodtv.ca/ontv/titledetail... but is now called Quattro Ragazze http://www.europe-planet.com/specials...
              Sounds like the owners are struggling to live up to the "high bar" established by Executive Chef Corbin Tomaszeski.
              It would be interesting to have comments from someone who
              a) new the old restaurant
              b) saw the show
              It sound very much like my local family italian restaurant MezzaNotte Trattoria (too many kids & too nosy for an old guy like me...)

              3 Replies
              1. re: dancingTimmy

                I didn't see the episode of Restaurant Makeover (I watch very little Food Network anymore), and I didn't know the old place, but I'd like to know what about my review made you think that they were "struggling to live up to the 'high bar'". Bollocks. The food was executed with assurance. You'll note that the only thing I really criticised was the wine selection, and that really does require attention, but otherwise I was quite pleased. And, just to be clear, I said that it would be a good place to take the kids, which with so many of my friends having kids now, I realise can be an issue for the fecund hound; not that there were kids.

                1. re: hungry_pangolin

                  Tried the veal sandwich (take ou) - it WAS huge as another poster noted, and GOOD! Crispy exterior, tender meat, v. nice sauce, melted cheese, but no other things that I usually go for e.g. mushrooms, onions, hot peppers, but I'm sure I could have asked & received since thet seem like really hospitable people. I intend to go for dinner next time I'm in the mood for a "red sauce joint" kinda meal. I did notice that portions seemed enormous..... as for the makeover, I saw the show and I probebly would have been repelled from trying the food because the decor was so very cheesy before, but now the place seems a bit sterile, non Italian, morte of a concept than a restuarant. I think they should bring back the red check tablecloths and the basket chianti bottles with really drippy candles! Dim the lights, play some opera, and GET RID OF THE GODAMM T.V.!!

                2. re: dancingTimmy

                  I didn't see the show but we've eaten there before and after.
                  The people who run the restaurant are really friendly and their kids are usually around the restaurant, so it's in no way a fancy pants place. It does look fantastic now compared to how it used to look.
                  We used to get take-away pasta fairly frequently and while before the quality seemed to veer on and off (we guessed they had two cooks who alternated nights working but that was pure speculation) the food was always good but some nights it was better than other times. We've had one awful pasta meal post Restaurant Makeover. The previously delicious pasta arrabiata was tomato sauce mixed with hot pepper flakes the last time we ordered pasta from them. It was crazy bad.
                  Their pizza remains delicious, although it had some weird salt and dried herbs combo sprinkled on it the other night, but the pasta gets one more chance only.
                  I hope the curse of Restaurant Makeover doesn't strike because we need more decent restaurants in our neighbourhood.

                3. Went to this restaurant recently, and was strongly biased towards liking the restaurant after seeing Restaurant Makeover. Unfortunately, I won't be going back. Here are a few observations:

                  - having our order taken by a 12? year old didn't work out so well - many simple requests threw her for a loop (understandable at that age)
                  - menu was appealing
                  - appetizers were good (breaded artichokes, bruschetta)
                  - mains were tasty, but were very heavy, oily, salty, and large; I can't really enjoy food like that anymore
                  - sitting at the front, we got cigarette smoke pouring in from the patio (I don't mean a little, it was a LOT), as well as exhaust. When I asked if the large sliding front window could be closed, the server closed it half way saying it would get too hot otherwise. A little strange, as it was a cool night around 8:30pm, and the front door was still open as well. Unfortunately closing it half-way did not do much, as the two openings were causing a circular air flow pulling all the outside air right past our table.
                  - the wine list was very poor - out of desperation I went with hungry_pangolin's suggestion of Nero d'Avola, and sorry to say, it was terrible. A vinegary table wine. I was suspicious when ordering it, as it was the cheapest on the menu...I would try your luck with something else on the list. I agree with Googs, decent Italian wine doesn't have to cost a lot.
                  - the wine was not poured, just left on the table uncorked; if it was bad, too bad for us

                  Overall, while the staff was in general very nice, and the decor is great, the food, wine, and service just don't cut it, and I say this in comparison to several other simple neighbourhood Italian restaurants that I have enjoyed.

                  Having said all that, I will go back and try the sandwiches for take out some time.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: SNACKeR

                    I don't think that the nero d'avola was the cheapest, but I might be wrong about that. It does sound as though it was off - you should have sent it back. That said, I do agree with you about the wine list needing to be addressed (as above). I'm curoius what your oily mains were.

                  2. Been here three times. Once for a take out eggplant "panini", once just for spaghetti putanesca and once for gnocchi and chicken Calabrese.

                    The panini was phenomenal, basically eggplant and sauce and some cheese on an amazing Italian bun. Filled me right up.

                    The spaghetti was a bit too salty for my taste, as before, you can blame the anchovies, or you can blame the chef's hand, I'm not going to judge which.

                    The gnocchi was astoundingly good, a simple tomato sauce with delicate gnocchi, a bit of melted mozarella, and some fresh basil leaf torn up in the mix. The same can be said for the chicken, not too oily, and the herbs and olives and artichoke and other vegetables were an amazing complement.

                    Like everyone says, not an elite Italian place. But, comparing it with Gerrard Pizza down the street, I think I get better value for my money here. The staff can be a bit young, but I had no problems last night getting my order served the way I wanted it. As long as this place is open, I will be visiting it.

                    1. +

                      -----
                      Quattro 4 Ragazze
                      1792 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4C1H8, CANADA

                      1. Looking for food in the east end one evening, we drove past Quattro Ragazze and decided to check it out. We remembered getting a good vibe (we seldom do) when watching their Restaurant Makeover episode last week.

                        This place is a gem. There are no pretensions and they do what they claim to do very well. You are eating with an Italian family, pure and simple. Dad cooks, Mom serves and does pretty much everything else. When it gets busy, they get their daughters to help out (they live upstairs).

                        Yes, this is "rustic", red sauce kind of food. There isn't a vast menu and the food is not sophisticated at all. But everything we tried seemed fresh and and tasted good. It's also a real bargain.

                        Everything was made to order, so things took a while to arrive. The bread was exceptional, a blazing hot loaf of crusty sourdough. A large bowl of butter portions came with it, rather than the oil now served at most Italian places.

                        House salads came next. These were mainly iceberg with lots of red onion in a red wine vinaigrette with some dried herbs. This sounds pretty blah, but everything was fresh, crisp, and refreshing. Hopelessly untrendy, but it seemed appropriate and it tasted good.

                        The manicotti, a large portion, was excellent. The pasta tubes were al dente. The ricotta was light and fluffy, with a layer of gooey mozzarella adding interest. The red sauce was basic, but it had no real faults. We would definitely have it again.

                        The chicken parm "panini" wasn't the expected pressed sandwich, but more a toasted sub. It, too, was excellent. The cutlet was freshly cooked and then layered with sauce and cheese and toasted on that great bread. Served blazing hot, it took ten minutes to cool to an eating temperature. It was huge - well over a pound - and easily shareable by two people with normal appetites. There were no embellishments on the sandwich, but we were told, when we asked, that things like peppers, mushrooms, and onions are available on request. (They should mention this on the menu.) Several other people were eating the veal sandwich, which was equally huge. They were happy too.

                        We didn't have room for dessert or coffee, and the leftovers provided two nice lunches for the next day. These meals, with two glasses of a serviceable (though hardly special) red wine and one beer, cost about $40. If you aren't extremely ravenous and go easy on the booze, this place can be cheaper than eating at home. We could have shared one sandwich ($7) and left happily full - and they are perfectly okay with customers doing that..

                        While I didn't have the breaded artichokes, I asked about them, assuming them to be canned or frozen, the norm in the Toronto area even at some high end places. They were visibly offended, and assured us that the artichokes were fresh. They make their own gelato, but only in warm weather. They are extremely kid friendly, though it isn't a "family restaurant" vibe.

                        The makeover, about one year old, has some problems. The decor is easy on the eye, but lacking in character. The chairs are awful, with no meaningful padding in the seats. Now I understand how RM can provide custom chairs on their budget - we decided these were sort of "representations" of chairs. The banquettes are more supportive, if not perfect.

                        This is much better food, and a much more extensive menu, than the locally famous Columbo's Pizzeria (next door), at similar prices. Gerrard Pizza (nearby) has more variety, but it isn't better and it costs much more.

                        We will definitely return.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: embee

                          Agree with you, embee. I've eaten there a few times now, and the food has always been quite good, including the pizzas, which were thin-crust, made in front of the kitchen window (there's nothing hidden here), and laden with flavourful toppings.

                        2. I finally got there last week. It was awesome.

                          I can’t believe that place had a Restaurant Makeover. Yeesh. I mean, it’s not hideous or anything, but now I understand what they mean by makeover. It’s so obviously a surface touch-up. And after two years, whatever gloss it had then has faded. Again, not an ugly restaurant, but very much a no frills type of atmosphere. Maybe a notch above that. Barely. But very homey and very welcoming. Most of this has to do with the people that run it.

                          The food: To me the star was the linguine carbonara. To me at least, one of the best pastas I’ve ever tasted. Jesus was it special. I kept on picking at it from my friend’s plate. I was jealous I hadn’t ordered it. It was gorgeous.

                          I had a veal sandwich (was very happy they do paninis for dinner, and not just lunch, good for them). It was wonderful, made from scratch and with love. I skipped the mozz/parm and asked for onions/mushrooms instead. I really love this sandwich. The bread it comes on is amazing too. It kind of rides the border of being too crusty for a sandwich, but fresh and warm and really really tasty. The tomato sauce was real nice, but I could’ve used less of it. I still prefer San Francesco’s veal sandwich to QR’s, but I guess they are just different beasts.

                          The breaded artichokes were nice. It was the first time I’ve ordered that in a restaurant, as it’s not something that’s really offered in many (if any?) Toronto restaurants. I guess that’s something you’d eat at someone’s home if you were lucky enough to be invited. They were very lemony, savory, but not too rich with butter and breadcrumbs. And hit with such nice and fresh parsley. While I really appreciate this dish, I don’t think it’s something I’d make a mainstay. For me at least. It’s very good though.

                          The owners/staff are lovely. Attentive without bothering, but give you plenty of time to relax and do your own thing. It was nice to sit for a couple of hours and not feel either rushed or totally ignored. They are very accommodating, and very sweet. Killer, hot loaf of bread to start (on the house), not your usual crappy and indifferent whitebread loaf. Thought it was odd that they had red wine vinegar in lieu of balsamic for dipping. Which didn’t really float my boat. I was happy with just the olive oil and butter, so that was fine. Great latte. Gelato was homemade, but, I don’t know…..kinda chewy, believe it or not. I’ve never experienced that before. Is this common in Sicily? Chewy gelato. That was new to me, not sure if I liked that. But snaps for them for making it themselves. They’re not gelato experts but at least they’re trying.

                          Prices are very reasonable. Can’t wait to go back. That carbonara is calling my name. The pizza looked damn good too. As did the meatballs…

                          1. Our meal was disgusting...seriously. The garlic bread was edible although extremely garlicy. The calzone and the veal parmigiana and pasta were awful. I think making pasta at home with a jar of Ragu would have been much better.
                            We were there on a Monday and the only ones in the rest., the service was bad....I had to get up twice, once to ask for more wine and another time to ask for the bill.
                            I know we all have different tastes but come on how can anyone say this food is edible???

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: katbri

                              That is so far afield from our experiences there that it is startling, even given different tastes. Their food has no pretensions and, within the framework they set for themselves, we have found it exceptional.

                              The service is, to put it mildly, casual. They are often empty. We have sometimes been served by their kids, who have to get mom to serve any alcohol. On at least one visit, a daughter cooked our meal and it was better than when dad (the chef) was cooking. We usually need to go to the bar to get the bill.

                              The homemade gelato can be a bit gummy. Everything else has consistently been at least good (the simplistic salads), and usually very good to excellent.

                              Is there any place in the east that you really like?

                              Does anyone else have a recent report?

                              1. re: embee

                                I went about 3 months ago. We were the only table there. Service was casual, but still attentive enough. Dad was cooking, mom and daughter served us. Risotto was very tasty, one of the best I've had in Toronto. Spaghetti bolognese was a very generous portion, good homestyle Italian. No complaints here.

                                1. re: embee

                                  I've been wanting to try it out for over 6 months. I'll head over there in the next week and report back.

                                2. re: katbri

                                  Agree with embee that I find this startling. I haven't been in a few months but we were quite happy with our breaded artichokes, gnocchi and spaghetti (and the bread, which was warm and tasty).

                                  I was disappointed at another time with the heavy-handedness of dried herbs on their chicken calabrese (why not use fresh herbs in the summer) but wouldn't have called it 'disgusting'.

                                  One of the young daughters served us and she was charming.

                                  1. re: JamieK

                                    I've been meaning to go there again soon. Last time I was there (two months ago) I had one of their eggplant sandwiches and it was as delicious as always. Agree about the herbs on the calabrese, although otherwise it's quite yummy, and not a big fan of their fra diavolo pasta dish or the chicken parm sandwich (a tad greasy), but everything else there has always been a winner for me.

                                    Calling the service "casual" is a good description. Casual but not heedless.

                                    Set your expectations to a very good local Italian place and you won't be disappointed.

                                  2. re: katbri

                                    Hey, katbri, we weren't talking about your food...Do you think we were there eating your meal??? It's possible that yours was disappointing, would have disappointed others, but the several times I've been there, everyone at my table enjoyed their food. And Ragu wouldn't have come close.

                                    1. re: Full tummy

                                      Maybe growing up with Italian friends and having spent 6 weeks in Italy this summer have refined my taste buds to authentic Italian cuisine.
                                      I am standing my ground on this one, the food was terrible. I am startled myself that so many of you found it good.

                                      1. re: katbri

                                        This place has no pretensions of serving refined Italian cuisine. They serve North American adaptations of some Italian region's peasant grub. I've always found it to taste good (though I do agree with one earlier comment about too many dried herbs).

                                        I had feared, based on your report, that one of my favourite cheap eats places in the east end had really gone down the tubes (we haven't been there in a few months). I'm beginning to think you are judging them by a different, much higher standard. Still, they aren't often busy and could have begun taking shortcuts.

                                        Other current experiences still sought!

                                        1. re: embee

                                          Embee, maybe you should go over and report back. I realised that my review would not be as useful as I have never been there so can't determine if it has changed. Then I can decide if I should go try it out. :-)

                                          1. re: foodyDudey

                                            I'm trying to lose thirty pounds. While I do slip occasionally for something really special, Quattro Ragazze is an anytime meal out. It's not a good place to stay on the wagon - too close, too inexpensive, too much fattening food.

                                            Katbri doesn't have a long Chowhound record, but the posts to date do seem sincere. It isn't really about whether Quattro Ragazze has "changed" so much as whether their food still tastes good.

                                          2. re: embee

                                            I think we were there in early September. It was about how you described, well-done North American versions of Italian peasant grub. I think it was empty when we came in, but a couple of other customers came in while we were eating. I had the spaghetti and meatballs, my wife had a pizza.

                                            Nothing spectacular, but I'd go back if I were in the neighborhood.

                                          3. re: katbri

                                            Love to know what Italian restaurants you do like in Toronto, always excited to see a review of a new or old place to add to my list of restaurants to visit.

                                            1. re: katbri

                                              Second Pincus' request!

                                        2. Went for dinner last night, had the breaded artichokes and the carbonara. Same experience as always, enjoyed every minute for what it is, left happy. Still get salad and bread with the pasta, and I didn't find the carbonara too salty, unlike the OP. Perhaps we had a different chef each time.

                                          No evidence of short-cuts from what I had.