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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.