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Nov 14, 2008 08:18 PM

Italian Festival menus - Zucca is 1000%


Only sampled the Zucca menu so far, it was EXCELLENT. Probably the best value of the lot.
Four courses, $60, plus wines as you wish and taxes.
First course - The mousse like rapini-cheese that came with the berkshire red wine sausage - my favourite dish of the whole dinner.
Secondi - Noodles with wild mushroom sauce - tasted rather salty, and the "noodles" (their term, not mine) were tough. I could not eat them - but I have never been able to eat Zucca's house made pastas. I know that the Kiwi chef at Zucca is passionate about authenticity, however I've eaten a lot of home made pasta in Italy and it's never been as heavy and tough as it is at Zucca.
Perhaps I'm a pasta neophite and am missing something - but tough heavy pasta that costs a lot and ends up being thrown out because the customer can't chew it sounds wrong to me.
Third course - Semolina crusted pickerel on braised lentils with roasted fennel (YUM!) - very good indeed. I recommend this dish - but by now you would be pretty full if you are going with the Italian Seasons menu, so you might not finish it - it's generous!
Pudding - wonderful cornmeal puff with blueberries and whipped cream.
I think the Italian Festival Menu is tremendous value, and Zucca is, in my opinion, the best Italian restuarant in Toronto for food and wine.
They have one domineering waiter who gets on everyone's nerves......"your" evening is all about "him" and he will demand that you pay attention to him rather than your dinner companions.
This is a resturant doing terrific Italian food in an authentic way, (pasta excepted) but it is neither owned or operated or staffed by Italians, so that natural Italian "hospitality factor" will never be there. The kind of warm, unpretensious greeting you get at places on St. Clair West. like Di Gianni.
But the chef keeps me a constant customer.

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  1. KV, I have to take exception to your pasta exception. I was waiting until I had enough time to write up the dinner my GF's & I had there this past week. Let me just quickly say this:

    The Italian Seasons Festival menu at Zucca was without a doubt one of the most mindblowing great meals we've had in a good long while. It was $55 for 4 courses the night we went there. Not sure when the price went up, but after having it I'm not surprised. We stumbled into it quite by accident not knowing there even was an Italian Fest. I know, I know... baaaaad CH. One look at that ravioli dish on the menu and, of course, one enquiry to see if I could order it a la carte and our fates were sealed.

    This chef is one of the most creative, imaginative chefs in this city with a beautiful, empathetic palette. There is love in every morsel. I have no idea why he doesn't get more accolades and why people don't beat a path to his door. He isn't Italian as you point out, but as my friends said that night "you know I like the food here a whole lot better than Mistura". He is a real leader in new dishes. His use of local, seasonal ingredients is natural to him having done it for years, not just some bandwagon approach to cooking.

    The puree of savoy cabbage was a hedonistic experience, the carpaccio of sunchoke and pear very playful, the truffle scented hand rolled noodles were an earthy, yes salty delight. Then the ravioli. What starts as a treat visually, next greets you with great mouthfeel. Not certain how they achieved this crunchy sugary bits feel, but oh my goodness!!! And the taste? Well thank heavens its portioned for 4 courses. Too much of this and I might have fainted. Next up was the roasted guinea hen breast. Now you think this is going to be your basic thrill-free dish executed in the same way so many serve up comfort food. Not so here. Here chef elevates it to "Mom meets Paris". One gf had the osso bucco and the other gf just had to try. They both declared it the juciest, tastiest version they'd had in Toronto. Given how frequently and extensively the one travels through Italy that's quite high praise. We finished with the roasted bosc pear. The perfect cap to the perfect meal.

    Simply put, I cannot wait until I return to Zucca.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Googs

      I must agree, and have always said that Zucca is the number one Italian in Toronto.
      Pasta is a preference, and I love the way it is cooked firm, as in my mind this is how it should be.
      Must return soon...

      1. re: erly

        #1 Italian in Toronto?! Come on...let's be realistic here, although they are quite good, especially when it comes to bang for the buck, Il Mulino blows them out of the water.

        1. re: Sadistick

          It is wonderful to get all perspectives.
          I stand by Zucca over Il Mulino, for service as well as the excellent food.
          I have been to Il Mulino many times with friends of the owners.
          Great service and excellent food.
          Without them good not great food, and sometimes neglect.

          1. re: erly

            Interesting, Il Mulino eh? I checked out the website Sadistick and erly. Menu seems fair. No prices though posted. Any tips? Thanks

            1. re: BokChoi

              Erly - surprised to hear you did not get great food without your friends there - what did you order?

              BokChoi - I would highly recommend trying one of their seafood special carpaccio dishes, and their Smoked duck and truffle pasta is amazing!

              1. re: Sadistick

                I have not been to Il Mulino in about a year, so can't tell you about that particular meal, except that we were six people and had quite decent food..
                Our best meal there, by far there was a private evening with wine pairing.. for "special " customers only.
                Sadistick, you must be one of the regulars, always greeted with hugs at the door..
                Zucca on the other hand is on our permanent list, whenever we crave Italian.
                Nothing wrong with Il Mulino, and if Zucca wasn't around, we would probably go more often.

                1. re: Sadistick

                  Thanks Sadistick and erly for the comments about Il Mulino.

      2. Wow, that's a good CH tip. I live near there and know Andrew (the chef) and Blair the GM so I'll definitely head over soon.

        1. I have often said that Zucca is one of the great sleeper restaurants in this city and definitely one of the best, if not the best, modern Italian (even if not prepared or served by Italians). I don't get there as often as I should - it kind of falls out of my mind, for some reason. I have only ever enjoyed the freshest of ingredients, deliciously prepared. Service has always been friendly and very professional. If I could change one thing, I'd somehow infuse a bit of energy into the room - it's a little too sedate for my liking. Other than that, it's great. Thanks for the reminder.

          1 Reply
          1. re: peppermint pate

            Oh I almost forgot to mention they opened with this amazing grilled Rosemary spiked polenta we just couldn't get enough of. A real palate opener. As well, their lovely breads come with fantastic tasting house blended olive oil. Sssshh. Don't tell anyone it isn't pure OO. I can see why he does it though. Complex, delicious, real depth of flavour. Try not filling up on THAT before your mains come. I dare ya.

            If anyone cares to dip their toes in the water first, you might try the prix fixe for $25 they run Mon-Wed. I haven't done it since my challenge is trying not to order everything.

          2. Thanks for the review KitchenVoodoo,

            I did not realize this festival was running. I will make reservations soon. Thanks for the tip!

            Googs, the polenta sounds amazing. I must try it.

            Question to anyone that has tried this festival, or the restaurants listed: I am trying to decide between 3 options:

            1) Zucca; I have been here previously and enjoyed their $25 prix fixe. Excellent pasta - would definitely go here again, but I also want to try someplace different

            2) Mistura: I have been here for winterlicious last year and was quite happy with my meal. I have always meant to go back, but have not had a chance. Thoughts on their menu? It looks quite regular - thinking I should just go back during non-festival period

            3) Via Allegro: tjr pointed this one out to me a while back and their festival menu includes the horse tartare and a bison tenderloin - right up my ally. I love different types of meat and game. I don't know what the regular prices of these items are - their website is absolutely useless and does not provide any information. Does anyone know much about their regular menu? The price ranges? Differences in quality and price between lunch and dinner? I am planning to pick up my SO from the airport and was thinking I could stop by for a nice lunch there - thoughts? I could call them up, but I doubt they would tell me objectively whether or not the festival package is of good value, nor would they tell me an objective answer when comparing their lunches and dinners.


            14 Replies
            1. re: BokChoi

              BokChoi, I think $90 for a selection of exactly one dish per course is highway robbery for something Via Allegro's so obviously production lining. A quick add of the cheapest dishes from each course Mistura's offering is $74. On principle alone I'd take Mistura over VA. Your SO may appreciate the freedom to choose as well.

              If you have any questions about the Zucca ISF experience I'd be happy to answer them.

              1. re: Googs

                I've had an excellent bison main at Via Allegro before (around $50). Given that it's a four course menu, and their cheapest menu item on the normal menu is about $20, I think $90 is a fair price, and probably worth it. Cheapest pasta mains are $20, other mains anywhere from that to $100, though most are in the $30-50 range. If you're concerned about budget, you should probably just go to Zucca, which is $30 less pp; you won't save much money by going to Mistura (see below).

                I'm not really an expensive = bad person like Googs, since I care more about the food than the price (I'll usually try the food before forming opinions and assuming that it's a rip off, unless I hear a lot of bad reviews), but everyone has different budget constraints! Though Via Allegro is certainly not cheap (and yes, the room is gaudy and usually quite loud, since the restaurant tends to be packed), I've never had anything bad there. I've never been for lunch though, so I can't tell you what it's like. They also have a really incredible wine (and whiskey) list, if this interests you.

                Mistura is also excellent. The items might be a bit more pedestrian, but their food is usually quite good. I don't know about a $36 scaloppine (especially if you're looking for value), but I'd probably say that everything on their menu is going to be pretty good based on past experience (again, I haven't had their Italian Festival menu). My only complaint (this isn't really a complaint) would be that their risotto isn't on the menu, because it's excellent (though I'm sure you could order it on the side if your appetite allows it)!

                A numbers note: Mistura's offering is actually over $80 if you average out the prices per course, so unless you're just going to order all the cheapest menu items, it's not going to be $74. In reality, there is only a $6 difference between Via Allegro and Mistura.

                Zucca, the cheapest of the three, has great food as well, and their pastas are very good (their $25 prix fixe is a pretty nice value considering how good their pastas are -- the salad and dessert are usually not really worth mentioning though). Googs' description sounds pretty incredible, so you should probably try it out! The menu looks really nice, and considering how well-executed their food is in general, I don't think you'd have a bad time here! I haven't been recently, but I'll probably go to try out this menu.

                Depending on how much money you're willing to spend, I don't think you'd be disappointed by any of the options (they're all great). Via Allegro is probably the farthest drive for you, as it's out by Sherway Gardens. If you're looking specifically at price, go with Zucca, as you'd probably find both Mistura and Via Allegro on the expensive side. Via Allegro definitely doesn't have much choice in their menu, so you might want to make sure the person you're taking is also interested in these dishes! Mistura has the smallest portions of the three as well, if this is a concern.

                Good luck, let us know how it goes!

                1. re: tjr

                  Thanks so much for the thorough review, tjr. Wow, I am so very impressed by this response. And thanks for the comments on value as well. I was very impressed with Zucca's prix fixe a while back, because of the pasta, and yes I would agree with you about the desserts and salads. But that pasta was quite amazing, especially given the fact that I had just returned from a trip to Italy not long before going to Zucca.

                  Perhaps according to your review, I should probably get around to trying them all. Via Allegro's menu seems a bit much for me right now, perhaps I will go during regular time and try a few dishes to get a feel for it. Probably not wise to go all in the first time (I am quite risk adverse sometimes when we get to these price ranges). Thanks for the advice and suggestions.

                  I have had mistura's risotto and do remember it being quite good. I enjoyed my meal there and will definitely go back - just have not had an opportunity yet (my usual dining companions tend to shy away from Italian - which I do not understand).

                  I will definitely be in touch again when I make a reservation at VA or Mistura to probe you for which dishes to try. The game meats are the most intriguing for me right now, so I really want to try the horse meat and the bison (have you tried the bison?).

                  Thanks so much for your advice. You have solidified my decision, now if only I can get a reservation - I'll do that right now.

                  Thanks tjr.

                2. re: Googs

                  Thanks so much Googs.

                  First question - what would you recommend, the ISF, or the prix fixe M-W? What is the better value/experience?

                  Then onto the meat of the question - if you were to recommend ISF:

                  If I am just heading there with my SO and we therefore have to narrow down the choices - What dishes would you recommend?

                  For appetizers, I am leaning towards anything but the carpaccio of pear (basically I am not really leaning 'towards', but rather leaning 'away')
                  For Primis, first choice is the ravioli (strangely, it sounds almost exactly like a ravioli I made from a recipe on epicurious.com a while back - I am interested to try their version. I love the ingredient combination), and the other two are tied for the second choice (originally, I was going to get the truffle scented pasta, but KV's review made me think twice).
                  For Secondis, SO's first choice is the Osso Bucco, and normally I would have gotten the hen, but Kitchen Voodoo's review of the pickerel makes that so tempting (but I am not usually a fan of pickerel - that's the only problem). So I am quite torn.

                  Suggestions Googs and KV?

                  1. re: BokChoi

                    Allow me to respond to both of you BokChoi and tjr.

                    tjr, I am not of a mind that expensive = bad. I believe in value for the money. The best Italian dinner I've had to date was at Agata et Romeo in Rome. I treated hubby that night. I paid the bill with a wide, satisfied smile on my face. I feel I received excellent value for the money. The price I paid would make your hair stand on end. No matter. It was worth every penny especially seeing how happy it made hubby.

                    What I object to is that Via Allegro's only offering one dish per course. That's not a tasting menu. That's a taste menu. I believe it should be more flexible than that allowing diners to share and experience different dishes together. For $90 plus an additional $40 for wine pairings, yet in it's way it's a good price, but the lack of choice is almost hostile towards the customer.

                    BokChoi, you may solve some of your choice issues by mixing and matching with your GF as my friends and I did. In the context of sharing the wealth of two dishes per course here's my suggestions for what they're worth.

                    In app's you may enjoy the puree of savoy cabbage which is way sexier than it sounds. Try having the Berkshire pork sausage if you wish to stick to savoury flavours which I have a feeling you prefer over sweet. I've had similar ravioli dishes many times in many restos. I'd not had one where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Until now. Zucca pulls the ingredients together to wow, balanced effect. Don't miss it. I found the tinti tartufati alla boscaiola to be a good counterpoint to the ravioli although I don't think you can miss with either choice. I didn't have the pickerel, but I can tell you that chef's fish is impecabbly fresh and masterfully prepared. That said, if you're not a fan go with the osso bucco. Dining out's supposed to be fun, not challenging. The online description of the hen dish doesn't do it justice. Chef wrapped it around stuffing and swirled simply delicious sauces on the plate. The plating was lovely and make no mistake. Everything on every plate is meant to be eaten, not just for visual effect. Enjoy!

                    1. re: Googs

                      I've had plenty of tasting menus where you get what you get, and that's that (and if I remember correctly, you are a fan of omakase-style dining?), or even restaurants that serve one thing and one thing only, and I don't really mind as long as I know that up front. If I don't like the courses and that's all they serve, I just won't go.

                      I agree that it would make it much easier for diners to have a choice, especially with a menu (horse meat, bison) that definitely isn't going to appeal everyone. This would be pretty short-sighted, but they do have a regular menu still. Via Allegro changes their menu fairly often as well, and have a lot of neat specials. If someone you were going with didn't want the tasting menu, they can always order things off the regular menu.

                      1. re: Googs

                        Thanks for the detailed review, Googs. I have made my reservation and will report back. Thanks for the headsup on this festival KitchenVoodoo et al. You're right, Googs, about just enjoying the ride. SO thought I was silly for asking. I just value your opinion, 'tis all! Everything sounds great - I am really looking forward to the meal.

                        1. re: Googs

                          Was there anything bad to the meal? Sounds like a winner all around. I will have to make reservations very soon.

                          1. re: Googs

                            My wife and I had dinner at Zucca on Sunday evening. We both had the ISF menu. While it was good, it didn't "wow " me. I didn't get to try any of my wifes's "carpaccio" appetiser, as she was guarding it carefully but the appetiser I had of braised radicchio, prosiutto, and very soft mozarrella was good.

                            I had the hand rolled noodles with truffle essence and mushrooms next, it was OK but really seemed to lack flavour. (same with my wife's butternut squash ravioli, but at least she loved it) For mains, she had the guinea hen, I had the osso bucco. There were absolutely no sauces on the plate, as you described. My osso bucco was OK, but a completely different receipe from what I make at home or have had previously in restaurants. It didn't seem to have any carrot, cerlery, tomato, garlic, onion or rosemary as I normally use. It just appeared to have been cooked in a sauce that was brownish in colour. Nothing special at all, but the serving size was large enough for almost anyone. The pear desert was good.
                            Overall, I didn't consider it worth over $200 with tax and tip, but I'll give it another chance. The ISF menu was $55 that night. It turns out that the owner and chef is not in on Sundays, so I'm hoping it's just that the Sunday chef cooks things slightly differently.
                            The one thing that I found really odd is the number of times they would come around to add just 1oz or so of wine to our glasses, I was starting to feel like the waiters were fruit flies buzzing around the wine bottle. After the initial pur into each glass, I bet they came around at least 5 more times. Well I can't say they weren't attentive!

                            1. re: foodyDudey

                              I've found that the food at Zucca can be hit or miss. My first meal at Zucca was fantastic, so I returned for a second visit within a couple months, but my second meal was quite mediocre. My mediocre meal also happened to take place on a Sunday night, so I'm not sure whether it has anything to do with who is working on Sundays, or whether I just ordered better on my first visit. I hadn't realized that the owner and chef is not in on Sundays.

                              A better test would be for me to order the same dishes on the different nights, but there are a lot of other restaurants on my "to try" list, so I haven't returned to Zucca since the mediocre meal.

                              The service was excellent on both my visits.

                        2. re: Googs

                          I would agree with Googs that a restaurant like Via Allegro won't be in top form with a set menu like this. If you are interested in going with your SO (you seem to be in the airport area regularly) you should consider it another time so that you and he can fully enjoy it.

                          A more unusual option on their menu is a head to tail dining experience you might be interested in - a whole pigs head. Otherwise consider the Moody Chef menu but you need to call in advance for that kind of gastronomic feat.

                          1. re: syrahc


                            Thanks for the suggestions. The head to tail experience sounds very interesting. Have you tried it? Same with the Moody Chef menu. I just saw a sentence about it on their website, but not much detail. More information would be much appreciated. I did not realize they had such a diverse offering in their menu. Wonder why they don't use their website more to promote this...


                            1. re: BokChoi

                              I have never had the whole head but do have friends that order it every time they go to Via Allegro. I don't think I am quite ready yet to experience it. The Moody Chef is their version of a tasting menu with the spin simply being his mood! You must call in advance to find out if he is up for it (really it is just to find out what night he is in the kitchen) but then you will be in for a great treat of many courses. I think they ask for at least 3 hours of your time to finish it. The chef hasn't been in the kitchens the few times I've been so it was not to be. I've loved all the dishes I have had there and would think it would be a great treat.

                              1. re: syrahc

                                Great to know. Thanks for the information, syrahc. It sounds adventurous, which is right up my alley. Now the price... that's a different matter! I will have to save it for a special occasion most likely.

                      2. Thanks for your post KitchenVoodoo, and for your follow-up discussion Googs, erly, tjr, et al. I had a wonderful dinner the other night when my SO and I tried Zucca's Italian Festival Menu. It was $55 when we had it (though the menu printed stated $60 - which may have led to the confusion on this board). I have been to Zucca on a previous occasion to have their $25 M-W special, and was wowed by their pasta. However, I completely forgot about it until I saw this post (regular dining companions strangely are not fans of pasta/Italian food so it just skipped my mind after a while). I will post a longer review soon, I just wanted to post a thanks for the headsup on this special menu.