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Dec 7, 2008 01:10 PM

Zucca Trattoria – Pasta done well (review + pics)

Zucca Trattoria makes a pasta that few others can compare to. I recently returned to Zucca for their Italian Seasons Menu ($55). I had been on a previous occasion for their special $25 prix fixe menu available Sundays through Tuesdays. Thanks to KitchenVoodoo and Googs for their reviews and recommendations which actually prompted me to pay another visit to this gem. I remember being very impressed during my first visit, both with the quality of the dishes, as well as the service. When the Italian Seasons Menu was brought to my attention, it sounded like a great opportunity to sample more of their creations.

The meal started with a rosemary polenta, just as Googs described. An excellent start to what turned out to be an excellent meal. The amuse really did make my mouth happy and I could not wait to taste the rest of my meal. The host was very knowledgeable of the floor and on top of everything. Our server was very friendly and he informed us that there was indeed a typo on the menu and that the price was $55, rather than the $60 posted. I guess this is what caused so much confusion on CH earlier.

Grilled polenta:

SO started off their meal with the Berkshire pork and red wine sausage and I had the Savoy cabbage soup. The Berkshire pork sausage was exceptionally juicy and the flavours were well-balanced. Typically, I tend to avoid pork products because they are a bit one-dimensional and salty like nothing else. In this case, the wine offset the ‘porky’ flavour nicely by introducing a touch of sweetness/sourness. The accompaniment of polenta paired beautifully with the sausage and absorbed much of its rich greasiness. The soup, however, was the real winner. The sweetness of the cabbage was contrasted so well with its accompaniment of gorgonzola toast. The rich blue-veined cheese against the grilled bread it was presented with punctuated the silky sweet soup after every bite and really brought out the best in both. An amazing synergy was therefore created by the pairing of these two components.

Cabbage Soup:

Now onto what separates Zucca from the rest - their pastas. I ordered the truffle pasta, and SO ordered the squash ravioli. Even though KitchenVoodoo recommended against the truffle pasta, I just had to have it because I cannot turn down anything related to that beautiful fungus. I was so happy that I tried it and was blown away. The texture was what really made it special. The firmness of the pasta filaments held such bite and were perfectly prepared. The scents hit me as soon as the plate was set down before me, and the sauce was a perfect accompaniment to the noodles, which were the highlight. What goes better with fungus, than more fungus? The wild mushroom sauce was earthy, and above all else, not overly salted – Excellent and even mildly sweet. The few morsels of wild mushrooms draped atop the pasta were of an excellent texture as well. Their flavours were not at all lost in the sauce and held up quite well on their own. The sweet squash ravioli was indeed a wonderful antithesis to the more savoury truffle pasta, as Googs had pointed out. I had always been a fan of the flavour combinations and had even tried to make my own version (failed miserably, unfortunately as I did not have the proper tools to hand create my pasta). The squash was exceptionally sweet and tasted almost like a dessert course, especially with the sprinkling of crushed amaretti that sat atop the ravioli. Eating it alongside the saltier truffle pasta, it was a well balanced course. One without the other may have fell a bit flat, but together, it was harmony.

Truffle Pasta:
Squash Ravioli:

Next, we were introduced to the main courses. I had never had the mains at Zucca, and had stuck only with their pastas and apps. I was pleasantly surprised by the main courses, however, it fell quite short of the bar they set with their earlier courses. To be honest, I am not a fan of such traditional cuisine as I found out during my visit to Italy. I love their pastas and pizzas, however, when it came to regional meat-based dishes, I found them a bit heavy for my palate. I tried very hard to fall in love with osso bucco and steak Florentine, however, they just didn’t do it for me like Parisian food did. So that’s my disclaimer. I found the flavours a bit muddled and single-noted, but I guess simplicity is what is treasured in this type of cuisine. I would liken it to “bistro” food in Paris, or I guess Trattoria food: Simple, comfort food. But there were missteps. The guinea hen was also noted to be quite dry and overdone (at least for my tastes). The stuffing was nice and sweet, as was the accompaniment of apple puree. The sauce with the dottings of pomegranate were also playful bursts of flavour that added much needed moisture to the otherwise dry bird. The osso bucco was nice, though did not approach the superb level of their pastas. The risotto was excellent and I had a great time eating that with a smattering of sauce.

Cornish Hen:
Osso Bucco:

The polenta pudding was a nice conclusion to the meal. The ice cream side was a great foil to the pudding due to textures and temperatures. The pear was my personal favourite. The spicings used to braise the pear in permeated very nicely and elevated the sweetness of the fruit. I especially enjoyed the masala spicing, which made it taste a bit more exotic and unique. I should also point out that our server was very capable, and friendly, without being overly intrusive. They really do try to make you feel comfortable and relaxed. After each course we were always asked how we liked it and if dishes were slow in coming out, they apologized for any delay.

Polenta Pudding:

Overall, I would highly recommend Zucca Trattoria. I think it gives you great value for your money. Their pastas are amazingly prepared. Presentation is sometimes a bit lacking, but what they provide in terms of powerful tastes easily offsets that minor fault. Though I would be hesitant to try their mains in the future, I would surely return for their pastas. Perhaps the fish would be something to sample on my next visit, as I noted a lady at the table next door to us receiving a beautiful and moist piece of fish (the daily special) and hearing her oohs and ahhhs while eating it. Seems like the Sunday to Tuesday special ($25) would be a great opportunity for me to return and focus on their pastas! Great atmosphere, friendly service and excellent food, all for such a great price – where else can you find such value? Thanks to KitchenVoodoo, Googs and others for the reminder about this gem.

Cheers and Happy Eating!
2150 Yonge Street
(416) 488-5774

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  1. You simply MUST have the grilled fish at Zucca, it's my favourite main dish. They usually have a couple of daily specials of fish from the Med such as Porgy/Orato - not sure if I have the names right but it's a flat white fish suitable for one person, they grill the fish whole, with a branch of thyme inside, the skin is crisp and beautifully charred, the flesh is moist, and they will fillet the fish expertly for you in case you don't like to struggle with your food or look at the head on your plate! The accompanying vegetable plate is always great too. It's probably one of the most expensive items on the menu (price of the day sort of thing) but well worth it. And always ask if they are doing an antipasto platter - it is always a treasure trove of carefully prepared and exciting items.

    7 Replies
    1. re: KitchenVoodoo

      I was there last week and they did a great job. I really enjoyed their pastas, I had their handmade spaghetti, while others had squash ravioli, their pork dish as well as the grilled fish that Kitchen Voodoo speaks of.

      Overall, I understand that their forte is pasta, but I also did enjoy a bit of the fish and pork that I tried. Although I heard that veggies + mashed potatoes were a bit under seasoned, it may be that way to offset the pork which was on a saltier side, but tasty regardless.

      The grilled fish, I could tell, was very fresh, and I understand that they might have preferred to leave it as simple as it can be to embrace freshness, but I would have actually preferred a bit more seasoning.

      Anyway it's a lovely cozy space and I don't know why I hadn't been there since I am in that area pretty often. I will be taking out my friends soon to Zucca!

      PS I forgot to mention how amazing Blair (the host) was! What a friendly man!

      1. re: exquisite


        Thanks for the review. It sounded like a wonderful experience. Blair was indeed a great host. He takes his time to speak with each of his clients and I saw him seated at another table chatting it up with a gentleman for a good 10-15 minutes. I can see it being a wonderful place to be a 'regular'.

        Thank you so much for your kind words. I am glad the reviews could be of some assistance, or at least entertaining for those lunch-break reads. I have a couple more in the works, and I'll post those up as soon as I complete them.


      2. re: KitchenVoodoo

        It is great to hear that the grilled fish was moist when you went. The grill fish on the table next to me looked a bit dry and overdone for my tastes. So I was a bit worried. I think the piece I saw on the lady's plate was a steak of some sort (now I wish I had asked what it was). It was a white-fleshed fish, and about 2 to 2.5 inches in thickness. Do you know the average price of the whole fish special?

        Thanks for the advice, KitchenVoodoo.

        1. re: BokChoi

          The price of the fish escapes my head. I think it was around a $30 low range, if not, $25-$29.

          Apparently, they go buy fish everyday and they didn't find too many good ones on that specific day (it was a Sunday). Anyway they offered us a Mediterranean fish, which indeed was about 2+ inches in thickness, white-fleshed, and was more on the moist side than the dry. I understand your concern though that it seemed dry, and I also thought of the same before tasting it.

          And yes, Blair came and checked on us frequently to make sure everything was okay, since he knew it was our first time at Zucca. I love that they asked whether it was our first time right when I called for a reservation. Upon arrival, Blair addressed me by my name and gave us a quick rundown on their menu (to introduce what they are known for). When we were leaving, he happened to be by the coat check and we stood and talked for a few moments. Very pleasant overall.

          Ps Not a discussion for Zucca (sorry), but you got me into Nota Bene :) All the lovely pics (I got sold on the charcuterie) definitely helped. I work so close to NB so once the weather is warmer, I will go more for lunches. Only been to a few dinners so far.

          1. re: exquisite

            Thank you for the information exquisite. NB is quite the gem, is it not? I am glad the photos were of some assistance.


          2. re: BokChoi

            I never go for any kind of "steak" style fish - usually too dry. The whole fish as Zucca is the way to go, if budget permits. And I must add to all the positive comments about Blair - he is the consumate host, and one of the best resturateurs in this city. Others should emulate him.

            1. re: KitchenVoodoo

              I will keep that in mind. The steak actually looked quite moist last time though.... whereas the whole fish looked dry.... Maybe I'll quiz Blair next time before I order, or at least let them know my fish preparation preferences.

              Thanks KitchenVoodoo.

        2. Thanks for the great review BokChoi! I don't get to write so much, but I am always thoroughly enjoying your reviews.

          1. You know, Zucca is one of those rare restaurants that have managed to maintain their edge year after year. I haven't been in awhile, but I appreciate your detailed post and knowing that I can trust it will be the same when I get the chance to go back.

            2 Replies
            1. re: dinin and dishin

              You are most welcome, dinin and dishin. Cannot wait to update the post when I head back within the next couple of weeks. I have to sort out my schedule first.


              1. re: BokChoi

                Time for a link.

                2150 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON M4S 2A8, CA

            2. I went there based on this review and am glad I did. Next stop, Mistura, but for now...

              Got the grilled polenta as described, quite tasty. Also complimentary bread and anise breadsticks. Not heavy anise but just enough so that I finally figured it out by the second stick. Along with olive oil to drizzle on two slices of nice rustic white bread. Which had a surprising amount of depth to the taste, maybe some sourdough was involved in the baking process?

              Then had the black grouper chowder, the lasagna bastard and the pressed grilled cornish hen. I thought i heard the server say there was some fennel in the chowder, but I couldn't really taste any, but it was delicious nonetheless, a good soup for a damp cold evening.

              The Berkshire ground pork with the chestnut pasta was very good. Normally I don't like ground pork because it (to me) has a kind of ammonia taste, but this was sweet and delicious. The tartness of the tomato/oil sauce and leeks offset the sweetness of the pork and chestnut pasta very nicely.

              The cornish hen was amazing. A bird cut down the middle and then pressed and grilled with fresh rosemary. A huge lemon wedge came with it, and ordinarily I wouldn't put lemon on a grilled bird, but I trusted the chef at this point and squeezed the whole thing over it. It was superb, the crunchier bits near where the grill had seared it and then the moister flesh underneath. The lemon juice didn't affect the bird so much as it did the delicious puddle of black cabbage and black-eyed peas underneath.

              Finished off with the biscotti sampler and I was done. Very nice cookies, all a bit different, not too heavy a dessert for a rich meal like that one.

              Service was impeccable, not too intrusive, very friendly, just right. And the space itself is small but warm and full of energy.

              Thanks for putting this review up, it inspired me to go and I'm glad I did. I am definitely going to keep Zucca on my places to go when I want some finer Italian dining.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Pincus

                The grouper chowder sounds really nice. The Berkshire pork pasta was on my list of items to try on my next visit. I am glad to hear that it is a good dish. I had a great hen at Nota Bene, and then the second time it wasn't so great, but it sounds just like this version. Thanks very much for the review as well. I am happy that my review prompted you to try out this gem.


              2. Went on the recommendation from many reviews including yours BokChoi and wasn't disappointed. Great service, food, and the ladies I went with definitely enjoyed it. Went for the $25 prix fixe option as did one of my friends (her pasta was already $22 on it's own so $3 extra for salad and dessert, why not?)

                Definitely loved the vanilla ice cream with hot expresso shot for dessert. Our server asked if it was our first time and definitely knew of the infamous BokChoi. Will have another go at it when I come to visit again :)

                2 Replies
                1. re: MeXx

                  As Zucca is our only "regular" restaurant when we want Italian food in Toronto, we went on two occasions over the holiday.
                  The first time with a guest who had not been, and he told our server that the Squash Ravioli was the best pasta he had ever eaten.
                  The $25. fixed price meal was great when we took the grandkids , as Salad, Pasta and dessert was the perfect option.
                  DH had a Skate soup with Scallops that was worthy of a * restaurant.
                  With the exception of Clam Chowder, I do not generally like fish soups.
                  I am sorry that it was the special of the day, or I would return for a bowl this week!

                  1. re: erly

                    I would agree that their soups are fantastic. Now if only they would modify their Sunday- Tuesday special to include either salad OR soup. Now that would be a perfect meal. Perhaps a small supplement? I had a duck soup on my last visit and found it to be really stellar.