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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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

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.

Sausage: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Cabbage Soup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Squash Ravioli: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Osso Bucco: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Pear: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

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!

http://www.zuccatrattoria.com/
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

        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.

        Cheers!

      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.

            Cheers!

          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.

              Cheers!

              1. re: BokChoi

                Time for a link.

                -----
                Zucca
                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.

                Cheers!

              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.

                    Cheers!

                2. I wanted to eat there tonight and when I called there's no answer, just a "mailbox full" message.
                  Odd, the website indicates they are open Mondays.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: foodyDudey

                    Traditionally, this quiet time after the holidays is when some restaurants take a vacation and shut down for a week or two but if so, you would think that a voice message would indicate that. Does sound a little odd but hopefully they will be back in full swing shortly.

                    1. re: millygirl

                      Since I was in the area around 8:30 pm, I stopped out front and peered in. It was closed, but there was no notice in the window mentioning anything at all.
                      I hope Zucca is not the new Boba.

                      1. re: foodyDudey

                        Same thing happened to me last Saturday. A friend and I called and tried to get through several days last week to no avail. Went by on Saturday night and peeked in-no sign or any indication that they were closed temporarily for the post-holiday season.

                        SWS

                    2. re: foodyDudey

                      Last time I tried to make a reservation over the holidays, the voice message was not altered as well to indicate that they were closed. Perhaps it was yet another oversight? Each time I go they are doing quite well. I would be surprised to hear that they have closed.

                      1. re: BokChoi

                        Just phoned and got a human (the host?) who said they were on vacation until the 15th. Odd they didn't make a posting anywhere or change their voicemail.

                        1. re: Pincus

                          They forgot to change the voice mail over Christmas as well. The host, Blair, apologized when he followed up on my reservation request when he got back into the restaurant and realized his error. Guess they start up again tonight or tomorrow.

                          1. re: BokChoi

                            Tonight.

                            Speaking of anticipation, where's your updated review there BC? Your fan club is waiting.

                            1. re: Googs

                              Thanks so much for the reminder, Googs. I have been falling behind in my reviews, haven’t I? I still have to get a few other reviews up too, such as Truffles, another NB review and a few Chinese restaurant ones. Thanks also for the kind words. I would be only too happy to know I had a fan club. Here goes...

                              On my most recent visit to Zucca during the holidays, the family and I celebrated Boxing day by treating ourselves to a meal at our favourite little Trattoria – Zucca. This was a first visit for two of them. Since I was such an avid fan of the pastas (and not so much of the meaty mains), I convinced them all to order pasta dishes. I had heard great things about the fish specials as well, so we ordered one for the table to share. Among the selections of the day, we settled on the Sea Bream that was approximately $28 (whole fish prices range from the mid 20s to high 30s, with one larger fish that came in at $45 or so if I remember correctly). We tried to choose the oiliest of the fish offered as we prefer this type. The staff members were very knowledgeable of the different offerings of fish and their consistencies. They will assist you in selecting your fish if you have any questions.

                              The pasta of the day was a chestnut and duck pasta that was made in a single pan and deglazed to provide the sauce for the hand-made semolina pasta. The soup of the day was a duck soup (theme for the day appeared to be duck – effective use of fresh ingredients and since I am a fan of duck, all the better for me).

                              The family decided on the dishes: we ordered 2 special pastas of the day, 1 soup special, 1 gnocchi, 1 squid ink seafood pasta, 1 Maccheroni alla Lucana pasta (Berkshire pork ragu pasta), 1 trancia di pesce (the special of the day was a fish stew braised in a tomato based broth with some accompanying vegetables), the whole grilled sea bream and a dessert to share – the maringata di nocciola. The prices can be found on their website, and I believe the special pasta of the day was around $20.

                              The table was presented with the grilled rosemary polenta to nibble on before the first plates arrived. Unfortunately, the polenta was not as stellar as my last visit. This got me a touch worried about how the rest of the meal was going to turn out. I had noticed that Chef Milne-Allan was not in the kitchen that day when I first entered the restaurant. The polenta was not as dry and dense, and crumbled a touch when one lifted it to their mouth. The last version was crispy, and well executed. This one was a weaker recreation.

                              Grilled Polenta: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                              The soup and gnocchi arrived first. The soup was excellent, as always. At $9 it was a bit pricey compared to other soups and the amount served, but the preparation was spot on. The flavours infused into the broth were amazing, sweet, and light. The broth was not at all salty, which can often be the case with many broth-based soups, especially ones that may contain duck. It was hearty and very satisfying on a cold, blistery winter night. I was very satisfied with the soup course. The gnocchi was very interesting and unlike any gnocchi I had ever had before. It was not small and dense, like the ones I have had at Splendido. They were large, fluffy, and covered with a thin layer of melted cheese. I would have to say texturally, the gnocchi failed for me. I prefer the bite of the typical dense potato gnocchi. This one sort of dissolved in my mouth and was a touch mealy.

                              Gnocchi: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
                              Soup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                              The pastas and the whole grilled fish were next in arriving since we wanted to share the fish as a family. The duck pasta was light and had large, fresh mushrooms nestled atop the mound of fresh hand-made pasta. I really enjoy Zucca’s hand-rolled semolina pasta and believe this is truly what sets them apart. I would have to say that this time, the pasta was overdone by a touch, at least for my liking. It was a bit past al dente and thus was not the prefect pasta I experienced on my last visit. This was a touch disappointing as I was preparing myself for yet another stellar pasta meal. The chestnuts were nice and quite flavourful. The sweetness did contrast the duck, however, I just felt it was not that well incorporated into the dish itself. I am not sure how it could have been done better, but it just seemed like the chestnuts were a topping, rather than part of the pasta. It did, however, impart a nice textural contrast to the dish. I had a taste of the other dishes as well. The squid-ink pasta was nice, however, the squid ink was not as pungent as I had hoped. I of course was comparing it to the fresh pasta that was rolled in squid ink that I had had in Italy, but this of course was just a pasta made with squid ink incorporated into it. An unfair comparison I’m sure. The seafood placed on top of the squid ink pasta was however exceptionally fresh. The seafood was sweet and had excellent texture. It was not overdone and the accompanying sauce complimented the seafood well. The Berkshire Ragu pasta was the standout winner of the evening. The flavours were balanced perfectly (the sweet sauce, offset the saltier pork perfectly), the texture of the pasta was done very well and was almost as I remembered from the previous visit. The pork was nice and dense and so incredibly succulent. I would highly recommend this pasta. The trancia had bountiful large pieces of fish within it. The fish was sweet and exceptionally fresh as well. The sauce lacked a bit of depth for my tastes because it was a touch single-notedly sweet from the tomato. Nothing much else was going on besides the sweet tomato. Very simple, but lacking the bit of oomph that I was looking for. The accompanying vegetables and potatoes were nice to munch on and used to absorb the sauce. The grilled fish was very beautiful and was brought to our table whole for a photo op, before it was whisked away again for filleting. The meat was very moist and delicately sweet. We had requested it be done as rare as possible (I am starting to learn) and it was done just as I like it. The skin was crisp from the charring of the grill and was a great contrast against the tender flesh. The herbs were not overpoweringly strong, and the lemon imparted an additional sense of citrus-y freshness to the dish. Overall, it was a very well executed dish. Did it create fireworks in my mouth? No, it did not. But as a grilled fish, it was nice. Would I likely order it again? Probably not, as the following day I was inspired to try and recreate the experience and had some success with a fresh fish I found at Diana’s Seafood (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/586214). I was able to achieve something that was almost as satisfying, but at a fraction of the price. I was however pleased to have tried Zucca’s rendition though. It was very well done and one of the better fish dishes I have ever had in the city. Simple, clean and well executed.

                              Duck Pasta Special: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
                              Sea Bream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
                              Trancia: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
                              Seafood Squid Ink Pasta: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
                              Berkshire Pork Ragu with shaved Parmigiana: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                              Since we were all stuffed to the seams by this point, we decided to share one dessert. We settled on the meringue with hazelnut, chocolate and espresso. In retrospect, this was possibly the most difficult of the desserts to share (due to its construction), but it was an excellent dessert. Incredibly hard to cut without squishing the cream out of the entire tower, we made quite a mess of it. The flavours were very nice and I enjoyed it immensely. Note to others that this is a very sweet dessert. I, however, enjoy a sickeningly sweet dessert so this was right up my alley. A great and light way to finish off a meal. The meringue was light, and crisp. The cream was airy and sweet and the textures were very fun together.

                              Meringue: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                              Overall I would have to say that this experience was a touch below my expectations based on my previous stellar meal due to a couple of missteps in execution: the pasta being a touch overdone, the lack of depth of flavour of the trancia sauce, the mealy gnocchi and the crumbly polenta. My family (the two members that have never visited before) were however not fans and said they would not likely return. I try to keep in mind that they did frequent quite a few Chinese restaurants while in Italy. I would however still stick by my statement that this is still one of the best dining experiences I have had in the city. The pastas were excellent and the soup was spot on. If I go back to order the special soup of the day and the Berkshire pork ragu, and finish off with the meringue dessert, I would have had a superb meal. As it stood with what I ordered this time, it was a touch disappointing – only because I came in with such high expectations based on my previous visit. Still, I would highly recommend paying Zucca a visit. It is truly a gem in the city.

                              Cheers and Happy Eating!

                              1. re: BokChoi

                                I wish your last visit was as great as your first. I keep hoping Blair Aspinall will look at their bottom line to discover enough profit that they don't need to be open 7 days a week. They could upwardly reposition themselves in the market if they don't dilute their talent. With the A Team in the house they're superb.

                                1. re: Googs

                                  Googs, thanks for the comment. I wish it were as good too. I will be going back - I just won't be rushing like I was after the last visit. Still a great restaurant, it just wasn't perfect this time.

                    3. I think your amuse was in fact farinata which is made from chickpeas. It's very similar to socca which you would find in France.

                      1. I found their pasta very bland and overcooked on my visit.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: munchieHK

                          Might as well add my thumbs-down to this establishment! Better travel a bit further to Mistura instead!

                          -----
                          Mistura
                          265 Davenport Rd, Toronto, ON M5R1J9, CA