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Apr 8, 2009 03:39 PM

Via Allegro - Finally, a correct rating from JC!

Though consistently rated a 3-4 stars by James Chatto in the past, I was never much of a fan of Via Allegro's food. Yes, the portions are huge, the wine list superb but somehow the food simply do not reflect such a high rating especially when compared to some of its peers like Il Mulino or Mistura. Furthermore, I think after all these years, they are still searching for their true identity. Be it a glorified pizzeria, a family restaurant or a fine dining establishment. If it is the latter, then I would like to know why management and wait-staff would allow a toddler to go amok, running around the dining tables whilst I ate there last?!
Anyways, I'm pleased to see that the rating in the current edition of Toronto Life has its rating reduced to a more reasonable 2 stars!

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  1. When I first saw it I immediately thought JC = Jesus Christ! I'm glad its confirmed, so if I am EVER out in that IKEA area I guess I will go to Kaji instead.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Muffin__Top

      I thought the same thing: wow, it's gotta be a great resto if JC himself is rating it correctly!!! Despite Jesus Christ not actually rating Via Allegro, I have to say, regardless of the quality of the food, which is certainly pretty darn good, their wine list alone is a good reason to go. Yes, it's expensive, but the sheer novelty of looking through a wine list of that size is an experience on its own. It's quite a wine list - does any other place in TO have one that can compare?

      1. re: redearth

        No! But the ones at Opus and Splendido are not bad either. However, terrible mark-up as well! For me, I like browsing through the fantastic Portuguese selection of Chiado's list
        BTW, for you in Etobicoke, its a short drive, however, its hell of a long drive for me from way up north!! Based on my experience, its just not worth the drive! To each his own, I guess!

        1. re: Charles Yu

          I agree, for the most part; I don't think that Via Allegro is worth the trip, even the short trip that I have to take. However, the journey to the outstanding Chinese restos in Markham/Richmond Hill have always been worth the trip (which is a long one, for me!)... I guess you've got the better of both worlds!!

    2. I always wondered why VA was so highly rated on this board because I've never found the food to be anything remarkable. And, yes, great wine list, but obscene markups. For fine Italian dining there is much better, Mistura as you noted being one, and a handful of places in Woodbridge that aren't even in the same league as VA (read more casual with better food).

      7 Replies
      1. re: tuttebene

        do you have any recs for woodbridge? i work in the area and would love to check out some good italian restaurants (either lunch or dinner).

        1. re: auberginegal

          My favourite place, casual, family run, good food and service is Desserts Plus. Don't be fooled by the name, it is a ristorante and Pizzeria. Best pizzas this side of Naples. Wood fired, fresh ingredients. Their calamari were tender inside with just a light crispy batter - perfection. Salads pretty good too. If you're a bread lover, go easy on the bread or you won't be able to finish your meal - their bread is very good, warm, crusty and plentiful. Great place for lunch. I haven't tried their pastas yet, so if you do, please report back. Certainly not in the same league as VA, but much better food in IMHO. And if you think VA's portions are generous, this place is downright gluttonous ;-)

          8611 Weston Rd., Units 6-8,
          (905) 856-5194

          1. re: tuttebene

            Yes, all their food is good! I used to go there for lunch regularly at their old location on Highway 7 when I worked in that area. I still eat there when I am in the hood.

            Regarding Via Allegro, you know, I have enjoyed my meals there but have never really considered it the best Italian in Toronto. Usually when I eat there it is because I am in the area (or driving back into the city that way) rather than because I need to make the trip to get my Italian food fix. I can do that downtown.

            1. re: tuttebene

              Is this place or address new? Is there still a Dolce e Salato at that address?

              1. re: JamieK

                i think it's their newest address - so says their business card i picked up on my last visit in feb.

                1. re: tuttebene

                  Okay, I just noticed the units on the address in your post. I guess Rosticcera Dolce E Salato occupies different units at that same overall address.

              2. re: tuttebene

                sounds great, i love pizza. couldn't seem to find any website, what's the $ range for pizzas and apps?

          2. thank you! I have always thought that their persistent placement in the top echelon of the toronto culinary scene was rather dubious. I think glorified pizzeria with glorified prices is an accurate description..... not that the food is bad, it is just utterly forgettable

            1. Via Allegro is very good but not premier. It is far better than two stars, however. I'd take take it by a mile over Spendido.

              9 Replies
                1. re: Food Tourist

                  Are you agreeing that Via Allegro is better than Splendido by 'A MILE'/!!!! What's your rationale?

                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    I'd take it by a mile over Splendido. Granted I've only eaten once at Splendido (in February) but had the tasting menu (plus an additional charcuterie/foie gras course) with wine pairings. About half of Splendido's main ingredients were subpar (e.g. scallops). I suppose I should give them a second try but at $98 a pop I can't afford to make a similar mistake. At least at VA, I know the quality of the food isn't perfect but I spend a lot less and want to go back soon.

                    I would agree that Nota Bene is "better" than VA by a mile in terms of food, but not service.

                    1. re: Food Tourist

                      You thought the quality of the food at Nota Bene was superior to that of Splendido? Really?

                      1. re: tjr

                        Trust me, I was soooooo disappointed. After thinking it was the #1 restaurant in Toronto for years and dying to go, I finally had an opportunity and it was so disappointing. I mean 8/10 is no shame, but I really hoped for excellent and consistent, not just average to very good.

                        Whereas I have had consistently very good to excellent food at Nota Bene all 3 visits.

                      2. re: Food Tourist

                        Wow! Interesting how two genuine foodies on the same board can be 180 degrees apart on a food/restaurant topic!! To each his own, I guess?!
                        If your tasting menu at Splendido was February 2007/2008, when David Lee was still presiding over the kitchen, I'm sure your remarks will be different! Based on my experience, IMHO, at his peak, David Lee's cooking can rub shoulders with a lot of multiple Michelin stars establishments!!

                        1. re: Charles Yu

                          So I have heard and read over and over. But I went to Splendido in Feb 2009.

                  2. re: evansl

                    Splendido and Via Allegro in the same sentence? Ha! It is like comparing apples to oranges. Not even close.
                    VA is so OTT.... I don't get the big deal with it. It's in a tacky mall with a Staples and Second Cup. The food is good, but very OVERpriced. Have you seen the size of the pepper mills? HIlarious! Worth the drive to see those alone. Like everything else there...they are 'uge!
                    I 'll take Splendido any day.

                    1. re: froglegs

                      I was disappointed in Splendido's decor, design and atmosphere. I wanted to yawn...and I'm not even a "young adult" anymore.

                      I don't get how being in a tacky mall makes a restaurant less worthy of attention. As a Chowhound, food comes first, not decor, location or service.
                      I guess you don't like Hashimoto, Kaji, Kumai, most of the top Markham restaurants, etc.?

                      I love the OTT nature of VA especially all the phallic pepper mills!

                  3. Noce is probably my favourite italian place in town. Anyone been to both?

                    16 Replies
                    1. re: svanegmond

                      Never been to Via Allegro but been to Noce several times and have had really good meals. Nothing mind blowing but very good nonetheless. Kind of a safety restaurant for me since it's in my general neighbourhood.

                      1. re: svanegmond

                        I've been to both, and much prefer the atmosphere at Noce - far more intimate. The environment at Via Allegro is like a very posh cafeteria - not intimate or cozy in the least. The food at both places is great, if a little pricey. Noce's osso bucco is $39!!! It is delicious, though. Service at both places is great, and the wine list at Via Allegro is entertaining reading. If I had to pick one, I would pick Noce, as I'm much more comfortable in that sort of environment.

                        1. re: redearth

                          Come on - be fair - Via Allegro is much more like a roadhouse than a cafeteria. Or maybe a truck stop. Either way it probably gets the stars for its winelist - certainly not for the food. I might even prefer the Ikea cafeteria. But their winelist isn't as good.

                          1. re: estufarian

                            Yeah, too bad Ikea doesn't allow you to BYOB - that would be heaven! Imagine the pairing possibilities!

                            1. re: redearth

                              Very funny! Great exchange!! Keep it up!!

                            2. re: estufarian

                              I've never had such attentive and warm service at a roadhouse, cafeteria, truck stop or IKEA. I love Via Allegro and find their food good to very good (it's not always excellent, it's true). I often dine there alone and they go out of their way to make me feel comfortable. Their service is matched only by Vertical downtown. Via Allegro may not have tablecloths and flowers on the table, but most upscale places don't anymore. Many years ago, VA had a self-serve antipasti bar that I still miss, but nothing about it is "cafeteria" now. Even Splendido has a big open room with no intimacy or privacy and I would rank both places 8/10 for food. Nota Bene is similar to VA in terms of being wide open and noisy (but warm atmosphere when tables are full).

                              1. re: Food Tourist

                                I've had much less arrogant service at a roadhouse! I had them push overpriced, way too young, Italian wine at me at Via Allegro - and that was before I even ordered, so they couldn't possibly have known which wine would go with my food.
                                I found their food to be huge portions of generally overcooked food.
                                I do prefer Splendido (and Nota Bene for that matter). But I don't think they're really comparable as they seem to aim at a different demographic. For example the latter both have tablecloths (not that this is the only difference - just using an example that most people can probably identify with). {ASIDE: Roadhouses, Cafeterias, Truck Stops and Ikea don't have tablecloths either}.
                                But I'm sure that the 'better' approach would be to assist Chowhounders in deciding which place is appropriate/recommended depending on what they are seeking. For fine(r) dining, downtown with a reasonably well-chosen wine list, I'd choose Nota Bene or Splendido. For an amazing Italian winelist (at similar mark-ups) with a rustic wooden ambience and large portions of food in a strip (Ok suburban - but it does face the street at the edge of the mall) I'd choose Via Allegro (actually I probably wouldn't choose that ever, as I prefer smaller quantities of fine food than larger quantities of competent food). If I wanted a great Italian wine I'd take a good bottle from my cellar and pay the corkage at Splendido (or Nota Bene or other).
                                But then I generally avoid buffets too (for a similar reason).

                                1. re: estufarian

                                  Though not as great as Via Allegro's, Paese also has a pretty good Italian wine-list too. Tons of Super-Tuscan, Barolos/Barbarecos and Amarones. Their vertical of Sassicaia is pretty impressive.

                                  1. re: estufarian

                                    Your service experience would certainly turn me off. I've never had them push wine or alcohol or expensive dishes on me or anyone I'm dining with whether in a pair or large group. The sommeliers graciously help if asked and Wendy even offered me a wine magazine to read when I was last dining solo. (I've still never ordered a bottle of wine, only wine by the glass.) I've been offered free dessert for no reason other than Phil was in the mood to be kind.

                                    One VA dish I was disappointed in was the golden spoon risotto. It certainly lacked oomph. Otherwise, it's pretty tasty fare (I've mentioned the pizza in other threads).

                                    Hopefully we can agree that free parking in the suburban strip mall (and footstools to keep handbags off the floor) is a bonus.

                                    Just curious - when last did you eat at VA and what did you order?

                                    1. re: Food Tourist

                                      Last time about a year ago (but certainly within 18 months)- I recall it was the winter period.
                                      I ordered courses that were offal-based - the first one was 'not available that night' and I think we then moved to veal (admittedly I've had variable quality veal in 'fine dining' restaurants too). But I don't recall the offal I finally had (either my memory or the food has not stood up over time!). My recollection is just of huge portions - which we couldn't finish.
                                      I certainly recall the huge winelist! It's possible I was unduly preoccupied with this (which may have prompted a suggestion) - but my usual modus operandi is to choose the food before selecting an appropriate wine.
                                      Given my attachment to organ meats and having veal my guess is that I would probably have chosen a lighter red - say Valpolicella (or a Chianti) - I think (but memory fades) that a Brunello was pushed.

                                      1. re: estufarian

                                        I'd take huge portions of properly cooked food over tiny portions of overcooked or mediocre food any day! (But my tastebuds were trained at Bhima's Warung in Waterloo - famous for their enormous portions).

                                        I will have to retry the offal stuff at VA next time and report back. It's been quite a while since I had the milk-fed veal chop there but I remember it fondly.

                                    2. re: estufarian

                                      While I agree that Splendido is much better, I find Via Allegro is superior food and service-wise to Nota Bene. I also don't really consider Nota Bene (tablecloths and all!) fine dining anymore than Via Allegro, but you're right in saying that Splendido is an entirely different class of restaurant.

                                      I'd also say that I am much happier with the food at Via Allegro (and in larger portions which I usually can't finish; I prefer smaller portion sizes as well) in terms of overall competence, which I don't find with Nota Bene where even standout dishes like the duck salad have been really bad at times. Not to mention the numerous dishes that are poorly executed or just plain bad (the tartare I had was pretty much inedible), things like fish are often overcooked, etc.

                                      Everything I've ordered at Via Allegro was cooked to my specifications, and I've never had to send anything back. I guess some people have had bad experiences and others haven't. Comparing Via Allegro to a roadhouse, a buffet, Ikea, etc. is pretty harsh. Kaji is also in a strip mall, and in a much less affluent area. White tablecloths? I'm not trying to be an apologist, but some of your criticisms are a little harsh (and a bit pretentious), considering Via Allegro doesn't seem to be trying to be a white tablecloth, fine dining restaurant, with a high-rent, sought-after address.

                                      1. re: tjr

                                        Fair enough comment in general. In my defense, a couple of my comments were driven by some earlier responses that have now been deleted (e.g. it wasn't me that introduced Ikea to the thread). Once that context is removed a mild attempt at humour (in context) appeared to be more mean-spirited in tone. The roadhouse comparison, however, was completely mine (and I stand by it).
                                        And I've seen many criticisms of the service at Nota Bene - but certainly haven't experienced problems myself. My last visit, where we ordered two cheese platters (extremely heavy), when the server had difficulty juggling the removal of plates, a second server (who otherwise never served my table) was immediately there to assist - an example of teamwork that really impressed me.

                                        1. re: estufarian

                                          I have also noticed the teamwork at NB and applaud them for it.

                                          Overall on Chowhound, it's hard to know if someone is being cheeky or offensive in their tone, but (as you may have noticed) I never shy away from stating a passionate opinion or disagreeing with someone's review. Other users need to hear the "truth" when making a decision on how to spend large amounts of money on a good meal (even if there are two opposing "truths" like in most of real life). (The irony is that in "real life" I'm paid to be the most loving caring non-judgmental peaceful person in the world).

                                          1. re: Food Tourist

                                            I agree.
                                            Thanks for your views - always valid (even if I sometimes disagreee)!

                                            1. re: estufarian

                                              I apologize; I didn't see the original set of posts (I probably would have picked up on it otherwise)! I'll revoke that comment then :-)