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Ascari Enoteca, new in Leslieville

  • k

Sad to say, two visits, once as a couple, once as a quad, convince us that this new little-dish Italian wine-bar in Leslieville, from the folks who brought us Table 17, is not for us.

Good points:
1. pleasantly professional yet informal service, which is tricky to do and rare in Toronto
2. open kitchen
3. the food is good
4. solid fry chef
5. by-the-glass selection priced close to the bottle price, no rip off.

Bad points:
1. very limited menu, without a single hot protein dish. Potato tart, bacala fritters, cheeses, charcuterie, olives, beans as tapas, four salads, five pasta mains. That's it. Not a grilled fish. Not a bit of veal. Nothing.

2. laughable prices. $5 for beans. Just beans. 5 cents' worth of beans on a small tapas dish. Pasta mains $15 to $25 each, without a single expensive ingredient. Shredded duck meat (the fanciest) sprinkled on top is NOT a big deal, but big bucks for pureed parsnips or Jerusalem artichokes, brussels sprouts, etc.? "black truffle scented" pasta wasn't. That would actually cost money.

3. Incredibly rich sauces and salads. A cheap and comforting way to up the flavor and satisfaction is to load everything with butter and cream. Check. The brussels sprouts salad ( chosen for us by the waitress, and the best choice, I believe) was great for people who don't like sprouts. Oily in a good way and heartily flavored.

4. Incredibly starchy menu. pasta, beans, potatoes...

5. Starchy AND fatty menu. We had the salt cod fritters(the fish was almost tasteless, so it was just a perfect ball of fried starch) and the banana fritters, perfect ball of fried starch. One came with a savory dip, one with a sweet. Otherwise interchangeable.

6. Deuce tables in the front spaced 6" from neighbors. "Intimate" it was not, more like embarrassing, with eavesdropping unavoidable. Great self-control not to participate in the conversations on either side.

That being said, it was busy both weeknight visits with a child-free 35-50 year-old clientele, several all-female tables. I will be interested to see how it does after the novelty wears off.

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  1. Diasgree totally, The place is no more then 1000sf including the bar AND kitchen.. They keep the menu small for a reason.. There cannot be more than 30 seats in the place. It is an Italian Pasta place... Pizza Libretto does not have Pasta or "Meat" mains.. because they are a "PIZZA" place. Ascari Enoteca is a "Pasta" place..

    I have been there twice with a 17month old in tow each time and not only is the food delicious and the staff great and accomodating but the portions are very satisfying for the price, lots of flavor and textures. They make all their pasta DAILY by hand, the menu changes on a regular basis and the daily special is interesting. I think once the weather warms up there will be lineup out the door. This is not a "Novelty" place but a local small restaurant that serves quality food in a friendly manner at a not cheap (but reasonable price). I would say the crowd is more varied then you indicated.. I have seen 20yo kids up to grey haired men. As for the "tables of women" to me that is a sign that the place is inviting and comfortable and that bodes well for their long term success.

    Last weekend I ate twice in the West End once at Keriwa Cafe and once at URSA. Keriwas had 4 mains on the menu and Ursa only had 3 (with no red meat dish!). And these restauarants are around twice the size of Ascari Enoteca and a heck of a lot bigger kitchens! Let alone Grand Electric menu where you have 4 Tacos and maybe 5 "apps" most of which are very small... Face it this is the trend of 2012.. restauarants being very specialized they do one thing and one thing well. and the lineups at all of these places prove it...

    If you want a great pasta meal in Leslieville this is the place I would go.

    7 Replies
    1. re: ParkerQ

      Libretto on the Danforth has several pastas.

      1. re: iMarilyn

        Sorry, yes they do have ONE "App" pasta on their menu (which they were out of when I went!)... http://danforth.pizzerialibretto.com/...

        1. re: ParkerQ

          I see TWO on that link. And they have a daily pasta special.

          1. re: iMarilyn

            Please educate me: which of the following is a pasta?

            Warm Marinated Olives
            Gnocchi Fritti lemon
            Crostini
            Pizza Fritta
            Arancini
            Arugula Salad
            Apple & Fig Salad
            Grapefruit & Endive Salad
            Rocco's Salad
            Beef Carpaccio
            Patate e Fagioli Soup
            Potato & Ricotta Gnocchi
            Buttermilk Calamari
            Spicy Meatballs

            and they did not mention any daily specials on Saturday when I went...

      2. re: ParkerQ

        Yeah, I agree with your disagreement. I found it very reasonable, and the homemade pastas were great. The duck pasta that was mentioned I found to be terrific, and I'd happily pay $5 for those beans again, too! Service was really good even though they were SLAMMED on a Tuesday night.

        1. re: childofthestorm

          Heck some restaurants charge you $3 or $4 just for bread! You are right those beans are great and enough to share with the table...

          1. re: childofthestorm

            I likewise had a great time at Ascari Enoteca. 4 of us went on Saturday, so the place was packed, and even so we had really great service.

            It is a pasta place, and our pasta was really good. Agreed, the menu is short, but the duck pasta was awesome, and the braised lamb was quite nice. A bit rich, but it was very appropriate for the season.

            However, if you want a full protein main, this isn't the right place for it. Also, they aren't strong on the "Italian-American" standards (one of the party was disappointed they didn't have veal parm). But they do deliver well on what they promise.

        2. Went on Friday night for a casual meal. We didn't have reso so we sat at the bar. That being said, we both like sitting at the bar so it was good for us.

          We shared buffalo mozzarella bocconcini with white anchovies on celery. It was fresh, cream and salty all in one great bite. This was my fav item of the evening.

          For our mains I had the spaghetti in tomato sauce and the bf had the stracci with braised lamb. I really enjoyed my pasta. The texture was prefect. It was cooked well and the sauce was lovely but could have used a little more salt.

          All of the elements of the bf's dish were good but when put together with the very broad pasta didn't have any wow factor. The sauce had nice flavour but lacked the body needed to really coat such a large piece of pasta. The lamb was tender and lovely but needed some brightness in terms of the flavour.

          Overall for a local spot I think it is a good addition to the hood but I wouldn't make a trek when there are other place in other hoods doing fresh pasta that's just as good.

          EDIT - both the bf and I found the portions to be generous.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JennaBean

            What other places in the hood do you think are better? I visit freinds in Leslieville regularly and I would love to hear about other options.

          2. Had dinner with some friends last night. We had reservations for 7pm. The place was packed by the time we got there.

            Standouts are the appetizers imo. We had the brussel sprouts and chicken liver crostini...the brussel sprouts were exactly what was expected- great texture, piping hot and not mushy, crispy guanciale, and crunchy walnuts. it was awesome...but that chicken liver....i'm going to be having dreams about that dish. so SO good.

            the pastas...were good. not great. but good.

            the dessert- was the lemon sponge cake/pudding...great. tangy with the right amount of sweet.

            bill was $168 including tax + tip for 3 with drinks.

            we will definitely be back.

            oh , also- service was excellent. friendly and attentive without hovering.

            and- like others have said- it's LOUD. not an intimate setting at all...but i could still hear my friends across the table. so it's all good.

            1. Went to Ascari for the first time last week and really enjoyed our meal. We did not find the restaurant was too loud at all. Service was excellent and the food was very good. The scallop appetizer and salad special were excellent. I would highly recommend their lasagne and sausage pasta (sorry I cannot remember the name). Prices are reasonable. We will return soon!

              1. I'm a local to Enoteca, and I've been there a bunch of times.

                Each visit has been nothing less than magnificent. The kitchen has a light, intelligent hand, super-fresh and regional, I'm guessing, to one particular part of Italy. The wine list is well thought-out and accessible, the wait staff charming and unintrusive, and the room is lovely.

                As far from Italian-American cooking as you can get.

                Enoteca Ascari is one of my underrated hidden gems of the city. Can't say enough good things about them, and I wish them the greatest possible success.

                1 Reply
                1. re: biggreenmatt

                  I should give them a try. They are a 5 minute walk from my home. I just never crave Italian from a restaurant.

                  I think they'll be ok. I recall walking by on a Tuesday at 5:30 or 6pm and the place was full, which was impressive.

                  Pretty kid friendly too, from what I hear.

                2. My wife and I went there recently and really liked it. The chicken liver crostini were great as was my wife's appetizer (forget exactly what it was; a large fried ball with some sort of meat filling and a tasty sweet sauce), but the highlight was my pasta main (the special of the night, pasta with lemon and capers). Wine pairings were also great. Overall a great meal and didn't break the bank. Definitely a place to return to.