Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Yes, I went out for Italian again. And yes, I ordered pizza. I do realize that I have spoken more about pizza than anything else on here but I love it and will make no apologies. Did I ever tell you I even eat it cold for breakfast?

This time, I paid Mercatto, 101 College Street, a visit. It was a decision that was fuelled by a past experience that involved a ‘terribly chintzy on the sausage’ orrechiette and an invitation to come back. It’s a long story and not mine to tell. You have to ask my Auntie Linda about that one.

This locale is one of three. A large and open room, it feels clean and industrial. The cleanliness is fresh and being the contemporary woman that I am, I like the modernity. The menu is typical: antipasto, pasta, pizza and a few mains. It is printed on what becomes your place mat which bugs me because it feels cheap.

We created our own platter of antipasto ($15 for 6 choices). Here is where the dichotomy in the kitchen begins. Wild mushrooms tossed in bread crumbs and Parmigiano were tender and earthy but why the bread crumbs? Roasted winter squash promised fried sage but instead was overcooked, mushy and sage free. Any antipasto combination is served with fried dough balls. A great way for the kitchen to use up extra pizza dough, they were nicely salted, crisp and a super fun accompaniment to the cheeses. Those were the only things on our platter that were made in house. OK, the cheese I understand but with so many, and I mean so many, Toronto chefs trying their hand at curing their own salumi, outsourcing it is just boring. I too, can go buy my own.

The pasta del giorno was spaghetti aglio olio with breadcrumbs, anchovy and squid ($16). All those extra crumbs in the mushrooms should have been tossed with the spaghetti. It was too light on the crumbs, too stingy with the anchovies and that poor pasta was overcooked to the point of resembling soft Ramen noodles.

The pendulum swings as the bucatini all’amatriciana with guanciale and pecorino ($14) was perfection. The el dente noodles, the bright and lush tomato sauce and the velvety strands of bacon helped save this meal.

And finally, the pizza: a quattro stagione ($15). It was as though someone had told the kitchen exactly how I like it – a thin and well done crust, a generous amount of stringy and slightly browned cheese, little button mushrooms, salty but pitted olives, marinated artichokes and slices, not pieces, of soft luscious prosciutto. This pizza had my name all over it.

Mercatto is clearly one of those restaurants where some dishes are great and others not so much. You have to tread carefully here; there is a very thin line between a good meal and a mediocre one.

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