16 Italian restaurants in Toronto will be participating in Giro d'Italia starting this Thursday


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Ardo's grilled mackerel, with roasted red onion and agliata sauce

Image: Karolyne Ellacott

If there’s one thing that’s true about how Torontonians eat, it’s that Italian fare will always quicken our hearts. No matter the food trends, no matter the season, the promise of Italiana will have us happily scarfing down all the arancini, spaghetti all’Amatriciana, pizza capricciosa and pannacotta we can handle.

But it’s only the true devotee who can pin down which dishes scream Sicilia over Puglia, and what bites hail from Toscana rather than Lombardia. Thankfully Giro D’Italia is here to help —  back after successful winter and summer debuts last year. 

The Italian restaurant answer to Winterlicious, Giro D’Italia (February 15-25, $49 per person) is the perfect excuse for Ital lovers to really sharpen that knowledge base; to really dive into the depths of the boot’s culinary offerings. (Or just eat bucket loads of pasta while dressed in a chic wintry muumuu.)

The premise? A bevy of T.O.’s top Italian restaurants get a map of Italy, battle over it and nab the culinary region of their dreams.

The result? A multi-course menu from each resto showcasing the bounty of each region. This year’s participants include l’Unità (repping Vale d’Aosta), Campagnolo (they scooped up Umbria) and Locale Mercatto (the lucky winners of Calabria). 


(IMAGE: ​KAROLYNE ELLACOTT)

 

We put in some serious eating time to deliver this sneak peek of what Enoteca Sociale and Ardo, respectively taking on Sicilia and Sardegna, will be serving during this gluttonous fest. At Enoteca Sociale — typically a Roman resto — chef Kyle Rindinella poured himself into the offerings from Sicily, the island geographically positioned next to the toe of the boot. 


“It’s a very big departure from what we normally do here, being Roman and selling cacio e pepe,” says Rindinella. “We got to play with another part of Italy and what I love about it is there’s a very Moroccan, north African vibe to the food.” Chef's island-inspired menu begins with eggplant caponata; a mixture of eggplant with preserved tomato and fennel, with Sicilian Nocellara olives topping the dish. All is doused in the best EVOO Rindinella could get his paws on and served with grilled focaccia.


(IMAGE: ​KAROLYNE ELLACOTT)

 

For their primo course, patrons can choose from two pastas. Ravioli comes stuffed with not-quite-Sicilian cod, a garnish of sea buckthorn berries for an acidic kick and is topped with raisins and perfect discs of radish. Meanwhile, the bucatini con le Sarde is a famous Sicilian pasta. Thick strands of pasta are tossed with pickled sardine, fennel and saffron. Breadcrumbs and a generous amount of pine nuts finish the dish off, which has flavour coming out of every corner.  

For the secondi, grilled octopus comes with couscous packed with chillies and celery. A Trapanese pesto, blending mint with tomato and almond, finishes the dish off. As for dessert, well there are cannoli (ends dipped in fried pistachio and candied orange) but chef Rindinella is more thrilled with his minne di vergini! What are these? Just a lesser-known Sicilian dessert stuffed with lemon jam and chocolate and dipped in sprinkles. As for that name, well it means “Virgin’s breasts,” and they come out around Easter. Naturally.


(IMAGE: ​KAROLYNE ELLACOTT)

 

Over at Ardo, on King East, chef-owner Roberto Marotta has another island all to his lonesome: Sardegna. “There's some similarity between Sardegna and Sicily, where I'm from,” Marotta says. " You can find a lot of seafood but also a lot of meat — sheep, goat and wild boar,” Marotta says. “We tried to showcase a lot of things with our Giro menu.” 


(IMAGE: ​​KAROLYNE ELLACOTT)

 

It begins with the choice of a seafood salad, a delicate balance of octopus, calamari, mussels with sundried Sardinian tomatoes and celery. Or diners can go artichoke, which come stuffed with breadcrumbs and pecorino cheese. For the primi, chef’s to-die-for spaghetti comes dotted with bottarga — supersalty, cured fish roe — specifically from Carloforte on Sardegna. Lemon peel and lashings of EVOO flesh the dish out. 

For the second course, diners can go grilled mackerel, with roasted red onion and agliata sauce (Marotta blanches the garlic in milk so the flavour is less sharp); carnivorous types can tuck into grilled lamb sirloin with potato and roasted kale. For sweet, sheep’s milk cheese from Molinterno gets paired with Carubbo honey, and while both actually hail from Sicily, nobody’s in the least bit angry. At all. 

Giro D'Italia will be featured at 16 of Toronto's top Italian restaurants from Feb. 15-25. All menus are priced at $49, plus tax and tip.

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Karolyne Ellacott is senior editor at Post City Magazines. She can oft be spotted at Toronto’s most nostalgic diners wearing glittery heels and pink faux fur. Follow all of her eclectic writing interests on Twitter @kellacott and Instagram @itismekar.

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