First Look: Buca’s Ryan Campbell brings Venetian small plates to Little Italy with Il Covo


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Vongole – Canadian clams in Mandranova olive oil, lemonquat, garlic, parsley served with golden crostini.

IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI

Little Italy has long been the go-to place for authentic, old-school, Italian cooking. That is, until Il Covo came along. Ryan Campbell, co-owner and executive chef at the newly opened cicchetti spot may just be the breath of fresh air that draws back the younger crowd.  

Campbell has worked at Buca on King West with Rob Gentile (who Campbell met a decade ago while working at North 44) as well as cooked at some of Italy’s finest Michelin-starred restaurants, but owning a restaurant has always been his dream.  

Cicchetti is a way of eating that originated from Venice and are half portions of a main course. One might even call it Italy’s answer to tapas.

“It’s the way diners enjoy eating – it’s more about trying many things,” says Campbell. “Sometimes you don’t want to commit to a $45 lamb dish.”  

The menu draws from “a little bit of everywhere”–– Rooted in Italian cuisine, there are also influences from Campbell’s personal culinary history. “I could eat Italian food, everyday of the week, 3 times a day and be very content,” he adds.  

The charm of Little Italy was what convinced the team to call College Street home.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

“It’s a very charming part of town, there’s lots of foot traffic and people enjoying the area. We thought it would be a fun place to do something a little bit different,” says Campbell.  “Il Covo is kind of a meeting point for us. We wanted to have a casual atmosphere where people can have a full dining experience.”

The space, designed by Brian Woodrow, pulls inspiration from Venice and also from the mid-1800s.  


“A cicchetteria is a Venetian concept so there is Venetian influence throughout the space, whether it’s the peaks at the top of each side of the bar, or the banquettes or what not. We also wanted to give it a very old-world Italian feel as well,” says Campbell. There are hints of an almost saloon-like atmosphere, especially in the main dining room.  

The menu is divided in sections: land, ocean, from the garden, from the oven. For starters, there is the Vongole – Canadian clams in Mandranova olive oil, lemonquat, garlic, parsley served with golden crostini.  

From the garden is the Rape Bianche, turnips, sous vide then braised in  bay leaf, garlic, salt and roasted in pork fat and stuffed with an ‘nduja Abruzzese – which is mild unlike its Calabrian counterpart.  


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The Stella di Ricotta in Brodo is the showstopper.  You smell it before it arrives at the table. It’s a roasted Buffalo Ricotta dumpling in an aromatic hen’s broth topped with thyme.  This is one dish you may not want to share.  


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Desserts are equally enticing.  The Cassata, a traditional Sicilian cake here is made with sweet ricotta, pistachio, preserved cherry and candied citrus with a pistachio outer casing.  


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

“There’s a lot of thought and effort that goes into the way we go about our front of house service and of course, a ton of passion involved in the food – the exact same thing exists in our dining room in creating an individual dining experience for everyone who comes in here,” says Campbell.  

Just thumb through their wine list – a tome bound in leather that looks like something a wine nerd would swoon over.

Il Covo, 585 College Street, 416-530-7585.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

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Yvonne lives to eat. She’s known to her friends as the “Ask Alexa” for the best restaurants in cities all over North America. When she's not doing on-the-ground, scrappy PR for TouchBistro, she's a freelance food and drink writer and tells the origin stories, struggles, and successes of restaurateurs – veteran and new.

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