First Look: Owner of popular Argentinian food truck opens Ama on Queen West


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Image: Yvonne Tsui

Sebastian Gallucci is no stranger to Toronto’s dining scene – it’s in his blood. His father, Sam Gallucci opened Toronto’s first Argentinian restaurant, Martin Fierro on College Street back in the 1970s. He’s blazed through the streets with his food truck, Che, and Ama is the continuation of his journey in bringing the “love and culture from Argentina to Toronto.”

“In Toronto, they don’t really want you to succeed as a food truck,” says Gallucci. “I used to wake up at 6 a.m. every morning just to find a good spot but now I go shopping every morning to get the day’s ingredients,” he adds.  


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Before you mourn the loss of Gallucci’s signature items, the Chori-Pan ($13), a chorizo sandwich topped with chimichurri has found a permanent spot on the menu and is a nod to his Che days. 

His signature guacamole (which was crowned best guacamole at 86’d Mondays at the Drake) makes an appearance in his Mar de Plata ceviche ($17), featuring a daily seafood selection, such as rainbow trout atop a corn tostada with cucumber, strawberries and pineapple. And yes, there are empanadas (2 for $10, or 2 for $9 for the vegetarian option) with a vegetarian option also.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

For shareable plates, one cannot miss the carne. While in most Spanish-speaking countries carne refers to meat, in Argentina it is synonymous with beef. The 7-ounce entraña ($32, a cut of skirt steak unique to Argentina and flown in via Air Canada) is served with a daily selection of sides such as roasted potatoes, a trio of beets, crispy purple kale and arugula salad. 

“It tastes like butter and is naturally raised,” says Gallucci about Argentine beef. Those who want to splurge can opt for a 10-ounce ribeye for $48 with the same seasonal sides.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

While there is a short list of Italian wines and beers by the bottle, there is no cocktail list. The bar’s creations feed on Gallucci’s style of “changing things up every day” and his creations are “personalized” for every customer. Most cocktails ring in at $14 a pop, just pick your poison. If it’s bourbon, you may end up with a Boulevardier-inspired concoction of muddle grapefruit, homemade beet syrup, Campari and Aperol.

Ama, is the Spanish word for love and refers to Gallucci’s love for food and his business partner (and best friend of 25 years), Mike Mizzi’s love for music. The inspiration for their Queen West spot came when the pair vacationed at Mar del Plata together and chanced upon a space that inspired them with its rustic, warm ambiance and great tunes. There is a DJ (sometimes Mizzi) who spins tunes every night.  “We want to change the way people experience food, drink and music in Toronto. We’re about creating beautiful food with a great vibe,” says Gallucci.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Together with the help of friends and family Gallucci and Mizzi renovated the space themselves. The furniture and bar will look familiar, inherited from its predecessor Cadillac Jenkins (the short-lived Caribbean snack bar) but the walls have been given a coat of deep, dark, red paint that makes the room feel like an asada joint and every table gets a love lock which one can affix to the wall at the front of the restaurant. There’s also a wooden piano which doubles as a DJ booth as well as accents of candles and birch branches throughout.

For dessert, they serve soft alfanjores cookies made with gooey dulce de leche, a caramel that is said to be to Argentinians what jam is to North Americans.

A Sunday brunch is also currently in the works. Ama is open Tuesday to Sunday for dinner.

Ama, 930 Queen St. W.


(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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