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Housed in the historic Gooderham House, where Toronto businessman GH Gooderham lived with his family from 1891 to 1906, this new cocktail-bar-slash-Italian-resto in Church-Wellesley Village sings with simplicity. Dishes like pollo scaloppini, osso buco, and a selection of simple meat and fish plates trumpet Osteria’s fierce dedication to preparing fresh, tasty fare. The dining room, lovingly restored by Mennonite craftspeople, features 88 seats. But it is the spacious wraparound patio, where another 195 happy guests can take residence, that is the truly spectacular seating option in this reinvented mansion. In the cooler months, diners find open-air respite in the on-site solarium bar. The wine list is appealingly unpretentious and accessible.
  • 103.9 Proud FM presents DIVA BRUNCH!Sunday, February 2ndHosted by Scarlett Bobo & Devine...
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  • Pizza & Prosecco
    Join us every Wednesday.
    Pizza + Wine = $20
    Reservations recommended.
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Review: Renaissance revival

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on May 25, 2013

Here's a history lesson for the youngsters: did you know that in the 1960s and '70s, the area now known as the Church Wellesley Village was home to Toronto's ultra ritzy steakhouses? Places like Quo Vadis, Le Baron, Carman's and the Hot Stove Club (formerly Maple Leaf Gardens and recently reborn at the ACC). Even The Keg Mansion on Jarvis was once the uber exclusive Julie's, a swanky supper club for the super rich and Don Draper wannabes.

Today the area is riddled with mediocre pubs and fast food, but at least we can be thankful that some of these stately mansions still stand. Like the Romanesque Revival estate that houses the recently opened Osteria dei Ganzi, a restaurant, bless its heart, trying to revive the glamorous glory days of this neighbourhood as a fine dining destination. Built in 1891 by George Horace Gooderham, and where Al Capone is rumoured to have hidden out, this Jarvis mansion is a magnificent testament to a time when this stretch of street was home to Old Toronto's elite. With all it's original woodwork, stained glass and brass chandeliers, high ceilings and heritage-protected mouldings, one might think the building is best suited for stuffy formal functions. But cleverly juxtaposed with Danish modern seating and cafe-chic white marble topped tables, it's now a cool and casual neighbourhood haunt that thankfully doesn't scream pub. And its 195-seat patio is certainly one of the biggest in the area.

Perhaps for preservation reasons decorators were forbidden from being a bit more daring and modern with the space by throwing some hot splashes of colour into the mix, but it's never really wrong to make it an unadulterated celebration of the old world when it comes to the food. Behold Ganzi's menu of traditional Italian cuisine at prices remarkably lower than places like Terroni or even Il Fornello; not one dish costing more than $19.50, and that's for a steak. Not to mention the fact that every bottle of wine is offered by the glass.

The tried and true osteria idea may not be particularly adventurous, but given the area it is indeed a welcome addition. Owned by Dan Gunam (The Roosevelt Room), Luca Viscardi (Toula) and Ron Yeung, and headed by veteran chef Guerrino Staropoli, Osteria dei Ganzi uses as many DOP certified ingredients imported straight from Italy as possible. As with any trendy osteria, there are an assortment of wood boards ($16-$24) to choose from, all served with rosemary focaccia, fried taggiasche olives, crostini and house made preserves. Plus two types of carpaccio (beef ($14) and swordfish ($15)), crostini with fig, prosciutto and melon (3/$6) or seared scallops (3/$14), and, of course, an array of antipasti, salads, pizzas, pastas and mains. Clearly something for everyone, from the bambini to the nonnas, as is to be expected from a family-friendly Italian eatery.

Yet despite being one of the few folks in the house, the wait for starters is longer than a visit to the ER. Forty-five minutes (yes, I was counting) one of which is just for a salad. What's the holdup? Trouble finding scissors for the bag? Granted, the restaurant has been officially open just a few days, so we are inclined to cut the kitchen some slack and turn a blind eye to this lapse, further encouraged by an amiable waiter who tries really hard to please. (BTW, if the wait's going to be this long, you might want to rethink your "no bread" policy.)

When the food does begin to roll out, it seems to be worth the wait. Puntarelle con tattuto ($14) is a clever take on the classic Caesar salad, but instead of using romaine, chef opts for either belgium endive or, when in season, dandelion root. I can't lie, but they could serve shards of glass on this plate as long as they toss them in this boffo blend of anchovies, garlic, white wine vinegar and olive oil. I dare say, it may even be better than my own recipe, and the only time I've ever wished that a salad be overdressed. Topped with big shavings of parmigano cheese and crostini, it's insanely satisfying.

Another waiting game ensues, even if time seems to pass relatively quickly during our dialectic on the ideal dressing. But by now expectations are running high and upon the arrival of four marinated lamb chops ($14) drizzled with a 12-year-old balsamic vinegar and honey reduction we don't appear to be let down. It's enough that the huge order is sheer lunacy for the price, which we soon find out was a kitchen error (should have been two), but instead of being medium-rare it is over done. Tasty as it was, for a top quality cut of meat like this, over cooking is a crime against humanity. Yes, yes... I know the Italians, like the Greeks, like their lamb past medium, but last I checked I wasn't overlooking rolling Tuscan hillsides here.

Back on track is a pizza picante ($15) with spicy calabna sausage, tomato, portobello mushrooms, fresh diavolini chili peppers, provolone and buffalo mozzarella. It's Roman-like thin crust has quite the crispiness, but still manages a satisfying chew to make it count among the kitchen's successes. So hopeful we are about a homemade garganelli alla amatricana ($14). One of my favourite types of pastas, with added ingredients like guanciale, onion, chili pepper and tomato, it should be utterly divine. But after being told it will be about 10 minutes, it's a mouth-watering, tortuous 35. And this one isn't quite worth the wait. Its too toothsome, and the sauce, albeit flavourful, is a bit on the thin side. But an osso bucco ($17) with a black peppercorn gremolata is fork tender, rich with a wine, garlic and herb braise. I'll pretend not to notice that the risotto Milanese beneath is not only studded with a tad too much saffron but it too is tooth-shatteringly al dente.

The tiramisu ($7.95) is a chef specialty. Yeah, yeah heard that one before. But this one is both boozy, and light and fluffy like no other. It's been said that Staropoli brought this famed Italian dessert to Toronto over 30 years ago. That may be debatable, but this divine finish to the meal certainly is not.

I'm grateful to the owners of Osteria dei Ganzi who saw the need for a different dining experience in the area, one that is not about big screen TVs and corporate play books on how to make a restaurant franchise successful. And in spite of some minor flaws, I think the synergy of Ganzi definitely overpowers any of the individual parts that still need a few tweaks. Bravo!

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
All meals are paid for, including all taxes and gratuities. All reservations are made under assumed names. Menu items, prices and individuals mentioned in this review may not be up to date. Dine.TO encourages its users to share their feedback.

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