You'd think it was free all-u-can-eat pasta night the way the line up snaked out the door. But, hey, this is a Terroni we're talking about, and getting droves of fanatic fans, including myself, to crowd their eateries has never been a problem.
Few places have been around as long in this town. Fewer still have been able to expand as fast while maintaining their original mandate: promising rustic Italian, and the nerve to demand no changes, no substitutions. I think we can all agree that the bran
d alone is synonymous with good food, fun times, and value, with every new locale quickly becoming a dining destination with enough magnetic pull to draw customers away from any of its neighbouring restaurants.
But does Rosedale's Terroni Bar Centrale live up to the line-ups? Or could it, too, go the way of MBCo, which operated in that very locale for less than a nanosecond before it was shuttered. Clearly, MBCo owners took a million-dollar bath, but Terroni seems to already have its well-heeled patrons eating out of its olive-oiled hand.
Unfortunately, you can barely carry on a conversation, the din is so loud - I may as well have texted my dinner companion across the table. While eyeing the menu and plugging your ears, don't forget to take in the imaginative industrial design features of this very quaint and very narrow haunt. So narrow in fact, there is no way to swing at cat let alone fit a pizza oven, which is why there are none on the menu. Shocking yes, but rest assured there is plenty to nibble on. A seabass carpaccio ($11) sounds alluring on paper, but it lacks any vibrancy. Anchovies are supposedly added to conquer its too-timid taste, but they too barely register. Oyster mushrooms ($10) fare far better, nestled in creamy soft gorgonzola on fried polenta. The perfect comfort food, but really, who could get this one wrong?
The standout is without doubt a beef tenderloin ($12). This is where this kitchen demonstrates how it can elevate cucina rusticana to a whole new level of gastronomic brilliance. By simply adding a concoction of duck fat sabayon, a stunning yolky bed to soften the landing of this rare meat gem, not to mention a surprisingly generous sprinkling of Italian black truffle shavings, the typically traditional becomes atypically awesome. Another homer is a homemade N'duja ($9), a soft, spicy spreadable salami, paired with smoked buffalo ricotta and caramelized onions. Wow squared. But why on earth would they dumb down these two dishes by serving both on something as predictable as thick crusty crostini. A selection of artisanal breads is what these two tapas plates demand.
Round two and the bell can't ring soon enough. "Rustic" chard and bean soup ($9) is not only as dull as dishwater, it's rather an unseasonable choice for spring. A timballo di orzo ($11) is nothing but a glorified cabbage roll (in this case chard) stuffed with barley and leeks with barely detectable amounts of sea bass. Plus, beautifully presented, perfectly cone-shaped arancini ($8) arrive, but these, too suffer from less than respectable amounts of veal ragu. Why bother.
Grease and disappointment start to mark our table.
As steak frites are a barometer for the success of any bistro, so too is pasta for any Italian resto. Thankfully, Terroni puts the effort into making its own thick spaghetti ($10) with pecorino and black pepper. Perhaps too al dente for some (not I), the real issue is the $10 price tag for less than a handful. When in Rome ... er Rosedale ...
One other thing confuses. Why would anyone hold panna cotta ($6) against its will within the porcelain walls of a ramekin? Everyone knows that this classic dessert's integrity lies in its jiggle. And while the raspberry compote is well executed, it really is contraindicated with the addition of lavender. But an accompanying lemon macron is delightful, though it could do with a pucker augment. And a chocolate molten cake ($7) filled with, this time perhaps too much, gorgonzola is not too sweet and surprisingly light.
Misfires aside, nothing we say is going to derail the Terroni train. And we wouldn't have it any other way. It's taken years to build a reputation of reliability at any one its hotspots. And they deserve it. But when you compare it to all the others, beautiful people and tony location aside, this is by far the least impressive. Give me garganelli geppetto and a funghi assoluti any day, sadly, none of which are available at Terroni Bar Centrale.
P.S. Word on the street is that this location is expanding this summer, with an upper level to house yet another of their restaurants: Terroni Price Street .