B.Y.O.W. And just for the thrill of trying something that was forbidden by law until recently, we did just that. In fact, my friend Margaret, who does everything the right way, brought three different bottles in a portable wine caddy so that we could choose the appropriate wine with dinner.
Toni Bulloni is a sliver of a restaurant. In front, there's a long bar on one wall, then it's up a few stairs to a small dining room in the rear. Clever to paint a mural of an Italian street scene opposit
e the bar -- it gives a sense of space.
We've come in at 7 p.m. on a Monday with no reservation and every table is filled. Seems that there are regulars who love this place. Still, in short order, we're seated. The walls are hung with artworks that tell a culinary tale: A clove of garlic, a tomato and an aubergine.
Siva tends bar, takes orders, serves dinner, pours wine and generally manages the place. I wouldn't be surprised if I were to find him in the kitchen.
"I work two shifts every day," Siva says, smiling happily. "And I take Sunday and Wednesday off."
With a name like Toni Bulloni, which suggests a fast food joint, who knew that their forte is fresh fish? A blackboard outside, near the front door, lists the day's oceanic offerings.
Tonight, there is Chilean sea bass, salmon, scallops, gamberi and snapper.
While the huge Italian-style menu is peppered with jokes, puns and quotes, they are quite serious about what comes out of the kitchen.
Siva brings two balloon wine glasses and agrees with our choice of wine. For a corkage fee of $20, he opens and pours our bottle of Rozenblum Zinfandel from California.
An Italian Zin is listed at $45. So, considering our bottle was a gift, we are ahead of the game.
Once opened, we're required to drink it all or watch as he pours it down the drain. I've heard that there is a machine to re-cork and bag the bottle should one not drink all the wine. Fact is, that cumbersome machine must be purchased at a cost of several thousand dollars. No room to shoehorn it in here.
Most of the regular clientele start with crostini. Ditto for us; and we love the huge, hot, puffy pizza bianco that comes topped with chopped tomato, herbs and garlic.
Following the trend, we too pass over the menu and order from the blackboard of daily specials. Sea bass has been scored with a sharp knife so that when it's baked, it looks like two large chrysanthemums. And the grilled veal chop is as credible as those served in our top steak houses. Unusual is the generous array of vegetables that fill the plates: Grilled zucchini, luscious pimento, chopped rapini -- sauteed just long enough to eliminate the raw taste -- and loads of chopped garlic.
I haven't eaten this much garlic since the last invasion of the vampires. It brings the realization that garlic seems to have done a disappearing act in this city's restaurants.
After these strong flavours, we need dessert. Siva is holding court at the bar, so we stroll over and peer into the dessert cooler.
They still make Tiramisu. "The best in the city," Siva says.
And there is apple pie, too. How about that wild blueberry pie -- paper thin crust, with a two-inch, dense filling of blueberries, made sans sugar and fat. It works.
Next day, I pay attention as I pass by and notice people are lined up for lunch.
Is it because of B.Y.O.W., Siva's sparkling personality or an addiction to garlic?
TONI BULLONI TRATTORIA AMERICANA
156 Cumberland St., 416-967-7676
- Appetizers: $6.95-$12.95
-Main Courses: $12.95-$30
This article appeared in the Toronto Sun.