When I step into La Vecchia Ristorante, I feel as though I'm back in Italy. It reminds me of old fashioned Italian restaurants, especially with the movie photos of famous Italian stars hanging throughout the place.
It feels warm and full of life and that's another hallmark of the country for someone like me. The menu is old world, with a strong focus on fresh, quality cuisine. There's no fooling around with Aurora Stranges, the chef who hails from Calabria. My waiter, Dino, tells me that nothin
g will come out of that kitchen without her exacting standards. Even the fish are delivered for her to choose and the variety changes on a daily basis. (As I sit watching all the comings and goings through the kitchen doorway, I know he's not kidding me. It's late afternoon and the delivery of produce doesn't stop.)
It's cold and drizzling outside, so I order a rustic minestrone soup. The great thing about minestrone soup is the variety of ways it can arrive. Mine is thick with vegetables but what I especially enjoy is the little crunch of fresh scallions poking around with the tomatoes, carrots,broccoli, celery and the fresh Italian parsley. It arrived with warm, herb topped focaccia bread, also made in house. The menu is set up the classic way, with the pasta dishes in appetizer portions, a sign of respect for the traditional. (You can ask for them as main courses as well.) The risotto dishes are included in this section of the menu, so I opt for an order of 'Risotto Po'. The arborio rice is done perfectly, with just enough give to the grain, bathed in a light gorgonzola white wine sauce, with chicken, mushrooms and green peas.
Veal and fresh fish vie for my attention. The calf wins out, so it's the special; veal rolled with prosciutto and gorgonzola. The accompanying tomato sauce is flavourful, with just a bit of zip to it, balancing out the hint of cheese and the salty prosciutto stuffed veal. There are so many ways with veal and the menu has it dressed up, like the one I choose, or Mastroianni style, with a lemon white wine sauce, homage to the choice of a great star. Dino offers the wines, and has either reds or whites to suggest with each dish. The wine list focuses on Italian wines in the Old World section. The New World covers Californian, Australian and Niagara wines, which is a good indication that Ciro is keeping up with his customers.
I chat with Ciro Philobes, one of three brothers who own La Vecchia (Massimo and Fillipo are the others) inquiring about the original La Vecchia in Torino, but he tells me they've sold it. He's here to stay, which is a good thing. I ask him about himself, but he only wants to talk about food and his customers, some who come from as far as Hamilton for certain dishes. I peruse the Dolci e Liquori list for dessert and choose the tiramisu, because Ciro insists I try something. There are some who believe that the fad for this dessert is over or should be. Nonsense. I'm not the biggest dessert eater but if it's made on the premises and with so much care, why take it off to follow a trend? The coffee liqueur doesn't dominate the ephemeral lightness of the mascarpone cheese based dessert. I hate to admit this but I literally inhale it.
That is an appropriate description of how I feel when I come to a restaurant like this. I want to savour everything. I feel like the food and the customers are the stars and I feel as if I've just spent time in Italia. In fact, I think I've always felt special in Italy. But I'm in Toronto, and when I walk out the door of La Vecchia, I'll still be savouring the sights, sounds and aromas.