To many in the city, the penultimate Italian dining experience is marked by robust plates of spaghetti bolognese that posses little more then rustic charm in a homey atmosphere. At Folco's Ristorante in Markham Village, a chef's inspiration elevates Italian dining to proliferate a subtle fusion of international flavours into weekly features that sing.
Opening Folco's in 2002 was a venture that never intended to be a family affair. Chef Mario Folco returned to Canada from Italy after obtaining h
is Masters Chef designation with the intent to open a restaurant that supplied ravenous locals with truly authentic Italian fare. The restaurant's opening soon rallied every member of his immediate family to come together and learn their family's Neapolitan heritage through recipes passed down for generations. The softly lit restaurant is homey and designed by Mario's wife to emulate the feel of a Tuscan home.
The pasta is freshly made daily by Mario's wife, Ann, the wine is imported specifically for the restaurant by their sommelier (level 3) daughter, Deana, and the homemade tomato sauce is made solely with tomatoes imported from Italy. "They are sweet from a life in the sun and because of this the water content is lower than tomatoes grown locally," explains Mario, "The sauce is naturally sweet without any additives... it costs a little bit more but the result is worth it."
While the pasta dishes are obvious menu mainstays, Folco's makes a strong case for the daily features that unfold more like a tasting menu. In one sitting, the shared plates of bruschetta, seafood and meats define a culinary throne by which Mario Folco proudly rests his reputation on. Tonight, sitting in the private area known as the Bar Room, I am apart of the grateful dining public that enjoys the essence of his labours in a dining experience that is, in one word, unforgettable.
A quartet of Meatballs ($7.50) in tomato sauce, are a sublime combination of veal, pork and beef made to Mario's grandmother's specifications. The Calamari ($9.95) are a mound of very lightly battered and fork tender rings served with a lemon aglio olio; mildly sweet as fresh seafood rarely is in the city. While the Bruschetta Platter ($6.95) is a bowl of firm freshly diced tomatoes, fresh basil and fragrant extra virgin olive oil bursting with the flavour of freshly pressed olives, and surrounded by crisp Parmesan dusted crostinis.
Panko Crusted Shrimp ($11.95) sat atop a papaya, pomegranate and apricot salsa while the chipotle glaze imparted a subtle smokiness that coaxed the best of both savory and sweet out of the dish and it paired well with a glass of Pinot Grigio ($8.50).
The bar was raised another notch when the combination of Pine Nut Crusted Chilean Sea Bass ($29.95) met wild mushroom ravioli and alfredo sauce on my plate. The striking presentation offered layers of complimenting tastes and textures, calibrated to compliment each individual flavour from the sauce to the mushrooms without overshadowing the moist flakes of sea bass.
Medium rare Barolo Glazed Australian Lamb ($34.95) served alongside ricotta gnocchi in a rich gorgonzola sauce played to a similar tune. Lamb is the champagne of meats; succulent drops cling to bare bone with nuances of seasonings that tie to pillows of gnocchi, tossed in a cream sauce flavoured by the mildest of imported gorgonzolas,
Dessert was a trio of frozen Tiramisu ($$6.95) drizzled with a berry compote. This sweet is intended to be enjoyed in the same vein as ice cream. Delicate marscapone encases coffee soaked ladyfingers within perfectly rounded scoops - a perfect accompanied to an espresso night cap.
Reservations are a must, as this historic home is often overflowing with patrons, many of which gather on a weekend to dine on the culmination of the week's specials. Those in the know will venture outside the clichÃ© of pasta on the menu and go directly for the infinitely more satisfying features. An adventurous meal will follow as promised, one defined by shared plates; encouraging conversation and exploration, my guest and I encountered a meal that is a social, convivial and completely memorable.