|Location||972 College Street|
|Dinner for three with a drink each||$210|
After Chef Rob Rossi closed Bestellen, one of Toronto’s beloved restaurants, he went to work with co-owner David Minicucci (L’Unita) to put their joint vision for a new venture into a reality. Giulietta, which opened in Bestellen’s former space in spring 2018, is Italian cuisine reimagined. It’s built on a philosophy of simple and sharable dishes, using only the freshest ingredients. While it’s Italian in all the right ways, you won’t see any of Nona’s lasagne, parm or meatballs sur le menu. There’s a layer of sophistication in the food and ambiance, but the vibe is much more laid back and unobtrusive, just like its surrounding Dufferin Grove neighbourhood.
On a Saturday night, I headed to Giulietta avec mes amies to celebrate le début des vacances.
Although the street-level restaurant was in an unrefined part of town, it was stunning on the inside. Design architect Guido Costantino practically TNTed the interior, transforming the former Bestellen into a visually appealing, comfortable and spacious venue to enjoy an evening out. Marble, oxidized steel, red upholstery and contemporary light fixtures created a modern and industrial ambiance. Grey walls, which were paneled with Italian wool, gave the space much better acoustics and helped retain sound at each table. My guests and I, much to our pleasant surprise, commented several times that we could barely hear other patrons’ banter. The interior was a far departure from Bestellen. It had a front bar, spacious booths along one wall, a banquette and tables along the other, and a wide runway that led to the focal point — la cuisine— an open area with six stools. Another stunning feature? A glass walk-in fridge located across the bar that not only served a practical purpose, but acted as a live art installation to showcase the kitchen’s ingredients.
With Giulietta, Rossi envisioned light yet traditional Italian cuisine. The menu was distilled down to essentials made for partager avec vos amis, starring house-made pasta, wood-fired pizza and simple but thoughtful proteins and vegetable sides.
We ordered everything just as it was meant to be eaten — shared. The polpo e fagioli ($24) and finocchio e arancia ($16) arrived first, which we politely demolished with gusto. Pour moi, octopus is always un plat préféré, and this version was perfectly tender and charred. Naked cannellini beans and salsa verde brought some texture and spice to the dish, but not in an overwhelming manner. This was a star dish and was portion-appropriate to whet the palate before the pièces de résistance.
La salade highlighted seasonal ingredients. Fennel and citrus added a pop of colour to the white backdrop of the plate. A chef’s typical pairing for fennel is green apple, but Rossi was more inventive by using citrus. Bright citrus notes from fresh cara cara oranges and grapefruit provided the right balance of acid and sweetness. And the formaggio di fossa and mint garnishes were subtle, yet important to tie everything together.
A testament to authentic Italian cuisine is usually in the quality of the pizza and the pasta. La pizza est bonne— with six kinds on the menu (like La Giulietta ($22) with Sicilian pistachio, lardo di Modena, panna and smoked scamorza), all with a chewy, bubbly crust that is crisp to the bite. We ordered the more traditional L’Amentea ($21), a doughy canvas that featured light tomato sauce and a punchy kick from soppressata and garlic in every bite. It was harmonized by fior di latte and Sicilian oregano. Delicious, for certain, but nothing très original.
In-house pastas were magnifique, particularly the chestnut agnolotti ($26). This sublime dish was rich and satisfying in every way possible. Ricotta-filled pasta sat in a shallow pool of sage brown butter with hints of guanciale and balsamic (that was aged for 20 years). The indulgence was worth an extra cardio session à la gym.
The tonnarelli cacio e pepe ($21) was delicious in a completely different way, using Roman inspiration with traditional long pasta, kampot black pepper and pecorino. It was similar to a carbonara, minus the egg and fatty pancetta.
For a lighter pasta, the mezze paccheri allo scoglio ($24) could satisfy your tastebuds. Tossed in a tomato white wine sauce with a tingle of fresh herbs, c’est parfait. The generous helping protein from baby clams, prawns and calamari will leave your stomach feeling satisfied. Un conseil: the tube-shaped paccheri noodles repelled the sauce instead of soaking it up, leaving lots to spoon up once the pasta had vanished.
The pasta stole the show in many ways, but Giulietta is much more than a pasta restaurant (although Rossi has perfected this starchy art form). I admired Rossi’s use of less popular varieties of viande on the menu — from swordfish a la plancha ($33) to capon ($29). Of course, “capon” is a much more appetizing word for pigeon, n’est-ce pas?
The wine list coaxed you to swirl and sip something old, with plenty of Italian Sangiovese bottles and Chardonnay from Burgundy. If you looked closely, there were new world selections, including wines by the glass from Malivoire Wine Company in Niagara and even some off-the-beaten-path Greek wines. House cocktails — from $12 to $16 — prided themselves on featuring liquors you would only find in Italy. The Giulietta Spritz ($14) refreshed the palate with Quaglia Aperitivo Berto, prosecco and soda.
At Giulietta, the whole team operated like a well-oiled machine. L’évidence? Orders were taken promptly. Servers were professional. Everyone from the host to the kitchen staff seemed to be enjoying themselves, smiling and laughing as they worked. This all contributed to a positive vibe that I respect as a patron. Rossi was also present, talking to his team like friends as he checked dishes at the passe, oftentimes bringing them to each table himself and greeting patrons.
If you’re searching for a new space that will deliver authentic Italian with a twist, Giulietta should be next on your list. Your belly (and heart) will say “merci.”
Mme M. xoxo
La rubrique de Madame Marie
1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
2 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
3 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
4 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
5 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.