À la table de Madame Marie: Dova – Cabbagetown’s new Sicilian restaurant that will delight all senses
Introducing À la table de Madame Marie – a new pandemic series that provides in-depth experiences of restaurants in and around Toronto.
229 Carlton Street
Dinner for two with drinks: $240
Dova has socially distanced indoor dining and outdoor dining on the back patio. Masks are required for anyone not seated and sanitizer is available throughout the restaurant. Contact tracing protocols are also in place.
Within a month of opening, Dova, a new Sicilian restaurant, has been transforming a lonesome stretch of Cabbagetown into a culinary destination (amidst a pandemic, I might add). With its glowing sign and crisp white and green exterior, Dova radiates a calm confidence. It’s perhaps no surprise that chef/co-owner Roberto Marotta and owner Jacqueline Nicosia aren’t newbies when it comes to owning and operating a restaurant. They’re also the proud owners of Ardo, which has been a mainstay on King Street East since 2016.
Dova’s name pays homage to its neighbourhood, Don Vale — a village that eventually became Cabbagetown — and offers dinner and weekend brunch. Chef/co-owner Roberto Marotta has curated a dinner menu that highlights Sicilian specialties such as dreamy homemade pasta, fresh seafood, locally sourced proteins, and wood-fired pizzas. The comforting arôme of everything hit me when I walked in, and made me feel like a welcome guest in Casa Dova.
The ambiance was equally inviting with its white walls, amber-hued leather banquettes, and appropriately-spaced tables. I always appreciate when a restaurant offers a prime view of la cuisine, so I was thrilled that Dova had a chef’s table, which I’d booked. Outdoor dining was also available on the large patio, as well as an intimate area for private dining on the lower level.
While my guest and I sat in our front-row kitchen seats (with Plexiglas between us and the kitchen) we observed the small team intricately assembling dishes while Chef stood at the pass. Every dish was carefully observed before getting his stamp of approval — like most chefs, he’s a perfectionist. With a dining room seat, one wouldn’t be privy to the behind-the-scenes, inner workings of the kitchen. I would highly recommend the chef’s table, because it only elevated my entire experience — and we hadn’t even consumed a thing yet! While we continued to witness the two-week old restaurant operate like a decade-old mainstay, we sipped on some cocktails. The Olio ($16) was made with Sicilian olive oil-infused gin, basil syrup, lime juice, egg white, and Abbotts bitters – a refreshing, herbaceous cocktail pour commencer. I enjoyed the subtle sweetness from the Rabarbaro ($15) — a frothy, tequila-based drink infused with subtle hints of rhubarb.
Sitting at the chef’s table revealed that the Italian-imported burrata ($23) was one of the most popular dishes. After just one bite, I now know why. Decorated with the season’s finest gifts — juicy wine-preserved peaches and fresh basil leaves — the creamy white mound shone in all its glory. The plush cheese and all its accoutrements were perfectly balanced, making it the ideal dish to enjoy solo or with some housemade sourdough ($5).
The meal continued to crescendo with the next dish, Capesante ($21). From the “crudi” portion of the menu, this stunning dish featured east coast scallops with wild fennel, chilies, segmented oranges, and Leonardo Marino extra virgin olive oil. While it wasn’t exactly inventive in terms of flavor profile, the superior quality of ingredients made me stop mid-bite and appreciate la simplicité of the dish.
Pasta should always be a standout at an Italian restaurant, and, after the track record of the first two dishes, I had no doubt that Dova’s Ragu Siciliano ($21) would make a strong impression. Delicate housemade conchiglie had hidden pockets of green peas and the pasta was lightly coated in a beef and veal ragu. I would have adjusted the seasoning as it was slightly under-salted. Regardless, it was a hearty and satisfying dish that I’d never turn away.
Another success was the Bistecca ($34), eight ounces of dry-aged striploin from an Oakville farm, resting on a layer of glistening Marsala wine reduction. Paired with a glass of big, bold Gattavecchi Montepulciano Sangiovese brought the impeccably prepared dish to new heights, along with a side of grilled asparagus with anchovy dressing ($9). Served medium-rare, as ordered, it was flavourful and tender without being overly fatty. Most of the city’s best steakhouses now pale in comparison.
Overall, my experience at Dova was truly exceptional and the food was executed with high standards that are becoming rarer in Toronto these days. It’s the type of place that you’ll anticipate revisiting, not only for the superior food and relaxing ambiance, but the exceptional hospitality. The service is the attentive, helpful kind that anyone craves (shout out to our server, Mitch, who really knew the offerings — from wine pairings to sourcing of ingredients). So, will I be repeat patron? Absolument! I’m already looking forward to weekend brunch and returning again for dinner — I just hope the chef’s table is available for part deux!