July 27, 2009
Address: 221 Ossington Ave, Toronto
Rich and Alana both ordered: The Locally-Inspired 4-Course $25 Prix Fixe Menu
Plus: Excellent value. Local ingredients. Fresh and tasty eats. Amazing olive oil!
Minus: Impersonal service. Hipster vibe may have been taken a little too far.
Rating: 8 ironic t-shirts out of 10
Alana sez: When I heard that Pizzeria Libretto was doing a prix fixe menu featuring local ingredients, I couldn’t wait to check it out. I was already a big fan of their Neapolitan pizza, but I was curious to see how they would work Ontario-sourced food into a wider menu. Rich and I, along with our pals Steve and Lisa, headed down to Ossington this past weekend to give it a go.
We decided to head down to the area early, because Pizzeria Libretto tends to get busy. Like, lineups-out-the-door busy. We hunkered down across the street at the Crooked Star so that we could sip on some unique Caesars while we waited for the restaurant to open. As I was enjoying my spicy and delicious Jerk Caesar, we started to notice a small group of people gathering outside of Pizzeria Libretto. At 3:30 PM. On a Sunday. Clearly, there is a lot of hype around this little joint — we were hoping the prix fixe menu would live up to the reputation.
When we finished our cocktails, we crossed the street and headed into Pizzeria Libretto. The space is decorated largely in stainless steel and wood and, despite the rope lights over the bar and the communal table at the back, has a somewhat cold and unfriendly feel to it. As we were led to our table by one of the many young and hipster-fashionable wait staff, I couldn’t help but feel that Pizzeria Libretto is too cool for me — like that friend in high school who would make you feel like an idiot for not knowing about that hall in the next small town that throws rave parties on the weekends.
This vibe continued as we sat down and were given menus by our waiter, who seemed like he would rather be somewhere else — somewhere more ironic and, thereby, more awesome. Throughout our meal the service, although extremely efficient and responsive, was also distracted and impersonal. I don’t need my waiter to be my best friend — just don’t make me feel like less of a person because I don’t have a unicorn/kitten/howling wolf on my shirt.
We started by picking a red wine from the Ontario wine list, which was quickly dismissed by our waiter as being inferior. He suggested a different, similarly-priced one from their regular list, the 2006 Brigaldara Valpolicella, and quickly brought the bottle over to our table. His suggestion was a good one — this was a very tasty wine. As we enjoyed it, we chose the items we would like from the prix fixe menu. I settled on the Ontario pea soup to start, the rapini pizza featuring Ontario Fiore Di Latte mozzarella, and the Ontario strawberries for dessert.
The first course brought to our table was the “chef’s choice” bruschetta. We had specified vegetarian, so the six slices of toasty baguette placed in front of us were topped with combinations like baby tomatoes and basil or roasted tomatoes with a mild white cheese. We shared and sampled all the options, and agreed that they all tasted fantastic — fresh, bold flavours. Along with the bruschetta, we were given some italian bread and olive oil for dipping. This olive oil was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s flavour was as vibrant as its bright yellow colour, and I could have dipped bread in that oil all day. It’s a good thing our starters came out soon after.
Placed in front of me was a bowl of bright green soup, drizzled with some of that delicious olive oil. I dived in to find that the mild sweetness of the Ontario peas and the smooth mouthfeel of the pureed soup made for an ethereal eating experience. I wanted that bowl to last forever, and as I scooped up the last few bites, I felt a profound sense of loss. Luckily, my pizza was on the move towards our table.
My pizza was about 11-inches in diameter, and topped with bright green rapini, black olives, dollops of goat cheese, and the Ontario mozarella. I couldn’t wait to dig in. The crust at Pizzeria Libretto is very thin and cooked in an extremely hot oven, giving it a crispy, slightly charred taste and texture in the style of Neapolitan pizza. In fact, as of July 22nd, Pizzeria Libretto is the first restaurant in Canada to be VPN certified to make authentic Neapolitan pizzas. Kudos to them! You can taste the difference — my pizza was very flavourful, and I loved dipping the crust into the chile-infused olive oil that was brought to our table. That stuff is like crack.
We were pretty stuffed after our pizzas, but there was still some room for dessert. My Ontario strawberries were served with Zabaglione, a sweet and very light custard. I could tell that the strawberries were locally grown — they had a sweetness and juicyness that no supermarket strawberries can ever achieve. The bitterness of my excellent espresso matched perfectly with the dessert and, with the end of my meal, I was completely sated. As we poured out onto the street to head to Steve and Lisa’s place for Taboo and more wine, we all agreed that our dinners had been fabulous, but we could have done with a little less hipness on the side.
Rich sez: The Crooked Star — Easily by far the best place in Toronto, with the best variety, for a Caesar lover. I ordered the Tandoori, Alana had a Jerk, and our friend Steve decided to experiment with the Mustard and Capers Caesar. I sampled all three and found the Tandoori still to be my favorite. The Jerk was very light and spicy. The Mustard and Capers … people who hate Caesars usually say they don’t like drinking a meal. Well, that was exactly the way I felt with the Mustard and Capers. It tasted fine, but it was like drinking a Clamato milkshake. I do not, NOT, recommend trying this Caesar — you just might have no room for dinner after you’re finished. After a couple of rounds of Caesars I felt like we were living in a Mott’s Clamato commercial — I swear that, once we got a Caesar, everybody that was in the bar with us (1 guy) ordered Caesars.
Oh yeah we are reviewing Pizzeria Libretto
On to Pizzeria Libretto –- For my appetizer I had … Where does the word appetizer come from anyway? Did waiters just get tired of asking “How can we fill your appetite, Sir?”, and to add a cool factor they threw in a Z??? Sorry, I am watching Seinfeld as I write this, LOL. So for my appetite, sir, I had the Caprese Salad concoction that was bright, fresh, and lightly dressed. Mouth watering. For my pizza, I was in the mood for some craziness that night so I decided to hop on board the WILD mushroom ride. It was a good thin crust pizza with fresh mushrooms and tarragon, but it wasn’t waiting-in-line-out-the-door-for-an-hour worthy. Luckily we did go in a little early to avoid the crowd, but if we were to go there again and there was a line, I would just keep walking to the next joint.
I don’t mind Pizzeria Libretto; I just don’t get the hype. Yes, they have fresh ingredients and a certain style of pizza, Neapolitan I think, for which I guess now they’ve been awarded something called a VPN certificate. I’m just not the biggest fan of that type of pizza. I just had a cheese pizza from Vesuvios in the Junction a few weeks prior, and that was fantastic. And if it is the thin crust you crave, try out Terroni’s for their southern Italian style. Don’t get me wrong — I would recommend trying out Pizzeria Libretto. I loved the appetizers and desserts. When it comes to pizza, however, I would just rather stay at home and make my own with Alana, which is just what we did a few days later.