Ambience can make or break a dining experience for me. When I visit a restaurant, I’m looking for more than just great food on my plate. I want to be whisked away and inspired. And the more character a restaurant has, the more likely I am to love and remember it. So I was thrilled when the owners of Osteria Dei Ganzi invited me to their newly opened Italian restaurant on Jarvis St. (Toronto’s Champs Elysees back in the day).
Built by famed architect, George Horace Gooderham, the mansion quickly transported me and my photog to another century – the 19th to be specific. The building has charm oozing from its every crevice (sit inside by one of the fireplaces for the full effect). We couldn’t help but think of all the fun events the venue could host – from private soirées to editorial shoots – the potential seems endless.
Owners Dan and Luca gave us a quick tour and shared some of the mansion’s history with us. Here’s what we loved:
- The original chandeliers, staircases, stained glass windows, fireplaces and impeccably detailed woodwork throughout.
- The old cobblestones, towering trees, and cast iron fence that surround the mansion.
- The secret hideout built by Gooderham himself (which was apparently frequented by Al Capone).
- Every winos dream wine rack (made with 170-year-old barn wood).
- The mural made with old scraps of Italian newspapers. We loved the recreated bedroom scene from Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (who doesn’t love Sophia Loren?!).
- The enormous patio that seats 200 people – perfect for outdoor brunch, afterwork bevvies and romantic dates. There’s also a newly-discovered wine cellar under the patio!
- The floor-to-ceiling windows.
And now on to the food… Luca, Dan and executive Master Chef Guerrino Staropoli set out to serve authentic Italian cuisine that is simple and unpretentious. And that they’ve achieved. Here is what we loved:
- They import most of their meats and cheeses from Italy and combine the D.O.P. products with local produce in their dishes. Bonus: they’re big supporters of local farmers both here and in Italy.
- João, their incredibly charismatic and knowledgeable mixologist, knows how to make a well-balanced (and stiff!) cocktail. We loved the Miss Daisy (tequila plata, fresh pressed lime juice, carthusian monks liquor and maraschino).
- The arancini, fried taggiasche olives and homemade piccanti sauce were divine!
- The cured meats on their misto board were to die for and would alone be a reason for us to go back! We weren’t huge fans of the cheeses, but to each his own (they also rotate the selection to spice things up – so there is hope for us next time).
- The Amaretta Mista Salad was a refreshing palate cleanser. We thought the endive, fennel root, radicchio, oranges and raspberries really complimented each other and made for a tasty summer salad.
- Although a popular dish, the lobster pappardelle didn’t quite hit the spot for us. The noodles were cooked to perfection (and are made in house), but the mushrooms had more than a splash of dry vermouth which overpowered the delicate dish. We did get a very generous portion of lobster and think with a few tweaks this dish could shine (having just opened they’re still fine-tuning their menu).
- The standout dish? The pizza! For me, the one thing that separates a good pizza from a great pizza is the sauce. And this chef has one of the tastiest homemade pizza sauces I’ve had. It was rich, the perfect consistency and not too acidic. Topped with buffalo mozzarella, calabria sausage, fresh diavolini peppers, provolone and portobello mushrooms, we thought the Piccante pizza was spot on.
- They have a great selection of Italian wines to choose from. We had the Le More Sangiovese di Romagna (2011). It was well-structured and had a lovely finish. A perfect pairing with our pizza.
- And lastly, we devoured a dessert trio. The tiramisu was light, fluffy and not too sweet. The orange mousse cheesecake was rich and had a lovely wild berry coulis blanketing the top. But I think the Sicilian cannoli takes the prize. It was filled with rich ricotta and topped with a sprinkle of pistachio. We inhaled them in no time!
In true Italian fashion, we had an enjoyable four hour dining experience at Osteria Dei Ganzi. All thanks to the friendly and talented Master Chef Guerrino Staropoli who kept feeding us. He reminded us of the chefs we met in Italy: very warm, proud of his food and engaging (he took the time to visit every table in the restaurant). He is an absolute gem!
Oh, and the service was great! Our server Mohamed was attentive and knowledgeable. He also timed the meals well (something many of the city’s servers fail at), never let our water glasses go empty (a pet peeve of mine) and made sure we were satisfied with every detail.
Overall, we had a great experience at Osteria Dei Ganzi and think this resto will only get better from here (the owners are super eager to refine till perfection). We’re definitely going back to try the rest of the menu! And we’re really excited to check out the series of events they’re rolling out – from jazz to cigar nights!
Special thanks to Osteria Dei Ganzi for hosting us for dinner. As always, all reviews and opinions are entirely our own.