You can’t help but be charmed by La Veranda Osteria.
After all, how many restaurants offer you a family photo album at the front of the menu? Though I am a bit taken aback by a page with a stop sign as its only graphic.
On it are the rules, including no alterations, to enjoying the chef’s perfectly composed dishes!
I sip a glass of Anakena Carmenere ($7.95) — lovely flavour, good body, this is rapidly becoming one of my favourite wines — and ponder whether I might challenge the rules. But no, I bow to the authority of Chef Tomasso.
My starter is Antipasto con Funghi — grilled mushroom salad ($11.95). Fat, juicy pieces of Portobello and whole oyster and crimini mushrooms have been kissed with just enough of the grill to caramelize the surface a touch. The baby arugula salad underneath is lightly dressed and blends well.
The dish is perfection. My guest, a visitor from Montreal used to the fine cuisine of that city, starts with plump grilled calamari, served atop a handful of the same crisp greens ($10.95). It’s a nice change from the pokey little pieces one normally gets, he tells me, and it’s not rubbery — another pitfall when ordering squid.
We’re off to a great start.
His main course is the evening’s special — Osso Buco with risotto Milanese ($23.95). An enormous portion arrives — enough to comfortably feed two. But portions aside, this is Osso Buco as it’s meant to be — rich tomato broth, plenty of meat and a substantial, marrow-filled bone, all with a robust flavour to tingle every taste bud.
The risotto is spot-on, with obligatory al dente and brimming with parmesan. We’re both impressed.
I have ordered Florida grouper ($22.95). The menu description is as follows: “pan-fried in a white wine, lemon, butter, chopped fresh tomatoes and herb sauce, served with vegetables and potatoes of the day or penne with tomato sauce only please. *** Sauce on the side NOT available.”
Rules, rules, rules! Does the choice of penne and tomato sauce exclude vegetables? Yes it does. I cannot have penne and vegetables, the waitress tells me firmly.
With a sigh, I choose the healthy option and ask for vegetables. The fish is cooked to a turn; it flakes off my fork and each bite is tender and moist. But the lemon sauce has a touch too much garlic so the delicate sweetness of the fish is lost. It’s the only wrong note in the dish. The vegetables include wedges of scrumptiously roasted eggplant, red pepper and potatoes. This chef has a lavish hand with portions. I cannot possibly finish it all. I’ve noticed the lady at the next table about to depart with the remains of her dinner in a doggie bag and I understand why. But leftover fish never works so I reluctantly let my unfinished plate depart.
Can we do dessert? Unlike many restaurants, they proudly proclaim their own creations and indicate those they bring in separately. I would love to try Banana Pizza, described this way on the menu: “You guessed it! Hot, fresh mozzarella & banana dessert pizza, serves 2. Takes about 20 min to prepare. Dario and Flora’s Favourite!”
For the cast list — Dario and Flora — consult the front of the main menu where their pictures can be found.
Neither of us can face something as stodgy as pizza at this point. So instead, we order homemade Tiramisu to share ($6.50).
With a generous topping of mascarpone and grated chocolate, this is sinfully rich and absolutely delicious.
Add excellent coffee — decaf for me ($2.50) and cappuccino for my guest ($3.50) and we waddle our well-fed way out of the restaurant with farewells from the staff and Dario, whom we have discovered is the manager.
The ambience at La Veranda Osteria is friendly and this chef patently knows his stuff.
His dishes are, on the whole, nicely balanced for flavours so he’s probably right — substitutions would only disturb that fine balance. It’s apparent a few people have already discovered this spot but if you’re not one of them, give it a try. It got our thumbs up.
La Veranda Osteria, 946 Royal York Rd. 416-231-3800.
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