We went to the wrong restaurant. We were looking for Asian but we got Italian; it proved to be a happy error. We wound up in Pertino Restaurant.
It must be said that the view from the window — bright yellow Money Mart and Adult Toys signs — doesn’t help an already dull ambience. But the food and Anna, the world’s chattiest waitress, help to make up for it.
The wine menu is the first surprise. All the wines are marked up just $10 — extraordinary! My glass of Ogio Primitivo 2009 is basic, has a little fruitiness and a bite that improves with sitting. It’s light enough to go with anything and at $5.95, a bargain. My guest goes for the Italian Birra Moretti (mainly because of the cool graphic on the bottle), but we discover afterward that it’s now owned by Heineken ($5.95).
The garlic bread is fat slices of crusty loaf that have been grilled on a flame. To accompany, there’s traditional balsamic and the olive oil has been steeped with chillies. We both eat more of this than we should. It’s very good.
My guest’s calamari appetizer is standard fare — deep fried in a light batter with a fairly dull mayonnaise-based sauce for dipping ($7.95). But the calamari remains delicate and isn’t rubbery. And there’s enough to feed two easily.
My starter of a “small” Mediterranean salad is basically a Greek salad with romaine and radicchio and just enough dressing to give it a really good tang ($4). I’m glad Anna has suggested we order the small one; it’s more than enough for two to share.
She waits until we’re just about finished our appetizer to ask if the chef can start the mains. The message is clear — this is freshly made. And it is!
Pappardelle with Italian sausage, sun dried tomatoes, goat cheese, spinach and roma tomatoes in a light tomato cream sauce ($13.95) is Anna’s recommendation and it proves to be rich and spicy. There’s a hint of some herb I can’t identify, but it’s delicious. The ribbons of pasta are perfectly cooked and smothered in the flavourful sauce. The sausage has been added with a lavish hand and frankly, there’s far too much for one. Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
My guest has also taken Anna’s recommendation. He has the Pertino special — linguine with peppercorn cream sauce and grilled chicken ($13.95). It’s another winner. Fat, fresh green peppercorns give a simple sauce real zest, and my guest loves the grilled chicken — “you can taste the flames.” Despite its size, he actually manages to finish his plateful.
Only two desserts are homemade — tiramisu and cheesecake. Once more we rely on Anna. The blueberry cheesecake is her favourite and it’s also freshly made, so we opt to try it ($4.50). It’s a reasonably sized wedge of traditional cheesecake, complete with graham cracker crust. The filling is rich, velvety and not oversweet, and the blueberry topping is freshly made. It’s a nice change from the usual, cloyingly sugary version. And Anna’s fresh coffee — regular and decaf ($1.75 each) — is good.
This is traditional Italian casareccia — home cooking — not fancy, but flavourful and incredibly good value. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday, you can choose your own combo — an appetizer or salad, main course and dessert for just $21.95.
But I have a final surprise in store. I have spent the entire meal picturing a traditional Italian chef in the background so imagine my surprise when Perry comes out to say hello. He’s Sri Lankan, trained at George Brown and cheffed at Mammina’s, the popular Italian eatery once on Wellesley Street. It just goes to show, you don’t have to be Italian to make really good pasta.
Pertino, 1610 Queen St. E., 416-645-2027. Website: www.pertinorestaurant.com.
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