It had been several years since I’d visited Cucci, a modern Italian restaurant in Oakville, Ont., just west of Toronto, so I paid a return visit, to see what executive chef Gordon Goss and his kitchen brigade are up to.
I’ve always enjoyed Cucci’s food very much, but chef Gordon and his team are scaling new heights thanks to a fresh level of creativity backed by rock-solid technique.
Even a simple mixed salad shines, thanks to ultra-fresh greens animated by a vinaigrette zinged, ever so subtly, with the distinctive sour orange/mango flavour of sea buckthorn berry.
Do not miss a signature Cucci appetizer featuring honey, king and oyster mushrooms lavished with black truffle and leek fondue, herbs, aged parmesan and white truffle oil, served on toast. It’s earthy and rich, an extravagant way to begin a meal.
And then we dig into the finest lobster pasta I’ve met. It’s built on perfectly al dente linguine and a generous mound of fork-tender shellfish in a feather-light tomato-inflected sauce. Bringing everything together are fresh basil leaves, adding fragrant herbal notes.
Rabbit Wellington fully demonstrates the kitchen’s inventiveness. An uncommonly generous portion of moist meat is accessorized by delicate spinach moistened with cream; king trumpet mushrooms; a large rectangle of flaky puff pastry; and a slab of foie gras, for added luxury.
There’s perfectly tender Ontario lamb rack and rich confit of shoulder. Riding shotgun are exquisitely sweet peas perfumed with mint.
Moist pan-seared trout perches on silky spun potatoes dotted with pancetta. Complementing the fish are sugar-sweet pearl onions contrasted brilliantly with faintly bitter braised Belgian endive.
Finishing things off are smooth crème brulee scented with Grand Marnier; light raspberry mousse garnished with intense raspberry jelly and Rice Krispies enrobed in crystallized white chocolate; and pistachio panna cotta paired with pistachio crumbs and intense apricot ganache.
All of this unfolds in an elegant room perfect for upscale Oakville. It’s a white-tablecloth space that’s modern and welcoming thanks to a chocolate-brown palette, dark-wood finishes, abstract art and padded banquettes. Live musicians — perhaps a pianist or guitarist — play a mix of standards and modern classics, adding a refreshingly old-school note of elegance.
The restaurant is available for group buyouts and accommodates 100 people, seated and 175, cocktail-style. Two private rooms each seat 20 to 30 people and combined, can host up to 70.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,300 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.