Two and a half years ago, EVOO Ristorante launched in the space formerly occupied by Cantine in Toronto’s Avenue Road/Davenport Road restaurant row.
Spearheading EVOO is Peter Catarino, who, for 20 years, co-owned Spuntini restaurant about a block or so south of EVOO, on Avenue Road.
Following a December 2014 fire that destroyed Spuntini and Sotto Sotto eateries, Peter bought Cantine, changed the name to EVOO, and was back in business.
A hands-on owner who’s at the restaurant taking reservation phone calls and graciously hosting guests, Peter clearly hasn’t missed a beat.
More deliciously still, EVOO’s kitchen continues the classic formula that served Spuntini so well for two decades: First-rate ingredients cooked expertly and simply in the Mediterranean tradition that lets each ingredient speak for itself and lets flavours shine brightly.
For example, there’s a nightly soup of ultra-thick pureed tomato, its flavours pure and strong, and amplified by a scattering of crumbled goat cheese.
Pillow-soft slices of eggplant are wrapped around creamy, molten goat cheese, each bodacious ‘cannelloni’ bundle sitting in sugar-sweet tomato sauce.
Between courses, we inhale slices of crusty Italian bread that we use to mop up fruity and mild olive oil imported from Portugal.
Pastas and main courses could not have been better. Chunky, sweet tomato sauce graces al dente spaghetti — a perfect pomodoro. Similarly excellent is capellini pasta tossed with earthy wild mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, baby spinach, garlic and truffle oil.
And then comes the best fish soup I’ve had in the city. Served in a giant skillet, it holds an ocean’s worth of lobster, tiger shrimp, clams, scallops, calamari and white fish in a tomato-based broth scented with saffron and white wine. At $30, this dish offers tremendous value.
A nightly fish special brings spigola (Mediterranean sea bass) grilled until its flesh is moist and delicate. Along for the ride are toothsome julienned vegetables and cannellini bean salad.
Splendidly finishing off this feast are a series of first-rate desserts: Rich coconut cream pie; pecan pie whose sophisticated filling is not too sweet and loaded with nuts; lemon tart anchored by citrusy curd tucked into a sturdy crust; and bracingly tart lemon ice.
All of this unfolds in a softly lit, white-tablecloth space that manages to be casual, sophisticated and romantic all at once.
Further enhancing the evening is a service team that is as polished and professional as it is friendly and accommodating.
Group dining options include full corporate buyouts of the restaurant, which accommodates 96 people, seated and 110, cocktail-style. A back semi-private area hosts 40, seated and 50, cocktail-style.
EVOO also caters offsite meetings and events.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,500 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.