Café Bar Pasta Interior
The non-Italian, Italian place
Located in the heart of Toronto's Dundas West neighbourhood, the wonderful Café Bar Pasta has made quite a name for itself in the two years since it opened. Regarded by foodies as one of the city's top new restaurants, Café Bar Pasta is, as its name suggests, a unique take on Italian style cuisine (hence its claim as the "Non-Italian-Italian Place").
As soon as you enter the restaurant – easy to spot with its attractive black and white awning – you're faced with a choice of seating options. If you're in a group (or willing to share a table) and want to be close to the big windows, head for the huge pine table occupying the front of the restaurant. Capable of seating 10 or more comfortably, it's a great place to enjoy a nice breeze along with a little of the village-like atmosphere of this part of the city. And be sure to check out the unique chandelier-like lighting fixture above you; in place of the usual glass or crystal is a collection of cutlery! Another great touch are the huge glass panels along the wall of the entrance that hold an impressive collection of corks.
Cafe Bar Pasta Meal by Russel's T.
Another seating option is the cozy main dining room with its pleasant whitewashed brick walls and large, trendy artworks resembling various types of pasta. And while on busy nights the downstairs bar area is used, if you're able to gather together a group of eight or more, book the Chef's Table (smaller groups are sometimes welcome when everywhere else is full, particularly on weekends). Set to one side of the kitchen, this long wooden table offers an excellent view of the chefs as they work (the chefs will also work with you on preparing a menu).
Café Bar Pasta Carbonara
Fantastic service, appealing appetizers...
As for the dining, Café Bar Pasta undoubtedly ranks up there with the very best of Toronto's top dining establishments. And thanks to Executive Chef Jay Scaife's passion for Italian cuisine, the simplest of traditional pasta dishes are transformed with such flair and finesse that every mouth-watering morsel will tempt you back for more.
Helping us make some tough choices about our food options was our excellent waiter, Andrew. Not only did he guide us through the extensive wine list, he knew each of the main ingredients (locally sourced wherever possible) and readily made suggestions when asked about the restaurant's most popular dishes.
For a starter, we opted for the superb Brussels sprout salad ($13, and no, these were nothing like the boiled-to-within-an-inch-of-their-lives sprouts your granny made). Lightly fried, crispy and served with a cider vinaigrette and radicchio and cashew taleggio, this amazing dish was perfect for sharing thanks to its generous portion size. Every bite of these sprouts was packed with freshness and with a sweet and savoury flavour that left us wanting more.
Café Bar Pasta Steak
... Awesome entrées
Every pasta served at Café Bar Pasta is made fresh to order, so while it means maybe waiting a little longer, it's well worth it (as the saying goes, all good things come to those who wait... and you won't be disappointed here). We ordered the casarecce ($19), a highly original take on the wonderful flavours normally found in a French onion soup and boldly applied to pasta. The result? This dish packed quite the taste bud punch, the remarkable mix of flavours coming from its slow braised beef, gruyere cheese, Vidalia, thyme, cognac beef broth, brown butter crumb and blackout Gouda. (Another pasta contender is the carbonara "Green Eggs & Ham Part Deux!" ($19), a delightful dish consisting of garden peas, smoked chicken, black pepper, crispy guanciale and pecorino.)
And as good as the pasta is, be sure to at least ask about the daily meat dish, so fresh it's not included on the printed menu. We're glad we asked, and ended up ordering a tender 12oz rib-eye steak that had been aged for 100 days. Served with huge home cut fries and sweet chargrilled leeks on a massive wood platter, it was another item everyone wanted a taste of (something made possible due to the fact it was sliced to perfection).
Café Bar Pasta Casarecce
Sweet treats, drinks and take-outs
Like the daily meat dish, the desserts here are so fresh and unique they also don't make the menu (so be sure to ask). We did and were rewarded with what our crème brûlée expert says was the best such dessert he'd ever had! Served with seasonal fresh cut berries, it went as well with what was left of our Portuguese Vinho Verde as it did with the fresh brewed espressos we washed it down with.
Finally, if you're one of those diners who likes to sample a new location, take advantage of Café Bar Pasta's Pastalicious event running Tuesdays to Thursdays throughout July and August. Highlights include an appetizer and bowl of pasta for just $25 (a glass of wine can be added for just $5 more).
And if, like us, you want to take a little of the Café Bar Pasta experience home with you, be sure to check out their Dough 2 Go! program which offers fresh pasta made in house daily for pick-up in time for dinner (all you need to do is place your order before noon).
Café Bar Pasta Beignets