Italian on King you say? Rivaling Little Italy herself, King West boasts surely the highest per capital Italian cuisine offerings in Toronto. With Kit Kat, Gusto, Cibo, Buca, Ovest, Bar Mozza, and Il Fornello all visible from the curb of King, there are molti choices. While it's possible there's never been a recorded complaint about too many Italian restaurants, especially in Toronto's long time entertainment district (rammed with locals and tourists alike), you'd think another Italian joint would burst the proverbial belt buckle. And while a challenge to stand out in an area chock-a-block with a single food genre, not to mention a zillion other good restaurants, this new Italian gem does just that.
Enter Oretta. Italian for "about an hour", Oretta boasts a cuisine and decor that entice you to do just the opposite. Or, er, you know, to stay longer. Owned by Salvatore Mele of Capocaccia (another Italian theme cafe/restaurant at Yonge & St. Clair), and headed by chef Christian Fontolan, Oretta throws a convincing curveball at King's existing Italian batters. Having opened late December 2016, Oretta is open for lunch and dinner, and reservations are easily made online or via their delightful, Italian Mama-ish, sing-songy answering service.
Greeted by sleek, condo-like floor to ceiling exterior windows, Oretta explodes with originality on the inside. With its stunning, Vatican-esque arched ceilings and central, semi-circular marble bar, Oretta is instantly impressive. Spacious, with a retro feel, and bright pastel color scheme, Oretta pays attention to the details: from the two storey ceilings, 80s vintage light fixtures, vivid floor tiles, to its crisp, clean branding and stylish leather-bound menus. Even Oretta's website shines. With its interior zing, Oretta follows a golden service industry rule, not just reserved for restaurants: if the space is inviting and beautiful, people will come. And for what Oretta offers, they'll stay.
Flooded with natural light from the street side wall of north facing windows, the space gleams. Off-white walls offer good reflective properties, and nary a nook gets shadowed. Hanging bulbous light fixtures suggest an 80s era style, extended by soft pinks and dark aqua-marine accents throughout the furniture and flooring. Music during the meal was staunchly un-Italian, and while both Pavarotti and Paganini would have been apt, the classic hipster mix of indie rock Oretta chose fit well with King's persistent effort to be cool. In addition to the main restaurant area, Oretta has a few hidden gems behind the scenes. One is a quaint coffee and pastry shop in the back (already renowned for its cappuccinos), accessible through the restaurant and by a separate rear entrance. The second is a gorgeous 2nd floor private dining area for private parties, and the third, a complete demo kitchen with harvest table that Martha Stewart would covet. Here, among other things, Food Network personality David Rocco (of TVs Dolce Vita fame and an Oretta shareholder), has shot commercials, held parties, and prepared special meals.
Arriving for a late afternoon reservation, I was greeted immediately by a friendly host and seated within minutes. With its reputation and location, you'd think the place would be overcrowded and noisy, by day or night. But not so. While big, popular, and busy, Oretta maintained a comfortable volume level, where conversation was easy and relaxed. Service throughout the meal was courteous and prompt. My waiter was knowledgeable and friendly, guided me through the menu, and didn't let my water glass get below half for the duration of the meal. She was the perfect mesh of attentive when needed, and invisible when not. An interesting factoid: Oretta's servers don sneakers and tees to lend a casual feel to the space, apparently provided by Adidas, who have sponsored the restaurant.
With a drink list thicker than the food menu - and the aforementioned bar area covering a good 1/4 of the room footprint - one could surmise that Oretta is as much drink destination as eatery. Which it is. They open with a nice, succinct cocktail program ($12-$15), including a classic Barrel Aged Negroni ($14/2.5oz), and progress with a variety of whiskies, brandy & cognac, single malt scotches, and standard bar rail ($7-38). Oretta's wine list is unique in that it's (as far as I can tell) 100% Italian. Even the most strictly themed Toronto restos will usually stock a VQA or something from Argentina or Chile, but not here. 5oz glasses range from $10-35, and a veritable vineyard of bottles run $50-225. For beer, while offering standard light classics like Pilsner Urquell and Italy's own Peroni, Oretta doesn't neglect Toronto craft lovers. They offer a couple solid options including Muskoka's Mad Tom IPA and Anchor Liberty Ale ($8-9 bottle). They round out the menu with a selection of pop, juice, tea and coffee, as well as sparkling and flat water.
Upon asking "what's good?" my sever says, essentially, "Everything". Open for just a few months, Oretta is still tweaking its menu to customer response. Seems a lot's good. Apparently popular items include the Fritto Misto (calamari, $14), Cavoletti Salad (shaved brussel sprouts, $14), and Tagliatelle (ragu pasta, $19), though no dish appears to be a signature just yet. Starters, including a range of shared plates, soups, and appetizers range from $4-22. Pizza is an Oretta feature, with a full two menu columns dedicated to variations ($16-20). Made from scratch and oven baked, Oretta pizzas are reminiscent of Libretto's famous, thin crusted originality, with just a glance and a whiff to affirm they use the freshest ingredients and are cooked to perfection. Secondi offerings include a range of fish, steak, and lamb ($24-120), and tidy dessert list of Italian classics runs $9-16. A note to mention is Oretta's succinctness of menu selections. While robust, it's not enough to make you go cross eyed. Which is nice. 5-7 offerings in each section is it. And they all look good.
Pane e Olio
Bread and oil. Can't go wrong. But here, with the heaping portion of rye flour filone (a thin, almost baguette style bread) and spinach bun, Oretta adds a spicy olive oil and beautiful salty coco butter spread. Unapologetically carb-ignoring, this per cominciare (for sharing) starter made the usual bread app more unique.
In a word: glorious. A shaved brussel sprout salad, this unique prize came as described: a bed of impossibly fine-shaven brussel sprouts were dense and substantial. Almond pieces and fried, bacon-like prosciutto added crunch and texture, while a hefty dose of pecorino gave a savoury, sharp bite a la parmigiano regiano. A fantastic salad that should quickly rise to the top of Oretta's most ordered list.
Round medallion-like ravioli-style pasta filled with heirloom carrot and ricotta, with a brown butter sauce, topped with hazelnut and sage. The dish was light yet creamy, with the hazelnut pieces adding counterpoint to the soft, melt-in-your-mouth-ness of the pasta. While the sauce was a highlight, it was sparse enough to let the Tortelloni filling really shine. Delicate yet hearty, the Tortelloni struck a balance of sweet and savoury which while taken in a gourmet setting, instilled the comfort of a home made meal. Portioned perfectly, this main encouraged every bite to be had, without leaving a hint of heaviness in the aftermath.
In yet another word: phenomenal. The rich Torta Firenze chocolate tart is a 70% cocoa treasure, with pistachio pieces, soft caramel, and pistachio gelato. The cocoa's bitterness was a distinct and refreshing surprise considering the all too usual bulldozer of chocolate dessert sweetness. Presented like a magazine shoot, it arrived sprinkled with pistachio pieces, drizzled with a caramel glaze, with a single scoop of pistachio gelato (on a bed of chocolate pieces) adding as much colour as flavour. Dense, thick, and jam packed with flavour, this dessert, to beat the horse to death, should be on Oretta's signature list. While appearing small in size, each bite revealed a compact density, carrying the eater through to the end with the perfect level of satiation.
In a third word: good. After eating, I felt light and ready to go. The fact that my meal was simple and well-portioned for one could be reason enough for my post-dining bliss (that and the cocoa tart). Certainly other dishes from the Italian library could induce food-coma: creamy fettucine, heaps of pasta, heavy meat sauces and the like. But still, as Oretta is shooting to highlight the modern in "authentic Italian fare with modern day classics", I think they're aware of Italian cuisine's classic missteps.
It's worth a visit to Oretta if only for the decor. Oh and the food. And the drinks. And the dessert menu. And the service. While not inexpensive, Oretta is more or less in the lower-mid price-range of restaurants in the area. Renowned for glitz and overcoats, King West has its share (or more) of restaurants designed to separate money from customer. At Oretta, there's value to be had: portions are good, pasta is fresh, pizza is artful, service is prompt, and the decor is fun. Even the bill comes on a stylish heavyweight card complete with brass clip. With an interest in tweaking dishes to suit customer feedback, Oretta's is a menu that grows and changes. Which is nice to see. And it's a great way to engage regular clientele. While offering a complete dining experience Oretta also straddles that fine sort of triple threat line: customers can drop in for a drink, a dessert, a coffee, or all the above. That, in addition to a full meal. Kind of great. And kind of rare.