Monday, May 16, 2011

Enoteca Sociale: Agostino's Roman-Inspired Cuisine

Enoteca Sociale is the newest venture by Chef Rocco Agostino, Max Rimaldi, and Daniel Clarke, of Pizzeria Libretto fame, but this time the menu is "inspired by classic Roman cuisine", according to Agostino. Utterly simple, few of the dishes have more than four or five visible ingredients. "I wanted to make simple food" says Agostino, so he's created a menu that is composed of dishes he's always wanted to make along with several dishes poached from his Nonna, pulling the maximum amount of flavour out of the fewest ingredients. He's done his Nonna proud.

Chef Rocco Agostino oversees Enoteca Sociale's impressive kitchen

One of the talented cooks in Agostino's kitchen

Using only the freshest, seasonal and impeccable produce, Agostino's cooking is rooted in solid technique and is absolutely delicious. We started with three antipasti including Arancini Con Stracciatella, which are deep fried little balls of risotto, known as arancini, or little oranges, that are filled with mozzarella and fried to a golden perfection, with decadent gooey centres. Outstandingly good.

Being an ardent fan of octopus, we had to order the Grilled Octopus with Swiss Chard, New Potato & Chili Pepper, which, as Chef Agostino explained to me, was braised for over 3 hours to a point of succulent perfection.

The Baccala Fritters with Tripe Ragu and Caper Aioli were unlike the baccala that I'd enjoyed in Venice (which were more like a brandade de morue), but these were absolutely delicious in Agostino's fragrant tomato based sauce. I must admit that I was a little unsure about the 'tripe aspect' of the dish, but our charming, and handsome waiter, assured me that the tripe was braised in such a small dice, that the texture was more like calamari, than the offal we all know and loath. I was proved wrong, and our server was right — it was delicious and I'd order it again!

We followed with Coda Alla Vaccinara which is braised oxtail served over soft polenta that had been cooked with wonderfully tangy pecorino — my hands-down favourite dish of the evening and the best polenta I've ever had. Rich and full flavoured, this is a dish that I desperately need to master at home. 

Braised Oxtail over Pecorino Polenta — outrageously delicious!

We also ordered a new dish on the Enoteca Sociale menu — Grigliata Mista — a platter of deliciously grilled lamb, quail, capicola and house-made fennel & black pepper sausage. The portion is quite generous, so it's the perfect dish to share. All the pasta at Enoteca Sociale is hand made in their kitchen, and with over seven pastas to choose from, it's imperative to make as many return visits as your waistline will allow, in order to do justice to Agostino's outstanding menu. 

The Conchiglioni Pasta with Taleggio and Walnuts

We tried their pasta special of the evening — Conchiglioni, or big pasta shells, stuffed with melted taleggio cheese and crushed walnuts, which was lovely and delicate — a gentle flavour that balanced well with our Grigliata and oxtail dishes.

Enoteca's light and delicious Chocolate Budino

To finish the meal, we shared a Chocolate Budino which was garnished with olive oil and sea salt, with a hazelnut meringue on the side, but we wished that we had saved some room for a sampling of Enoteca's Cheese Menu. An impressive list of almost 20 cheeses from their own Cheese Cave, the restaurant stores their cheeses in humidity controlled rooms so that they can be served in their optimal state year round — one of two restaurant's in the city with their own cheese cave. 

Enoteca Sociale is a small restaurant with a big heart. A lively animated crowd lit up the room the evening we were there, and coupled with the friendly professional service, outstanding menu and Chef Agostino's watchful gaze over each night's proceedings, I'm looking forward to returning many times to this fabulous tiny restaurant on Dundas Street West at Dovercourt, for a taste of Agostino's La Dolce Vita, again and again. Bravo.

Rocco Agostino's Bucatini All’amatriciana
Serves 4 
Recipe courtesy of Enoteca Sociale

28-oz can Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 lb guanciale or fatty pancetta, cut into 1-inch slivers
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes, or more to taste
Salt + ground black pepper to taste
4 tbsp grated Pecorino Romano + more for serving
1 lb dried bucatini or perciatelli

Empty contents of tomato can into large bowl. Gently crush tomatoes with hands. Set aside.

In large pot, heat oil in over medium heat. Add guanciale or pancetta. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Add garlic. Cook, stirring, until garlic is soft, 1 to 2 minutes Add tomatoes and juices. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 20 minutes. Season with chili flakes, salt and pepper. Stir in 1 tbsp cheese. Remove from heat.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to instructions on package. Place sauce over medium-low heat. Drain pasta and add to sauce along with remaining 3 tbsp cheese. Cook, stirring, until pasta is well coated, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste for seasonings. Transfer pasta to large platter or divide among 4 bowls. Serve with extra cheese on side.

These wonderful postcards come at the end of your meal, with the bill 

Enoteca Sociale 
1288 Dundas Street West