Friday, October 7, 2011

Aria Ristorante: Authentic Italian Cuisine

Aria Ristorante is the latest venture by Noce owners Elena Morelli and Guido Saldini, who were approached three years ago by Telus, to open a restaurant in the telecom giant's new headquarters beside the ACC. Elena and Guido, who for almost 20 years have set the standard for Italian cuisine in Toronto, have brought the same attention to detail to their new venue — but the feel here is very different: where Noce exudes understated sophistication, Aria is cool, contemporary and unabashedly extravagant. And the interior space is striking, almost operatic in scale. 

Granite and quartz bar with bright pink glass wall designed by Brent Comber

Architect Stephen Pile, who designed Aria, was tasked with bringing warmth to the soaring space that features floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch almost 30 feet high, and sheathed in part with diaphanous metal mesh curtains. Pile plays on the height with exuberant design details like a two-storey wine tower; a swirling walnut ceiling installation, by Dennis Lin, that spans the entire length of the restaurant; a constellation of spherical Moooi light fixtures glowing like fireworks bursting in air; and emotive paintings by Canadian artist, Laura Wood, whose enormous soft-focus canvases of chandeliers look like they're being viewed through a rather pleasant grappa-induced haze. Behind the granite and quartz bar, is a bright pink glass wall studded with wine bottles, designed by Vancouver-based artist Brent Comber, and for an elegant European touch, there's exquisite hand blown Venetian glassware on every table, designed by Carlo Moretti.

Aria's two-strey wine cellar and the extraordinary Moooi light fixtures 
that appear like fireworks exploding in the sky

But the star of Aria is unquestionably the food. Thankfully, Elena and Guido have proved that authentic cuisine, rooted in traditional, country hospitality, can indeed work in a space that’s contemporary, soaring and sleek. Like Noce, the focus of this new Italian restaurant is on high-end bona fide Italian cuisine, and just as he did in the kitchen at Noce, Aria's Executive Chef Eron Novalski and sous-chef Matthew Doener, are focused on delivering a distinctly Italian menu, using only the vey best ingredients to create classic Italian dishes of elegant simplicity and a modern touch.

Calamari Fritti

Dishes include a delicious range of Italian classsics: Calamari Fritti, exquisitely tender and dusted with rosemary salt, Gli Affettati, a generous selection of house cured meats such as Prosciutto di Parma and smoked duck breast served on a beautifully crafted piece of wood, Carpaccio di Manzo, red wine cured beef sirloin with arugula and shaved parmigiano, and Zucchine Fritte, a tangled nest of julienned zucchini flash fried to succulent perfection — unrelentingly addictive and perfect for sharing. 

Zucchine Fritte

Gli Affettati

Zuppa del giorno - Butternut Squash

Secondi include a selection of Pasta, Pesci and Carni, with dishes such as Noce's signature — Ravioli Funghi, mixed mushroom ravioli in a wildly aromatic white truffle butter and shaved parmigiano, Branzino e Lenticchie di Norcia, whole grilled fresh branzino with stewed Umbrian lentils and brunoise of vegetables, Oven Roasted Lamb Loin nestled on a puddle of rapini purée and garnished with a crispy potato cannelloni stuffed with ricotta, grappa and soaked apricots, and Risotto Del Giorno with gorgonzola and ragu of braised short ribs. 

Risotto Del Giorno with gorgonzola and ragu of braised short ribs

Ravioli Funghi with white truffle butter and shaved parmigiano

Oven Roasted Lamb Loin on a puddle of rapini purée and garnished 
with crispy potato cannelloni stuffed with ricotta, grappa and soaked apricots

For dessert, our table shared two dolci: the Il Cremino, a smooth and delicate layered nutella and mascapone paté topped with salted banana gelato and garnished with crumbled crunchy caramel and chocolate cookie, as well as a plate of Italian cookies, including homemade biscotti, delicate macaroons and warm chocolate cookies that arrived fresh from the oven. 

Aria's enticing Dolci menu 

Il Cremino, a smooth and delicate layered nutella and mascapone paté 
topped with salted banana gelato and garnished with crumbled crunchy caramel 
and chocolate cookie

Plate of fresh baked Italian cookies 

There is attention to detail everywhere - even with the whimsical design 
of the Italian espresso cups

Wine is another one of Aria's stars: the restaurant contains one of the largest selections in the city, with more than 4,000 bottles and 500 varieties. We selected a robust Umbrian wine from the very charming and effervescent Elena Morelli, who by some divine intervention, was one of our servers this night, and most certainly the brightest star in Aria's constellation. When I told her that we were going to be in Umbria in a few months, she brought to our table one of her personal bottles of Passati — a gift from the vintner of the Umbrian wine we had selected, a Sagrantino di Montefalco by Arnaldo-Caprai. Elena poured five glasses of the sweet red wine: four for us and one for her! An enormously hospitable gesture, Elena also offered to forward us the names of some of her Umbrian wine makers so that we might get a personalized tour when we're in Italy.

Elena's delicious sweet Sagrantino di Montefalco Passati

Elena said they have just recently started opening for lunch, and although Aria has only been open for three months, it is already — most assuredly — one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Offering exceptional Italian cuisine in a grand extravagant setting with gracious old-world hospitality, 
Elena Morelli and Guido Saldini, plus all of the staff, deserve a standing ovation. Aria's future is bright - it's written in their stars.

25 York Street, Toronto 416 363 2742

Pork Tenderloin with Leeks, Walnuts & Currants in a Cream Sauce
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Noce Restaurant

4 small pork tenderloins 

1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup chopped leeks
1/2 tbsp chopped onion
1/2 tbsp chopped garlic
1/4 cup dried red currants
1/4 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup white wine 
Salt and pepper 
All-purpose flour 

1 onion chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup white wine
1 cup whipping cream
4 tsp dijon mustard
3 tsp whole grain mustard

Slice tenderloins lengthwise, almost through, forming a pocket for filling. To make filling, sauté leeks, onion, garlic, currants and walnuts in a little hot oil for 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup wine and season with salt and pepper. Blend to combine in a food processor. 

Fold each pork tenderloin flap back, spread with filling, then press to close. Coat lightly with flour and sauté in hot oil, browning on all sides. Add onion and cook 4 to 5 minutes, then add chicken broth and wine. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Transfer the tenderloins to a 450°F oven for 15 minutes then place on a cutting board; cover to keep warm.

Add whipping cream and mustards to chicken broth mixture. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered until slightly thickened. Slice tenderloins into 1-inch thick pieces and spoon sauce over tenderloins. Serve immediately.