Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mercatto: a Taste of Tuscany on Toronto Street

Every neighbourhood has their own local Italian restaurant. A place that serves a little taste of Tuscany and a decent bottle of wine without breaking the bank. Living downtown, there are many places to choose from, but only a few that are just around the corner, which for us is Mercatto at 15 Toronto Street. Not only do they serve simple authentic italian cuisine all day, every day, but with a cutting edge 'Enomatic' wine preservation system showcasing 24 regional Italian wines available by the glass that are temperature and quality controlled for up to 30 days — it's a winning combination that's pretty hard to beat.

Polished dark wood floors and crisp white walls meet cozy sage banquettes

For over a decade, Mercatto has been hailed for it’s regional Italian food and truly unique wine program. From a lunchtime hotspot to a dining destination, Mercatto has grown considerably since renovating its original location on Toronto Street in 2007. Their philosophy of fresh ingredients and friendly staff has not changed, but what has is their approach to food and wine. 

Mercatto's 'Enomatic' wine preservation system showcasing 24 regional Italian wines 
available by the glass

What once was a humble wine list has since become an ever changing, award winning wine program. Mercatto’s wine list not only focuses on Italy’s diverse wine regions, but it also compliments the menu’s regional Italian cuisine. With menu changes occurring seasonally, the wine list and menu continue to work off one other’s success. Seasonal produce, local and artisanal cheeses, salumi and breads, Mercatto's approach has always been to go with the seasons, never against them. The strength of the menu is regional Italian comfort food.

Chalkboard encapsulating Mercatto's theme of Cucina Italiano

The interior is as modern, friendly and inviting as the menu. Polished dark wood floors and crisp white walls meet cozy sage banquettes, polished marble tables and a long communal dining table of reclaimed wood sits front and centre, perfect for larger groups. Floor to ceiling slate chalkboards celebrate featured Italian wines and daily seasonal specials are heralded on an large board that hangs above the open kitchen. For more intimate dining, a private dining nook with a large reclaimed wood table is nestled off to the side, surrounded by an inviting wall of wine and crowned with a whimsical rustic twig chandelier — an ideal spot to celebrate a special occasion or just celebrate life with close friends!

Mercatto's private dining nook for special occasions

Attention to detail is a wonderful thing — a small corner at Mercatto

From dawn until dusk, Mercatto serves Italian comfort food classics with sophsticated flair. An espresso bar provides a morning jump-start to hurried business people and local denizens alike, and as the sun sets, many head back for a glass of wine, and one of Mercatto's long list of rustic Italian appetizers, from a selection of Salumi e Formaggi served on long wooden boards, featuring local and imported artisanal meats and cheeses to reginal classics such as light and airy Arancini, Crostini or Fritto Misto. 

Salumi e formaggi served on a wood board with warm olives and homemade Italian pretzels

Mercatto's Arancini filled with squash, fontina cheese, walnuts garnished with a dollop 
of cranberry conserve and finished with a single fried sage leaf

Many come for the wonderful thin crust pizzas and delicate homemade pastas, with popular favourites such as Ravioli with goats cheese, local mushrooms, arugula and truffle oil, Bucatini with east coast lobster, diced tomato, pepperoncini and fresh herbs, or Gnocchi with duck ragu, cherries, swiss chard and grana padano. A selection of six pizzas include Affumicato topped with fennel sausage, smoked scamorza, onion and tomato, Diavola with spicy sopressata, tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil to the traditional classic Margherita with tomato, fior di latte and fresh basil.

Goat Cheese filled Ravioli in a wild mushroom sauce and finished with truffle oil, 
fresh arugula and shaved parmigiano

Piatti del Giorno Bisteca with celery root casserola, cippolini onions and red wine jus

The staff are young, energetic and thoroughly engaged with their task at hand, whether it's explaining any one of the new varietals that have just arrived, or the nuances of the piatti del giorno, the servers always leave a lasting impression — whether it's Scott or Mark — it's the warm and friendly service and consistent quality of the cucina Italiano that make each visit to Mercatto a memorable and enjoyable experience, and keeps us coming back. And that's what a successful neighbourhood restaurant is all about — la Dolce Vita — the small touches that make life a little sweeter.

Our friendly server Scott, who's been working on his tattoo for years