Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pizzeria Libretto: Neapolitan Pizza on Ossington

We're blessed with a plethora of authentic Neapolitan pizzerias in this city, and one that's received it's fair share of media buzz is Pizzeria Libretto on the hip, newly-gentrified Ossington strip. Pizzeria Libretto is the brainchild of chef Rocco Agostino and his partner Max Rimaldi, who are also behind the much-praised Italian wine bar Enoteca Sociale. Rimaldi teamed up with Agostino to open the pizzeria a few years ago, and it’s been booming ever since with lineups almost every night. The name comes from the traditional Neapolitan way of thinking about pizza: it should be thin enough to be folded in half into a little book, or a 'libretto', and it appears Libretto wrote the book on Neapolitan pizzas — they're reputed to be the very best in the city.

Pizzeria Libretto's 'long bar'

A large chalkboard highlights the days special libations

For the uninitiated, true Neapolitan pizza is characterized by its thin, chewy, lightly blistered crust, made from Italian '00' flour, which is traditionally flash-baked in 90 seconds in a domed, wood-burning oven that's fired to 900°F. The toppings are simple: a true Neapolitan pizza must contain San Marzano tomatoes, which come from the foot of Mount Vesuvius in Naples, extra virgin olive oil, fresh cow's-milk or Fiore di Latte Mozzarella which is brought in fresh daily, and a little fresh basil, depending on the mood of the pizzaiolo.

Chef Rocco Agostino and his partner Max Rimaldi

Like any transplanted dish, the further the distance, the greater the risk of loss of authenticity, which is one of the reasons why so many pople love Pizzeria Libretto. Chef Agostino and Max Rimaldi are committed to creating a truly genuine pizza of Neapolitan proportions, as approved by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the governing body that preserves this time-honoured Italian culinary tradition. Using only the highest quality ingredients, made in a traditional manner with old world equipment, Libretto's pizzas are baked quickly in Libretto's their 5000-pound wood burning oven which was hand made in Naples by a third generation pizza builder, and shipped across the ocean because of Agostino and Rimaldi's firm belief that making real Neapolitan Pizza can only be achieved with this type of oven. 

Libretto's handsome 5000-pound oven hand built in Naples by a 3rd generation pizza builder

There are many different styles of pizza, but it’s the passion that's put behind the pizza, and the ingredients that are laid on top, that make the difference. A few simple and flavourful ingredients that cook quickly in the Neapolitan style, ensures the optimum freshness. While the menu is primarily focused on pizza, there is a fine selection of antipasti plates, insalate and bruschetta. Using only the freshest local produce, Libretto makes much of their own salumi and import some of the best cheeses and tomatoes straight from Italy on a daily basis. The daily prix fixe luncheon menu is a great value at $15 which includes a choice of two starters, two pizzas and choice of two dolce.

In addition to a great wine list, Libretto also features Peroni beer

The lightly-floured fried calamari is tender and well-seasoned, served on a base 
of nutty Catalan-style Romesco sauce with lashings of pesto oil

Beet Caprese Salad with Ontario Fiore di Latte, Cookstown seedlings and finished in Olive Oil

Arugula Salad with sliced pear, walnuts and shaved Piave cheese in a sherry vinaigrette

Another reason for the restaurant’s undying popularity is the wine list, which offers a plethora of Italian bottles under $50. Nine pizzas line the menu, with traditional choices like Margherita and Ontario Proscuitto for those who crave something familiar. Otherwise, there are Duck Confit with bosc pear and mozzarella, Berkshire Ham and Wild Mushroom varieties, and interesting combinations like the House-Made Sausage pizza, topped with caramelized onion, mozzarella and chili oil. The Grilled Eggplant is a delicious choice for the vegetarians, prepared with tomato, basil, chili flakes and ricotta salata.

The Margherita with Libretto's tomato sauce, fresh basil and "doppio" mozzarella

Libretto's special pizza of the day — a Margherita with house-made sausage and chili oil

Our server Adam pouring an Affogato, vanilla gelato drowned in hot espresso

Chocolate gelato — almost as good as mine!

Pizza has garnered even more culinary attention than ever these days, with the city's cross-town Neapolitan 'pizza war' between Ossington Avenue's pioneering Pizzeria Libretto, and their east-end rival, the fabulous Queen Margherita Pizza — a long time favourite of mine. The comparison was inevitable. Both are committed to serving Naples-style pizza, and to most customers the differences between them amount are minute. Libretto's dough rises for three days to develop deep, fermented flavour, as opposed to Margherita's two-day process. As much as I love QMP, I did find that Libretto's crust was a little crisper in its centre. However, Queen Margherita Pizza is a brighter more interesting space and much quieter than Libretto, plus it takes reservations, and has a new menu every day, which Libretto does not. Also, what QMP doesn’t use, is picked up by Second Harvest. The irony is that both make fantastic pizza and the city is all the richer for having so many culinary choices.

Libretto serves their own purified water to help reduce their carbon footprint

One of the great things about Italian food is that it's not pretentious in any way. It's simple, accessible, and hearty. It's about bringing people together. And Libretto struck each of those chords — the food was delicious, portions were generous, and the atmosphere warm and friendly. In fact, as we were leaving one of the junior servers caught our eye and said "Have a great day. And thank you for coming". Simple words, but what a difference it makes.

221 Ossington Avenue