Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pizzeria Libretto: A Slice of the Danforth

Toronto's love affair with Neapolitan pizza has resulted in lavish praise being heaped on two of the city's reigning monarchs: Queen Margherita Pizza and Pizzeria Libretto. After nearly two years in the making, the much-anticipated second location of Pizzeria Libretto opened on the Danforth last November, bringing a little of Ossington's bohemian-chic mystique to the east side. Having enjoyed both QMP and Libretto on Ossington, we decided to try a slice of the Danforth with chef Rocco Agostino's new Pizzeria Libretto, and find out for ourselves which pizzeria reigns supreme.

Libretto's open concept kitchen with Thuet foccaccia ready to be sliced 
and served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Behind Libretto’s new look is New York design firm Andre Kikoski Architects, which recently worked on The Wright, the new restaurant at the Guggenheim. 

A long narrow industrial-chic interior of exposed pipes, painted brick walls and polished concrete floors, the new Pizzeria Libretto is a smart looking space with whimsical details such as tangled webs of colourful hanging lights made from reclaimed fire extinguishers and chairs moulded from recycled plastic Coca-Cola bottles! 

Pizzeria Libretto's Danforth location interior

A bright, bustling and funky two-story space, the real focus is at the back in the open kitchen with a pair of wood-burning ovens imported direct from Italy, which keeps the restaurant hustling morning, noon and night, serving freshly blistered, charred and chewy Neapolitan pizzas to a hungry east-end crowd. Pizzeria Libretto was first to bring Neapolitan-style pizza to Toronto, and now with two locations, it's struck gold again. On a midweek night, the place was jam packed.

The twin wood burning Neapolitan pizza ovens

One of Libretto's pizzaiolo making one of twelve different choices of pizza

In the kitchen at Pizzeria Libretto's new Danforth location is chef de cuisine Luigi Encarnacion, who recently worked at the ROM's C5 under Ted Corrado. Rocco Agostino, the executive chef, continues to oversee the kitchens of both Pizzeria Librettos, and has now stepped away from his celebrated Southern Italian restaurant, Enoteca Sociale, having hired Grant van Gameren, ex-chef of the Black Hoof, to hold down Enoteca's culinary fort for awhile. Encarnacion’s menu has introduced a host of new dishes, but are still in keeping with the quintessential Libretto charm: simple, straight forward and flavourful food with bold flavours. 

Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2009

We started our evening with a bottle of Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso which we enjoyed in Umbria recently, but haven't been able to find in Toronto. As it turns out, it's not available in the LCBO, but only as a private import through restaurants like Pizzeria Libretto. The only difference being it was about €10 in Italy and $60 on the menu tonight! Along with the delicious wine, we also ordered a bowl of wonderfully warm olives that literally burst in the mouth. Marinated with orange, garlic and slight hint of chilis, they were devoured in minutes, along with the platter of light and delicate Gnocchi Fritti with lemon, chives & crema fresca. 

Warm Marinated Olives with orange, garlic & chili

Gnocchi Fritti with lemon, chives & crema fresca

Signature items on Encarnacion's new menu include a Dungeness Crab Ravioli in a rich sea urchin and chanterelle cream sauce, Anchovy Crostino laden with eggplant, red pepper, confit tomato and bufala ricotta, Shellfish Aqua Pazza perfumed with oregano, vine-ripened DOP san marzano tomatos, fennel, and lobster stock, and the chef’s favourite, the Papa Luigi Pizza with tomato, speck, gorgonzola and red pepper. Our table ended up selecting the daily prix fixe which for $25 includes a Morsus, Primi, any Pizza on the menu and a choice of two Dolci.

Prix Fixe Morsus - a bread and ricotta salad with a drizzle of balsamic

The prixe fixe primi - Watercress and Endive Salad with roasted beets 
and pickled cippolini onions

Patate e Fagioli Soup with chickpeas, white beans, swiss chard, confit tomatoes 
and generous slices of sweet potato

Pizza Marinara with tomato, garlic, oregano and basil

Pizza Nduja with spicy sausage, tomato, garlic, oregano, basil, mozzarella and stracciatella

Beef Carpaccio with piave cheese and a lemon and herb pesto...before

And after...the carpaccio needed a tangle of wild arugula on top...and our server obliged me!

Last but not least, there’s Libretto’s famous homemade Chocolate-Amaretto Budino and their simple but delicious Vanilla Affogato, a glass of vanilla gelato drowned in warm espresso.

Vanilla gelato with warm espresso poured on top - simple and delicious

Chocolate-Amaretto Budino

I noticed that owner Rocco Agostino was on the premises earlier in the evening, but then disappeared around 8:30pm, presumably to head over to the other location. Interestingly, when we last dined at Pizzeria Libretto Ossington, Max Rimaldi, owner #2 was darting about. It's good to see that they're dividing their time overseeing their burgeoning culinary empire, and haven't taken their eye off the ball of dough. Both Pizzeria Libretto's are well run with prompt, courteous and congenial staff - and pizza that's pretty hard to beat. For my buck, I prefer the casual quirky ambiance of the Ossington pizzeria, but for a more discerning clientele, the Danforth interior is sightly more refined. Regardless, the food is excellent at both locations. Their recipe for success seems to be working, and I hear rumours there may be another Libretto opening soon in the north end of the city. Apparently, for Agostino, it's the customer that reigns supreme, along with their vera Pizza Napoletana.