Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bar Mercurio: Chic Trattoria Dining on Bloor West

A charming Annex institution, Bar Mercurio is a chic New York-style family run trattoria, centrally located at Bloor and Avenue Road and just steps from the ROM, Bata Shoe Museum, Varsity Stadium and the Royal Conservatory of Music, in downtown Toronto. Opened in 1997 by Giuseppe (Joe) Mercurio, this charming little bijou offers an extensive Italian-inspired menu featuring thin crust wood-fired pizzas, robust soups, sinfully delicious pastas as well as grilled veal chops, steak-frites, a small menu of daily specials and impressive wine list that features many regional Italian wines and also some quite wonderful wines by the glass. With a friendly and inviting ambiance, Bar Mercurio always seems to be buzzing, and was positively "hopping" when we arrived for dinner on a hot sultry Thursday evening.

The casually elegant interior of Bar Mercurio 

A stylish restaurant, Bar Mercurio's allure is as much about the setting as it is about the food. The interior has an art deco feel with coffered ceilings, subdued lighting and a selection of some of Joe Mercurio's own artwork hanging on the restaurants soft celadon-green walls. Crisp white linens, snazzy tableware and a wall of cozy sage banquettes set the scene, while waiters busily weave around tables like a choreographed waltz, balancing plates, pouring wine engaging regulars with friendly banter. The kitchen is open to the restaurant and fascinating to watch as pizzas are thrown in the wood-fired oven, sauces are flambéed, chops are grilled and salads are tossed. The evening we visited, we decided to start with a cocktail as we nibbled on homemade warm focaccia and herbed pita and perused the menu.

A dry Hendricks Martini, straight up with a slice of cucumber

Warm focaccia and herbed pita crisps in a retro little red tin bucket

Bar Mercurio's dinner menu

We started with Capesante, plump sautéed scallops and watercress salad with a light anchovy dressing, and the soup of the day, a Minestra of wild mushrooms and seasonal vegetables, garnished with smoked cheddar cheese, which looked a bit like swamp water but was delicious! To follow we ordered Fettuccine all'Anantra Tartufate, fresh fettuccine in a truffled duck ragu served straight from the kitchen in a weathered sauté pan. It was a great presentation. The Polipo ai Ferri, light and flavourful, featured warm octopus over chickpeas and capers in a delicate broth and garnished with lotus chips.

'Capesante' - Scallops and Watercress Salad with anchovy dressing

Minestra: Wild mushroom soup with seasonal vegetables 
and garnished with smoked cheddar cheese

'Fettuccine all'Anantra Tartufate' - Fresh fettuccine in a truffled duck ragu
served as shown in a sauté pan, straight from the open kitchen

'Polipo ai Ferri' - Octopus over chickpeas and capers with lotus chips

There's no dessert menu as such — our server Roberto rhymed off a list of delectable offerings such as Tiramisu, Creme Caramel and a trio of homemade Gelatos, including chocolate, strawberry and pistachio, which sounded too good to miss. Garnished with piped chocolate filigrees and topped with a sweet Ontario strawberry, the Pistachio Gelato had a light nutty texture and subtle sweetness, which made for a delicious end to a lovely evening. 

Pistachio Gelato garnished with chocolate decoration and fresh Ontario strawberry