In more than five years of writing about food for The Coast, I can count on one hand the number of truly amazing meals I’ve had—there have been plenty of great meals and very good meals, but only a few that can only be described as flawless.
Such is my dinner at the Italian Garden.
We take our seats and peruse the menu. We note the menu’s claim that all dishes are made from scratch, using only fresh, high-quality ingredients; our bread basket supports this, a harbinger of the food to come.
Warm, crusty flatbread with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, coupled with a glass of wine from the extensive wine list, could make a meal on its own; conversation stops as we mop up our oil and vinegar with every last crumb of bread.
To start, we’ve chosen the appetizer platter for two ($16), a beautifully presented plate of bruschetta, calamari, cheese, grilled artichokes, olives and a salad of sliced cheese and tomatoes. The bruschetta is made with the same excellent table bread that we’ve just been served, and is the best I’ve ever eaten. Discs of mild bocconcini cheese nestle between slices of ripe tomatoes, with whole basil leaves and sea salt, an indication of pure, simple flavours at their best. The calamari is lightly battered and mouth-meltingly tender, and we find ourselves at a loss for superlatives to describe this starter plate.
On to our main courses; we’ve chosen pastas—Mammina ($19) and Al Caprino ($15). Mammina (“Little momma”) is handmade ravioli stuffed with prosciutto and parmesan, finished with a light tomato sauce and ricotta cheese. Al Caprino is short little tubes (mezze Maniche) of pasta with plenty of artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes and goat’s cheese, tossed with garlic, olive oil and basil. All of the stuffed pastas are made in-house, while the others are imported from small artisanal pasta-makers in Italy.
Both our main courses are outstanding, with pure flavours of high-quality ingredients rendering us speechless. We do manage to sigh, “Yes, please,” to a dessert menu, and choose a cake and the tiramisu ($9), made from an original family recipe. The famous Italian dessert has never been translated better, I’m sure—a large glass dish of mascarpone cream whipped with amaretto and eggs, slathered over ladyfingers and dusted with cocoa; there’s no other like it in the city. My dining companion claims not to like tiramisu but tries mine and is won over: “Now I know why I didn’t like it--I never had this one.” The other dessert is equally lovely. Torte Cioccolata ($7) is a chocolate sponge cake, layered with mousse and topped with chocolate ganache. Not nearly as heavy as it sounds, it is exceptional.
What better way to end a meal, we think, but we’re wrong. Italian Garden serves espresso ($3.75), made the intended way, stirred on a pot over the stove. That turns out to be the perfect way to end this perfect dinner.
The Italian Garden is a family restaurant in true Italian “trattoria” style. The chef/co-owner is Roman, and has brought years of cooking experience and passion for food to the table. His son, a remarkably personable young man who’s not old enough to serve wine, (but smart enough to keep our breadbasket full—Grazia!) works at running plates and filling water glasses as well as bread baskets. Our server is very knowledgeable, and we enjoy interacting with him very much (good luck with your degree!).
We came in as hungry strangers and left as completely satisfied friends of the family.
Italian Garden5688 Spring Garden Road444-3380Hours: Lunch Tues-Sat,12-2:30pmDinner Mon-Sat, 5-10pm
More flawless Liz Feltham reviews online at www.foodcritic.ca