Saturday 19 July 2014

Toronto Summerlicious 2014

Participating Toronto restaurants hold a semi-annual event called Summerlicious or Winterlicious (depending on the time of year) where patrons can choose from a multiple course prix fixe menu at a price which is considerably lower than their regular fare. Lunch prices vary from $15 to $25 and dinner prices vary from $25 to $45. It's a chance for people with lower budgets to experience some finer dining and for restaurant businesses to increase their clientele. Generally a course will consist of an appetizer, a main and a dessert. You generally get 3-4 choices for each course.

You may remember I featured two restaurants for Winterlicious this year

Although the two week event ends tomorrow I only got around to trying one place this time. There is an Italian eatery in Yorkville (downtown Toronto) called Ciao Wine Bar. A friend of mine accompanied me to sample some of their Summerlicious offers. Neither of us had been there before so it was a new experience. The food was mostly good. Service wasn't bad either. We both enjoyed the décor and ambiance the most. There are three different levels and a patio so there is a lot of seating. The two upper two levels, where we ate, are really beautiful. There is a lot of wood and brown, leather upholstered seats. There are so many shades of brown everywhere. Brown is my favourite colour (an odd choice some find) and I love environments that incorporate several shades of brown together. I think it looks very charming and earthy. The lower level is set to look like a wine cellar. It's dimmer and the walls are mostly brick work. I didn't get a great look at the lower level but think that's where the kitchen may be. From atop the stairs at the main entrance I saw a shelf with stacks of fresh baked, rosemary flatbread which come complimentary while you wait for your food. The bread was fantastic (not pictured). They served it us each a generous single loaf with balsamic vinegar, olive oil infused with herbs and chilies, marinated mild chilies and pitted kalamata olives.


My friend who accompanied me is a vegetarian and Ciao Wine Bar is one of the many who accommodates vegetarians in their Licious menu options. We considered a few places and we both decided we this place looked the best.

For their Primi appetizer menu they offered:

-Fresh Orecchiette
Rapini, Spicy Italian Sausage, Fontina, Parmigiano, Garlic, Extra Virgin Olive Oil

-Caprese Salad
Fiore di Latte, Tomato, Basil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Aged Balsamic

-Warm Garden Vegetable Salad
Grilled Vegetables, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Aged Balsamic, Parmigiano Reggiano

I ordered the orecchiette dish, which I thought was actually quite good. The savoury spiciness of the sausage cuts through the richness of its own fat accompanied by the fresh pasta, slightly bitter vegetables and salty, melted Fontina and Parmigiano. 

My friend, Alicia, ordered the Caprese salad. When I think of a Caprese salad I think fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (or fiore di latte) and fresh basil with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. In Ciao's version, they used fresh chives instead of basil (which is nice) but the cheese to tomato ratio was a little overbearing. 

For the Secondi Main coureses they offer:

-Fresh Ravioli
Aged Ricotta Cheese, Sun Dried Tomato, Pine Nuts, Basil in a Rose Sauce

-Tilapia Picatta
in a Lemon, Caper, Butter Sauce, Summer Vegetables

 -Veal Scallopini
Forged Mushrooms, Garlic Roasted New Potatoes, Natural Pan Jus

I ordered the tilapia dish which I enjoyed. Tilapia is a very mild, moist fish. It's quite forgiving and takes on the flavour of just about anything you cook it with so it's very versatile. The picatta sauce worked great with it. Light with a little richness and some acidity to brighten it up. The vegetables were cooked very well. 

Alicia ordered the ravioli. This didn't have much wow factor. The rose sauce is almost the exact same colour of the plate so visually it's a little flat. When I see ricotta as the first ingredient in a stuffed pasta I expect it to be the star of the filling; soft and creamy. Alicia let me try half of one of her raviolis and the filling was kinda gritty almost like there was too much pine nut or bread crumbs in it. It wasn't really all that, unfortunately.

For the Terzo Dessert Course they offered:

-Vanilla bean Panna Cotta
Strawberry and Preseco consommé

-House Made Gelato
Fresh Berries, Brandied Pine Nut Tuille

-Double Chocolate Espresso Tart
Hazelnut Brittle

I decided to get the gelato dish. I got two scoops of gelato, hazel nut and chocolate, with a nutty tuille and some fresh berries. Not bad. It's not the best gelato I ever had. Gelato should be very creamy and smooth but mine had little bits of ice crystals throughout it. I'm sure there's a scientific reason for that which I don't understand but whatever the reason for it, it shouldn't occur in a good gelato. The flavours were great though. 


Up until now it seems like Alicia has gotten the shorter end of the stick with her dinner. I have to say, her dessert was outstanding. She ordered the chocolate tart. Although I really love chocolate, the tart seemed the least appealing to me when I was looking at the menu. It just seemed heavier than the other options and the first two courses that I chose were kinda heavy. Alicia was so nice she let me try a bit of everything she had that night and didn't want to try anything of mine (thanks Alicia, lol). Anyway, Alicia got an individual double chocolate-espresso tart with a caramel sauce, a little piece of hazelnut brittle with a raspberry, blackberry, gooseberry and a light dusting of icing sugar. I had a couple of bites and they were so good. Alicia enjoyed it too. It looks as though the chocolate custard part of the tart had split, which if I was an actual food critic could fault them for, but it was so delicious that we didn't care. It wasn't too sweet, wasn't too heavy, just an excellent, memorable dessert. The espresso flavour really enhances the chocolate (a trick we've used on the blog before). Big ups to Ciao for this dessert. 

So overall there were some hits and misses with dinner but all things considered I would go back again. I'm not much of a wine drinker (cook with it more than I drink it) but we did try a pretty stunning chianti. 

If this sounds like a place you'd like to try, why not check out their web-site? They are located at 133 Yorkville Ave in Toronto Ontario M5R 1C4. To reach them by telephone, call 416-925-2143. 

Well, that's it, guys. I only got to enjoy one dining experience this time around for Licious. Hopefully I'll get to sample at least a couple at Winterlicious next year. 

Until next time, see you again soon!


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