Noce is something of a West Queen West institution, having overlooked Trinity Bellwoods Park for years. On a block increasingly littered with bakeries, you might expect almond croissants or baklava from its name--Italian for nut--but instead, you'll find well-executed, flavourful Italian cuisine.
It's a spot for unapologetic fine dining--and not in its new incarnation of reclaimed wood tables, intricate lighting, and petite plates--but rather in a stately, old-world sense. There are white tablecloths and starched napkins in each of the three dining rooms, leather-covered menus, and knowledgeable (mostly male) staff dressed in black and white. Despite this, the walls are a warm yellow hue, and the decoration seems inherited from some Italian nonna with good taste and modest means.
There's also the bonus that Noce tends not to be overriden with hungry diners--while reservations are recommended, if you arrive during a slow period, you can easily be seated on the covered patio or beside the large streetside window. The latter provides unfettered people-watching--and I'd imagine, allows you to be watched (much as I once spied someone who might have been Peter Gallagher, he of the formidable brows).
The wine list is, and I should stress this, appropriately priced for the restaurant. There's a small selection of by-the-glass options, and to any oenophile's delight, a lengthy list of bottles (among which the least expensive still rings in around $50). The atmosphere also invites slow, leisurely dinners. When we sit down, it's a blindingly bright afternoon, and we watch Trinity Bellwoods-ers sun themselves in the grass; then, an hour or so later, flee squealing as sunshowers descend.
We start with the beef carpaccio ($15). Despite being a well-documented meat-lover, I've always been a bit squeamish at the sight of raw, ruddy meat. This arrives (as many of Noce's dishes) without much flourish on a white plate, and garnished with parmigiano reggiano and a touch of arugula--the beef is sliced thin as petals and perfectly marinated, with a slight tang that's offset by the cheese and the intense hint of tartufata.
Next is the fritto Genovese ($14), which, in the right hands, is heads above your average pub-style fried calamari. A lightly breaded blend of calamari and shrimp, fried golden brown, was all well and good, but I have to go rogue and praise the sauce far above the plate itself. It's dubbed salsa verde, but smells distinctly of fresh pesto--an unusual choice to pair with fried seafood but surprisingly complementary--and so good that I polished it off on its own.
Despite the mouth-watering options for mains--from pan-seared Pacific salmon, to their veal chop alla Milanese--we settle on pasta. First up is the caper tagliatelle, with freshly-made pasta, capers, asparagus, roasted red peppers, cherry tomatoes, garlic, white wine and herbs ($14). Given the influx of infusions, foams, and other distractions on the plate, it's refreshing to see a confident dish that makes no allusions to offering anything innovative. The asparagus is well-cooked, and the capers make for unexpected bursts of salt amidst the noodles--not a spectacular dish, but a brightly fresh approach to pasta.
Nothing leaves you with a finer impression of a meal than a stand-out final dish. In this case, it's ravioli stuffed with a blend of mushrooms ($16), then sauteed in white truffle butter and sprinkled with parmigiano reggiano. It's a decadent pasta--white truffle butter being the culprit--and best eaten slowly, as the flavours are complex.
Beginning next week, Noce will be offering a lunch-time menu from Wednesday-Friday, from noon onwards. Gauging by what was available for dinner, it'll be more traditionally-prepared tastes of Italy that, while perhaps not as refined as you'd guess from a sidewalk glance, certainly deliver on taste.