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Restaurants

Porzia

Posted by Joshua Chong / Reviewed on January 31, 2013 / review policy

Porzia TorontoPorzia is now open in Parkdale. Well-publicized as the final entry to make Parkdale's recent moratorium cut-off, Basilio Pesce (of Biff's, Bymark, and Canoe), is quick to point out that the paperwork for Porzia was ratified nearly a year ago, so red tape was never a real concern. In fact, the only chagrin for the chef, part owner, and undeniably engaging spokesman, was fending off impatience.

The original plan, to completely gut and redress the entire space from its bedrock, was a herculean task unto itself. Pesce bore many a "wooden cross," as he put it, to strap in piping beneath drywall, eventually outsourcing to contractors in the hope of gaining some headway. Not a Golgotha by any means, but if you factor in the extra work due to grandfathered building codes, it did seem feasible that Porzia would be destined to a state of limbo.

But good things come to those who wait. Previously a gambling den of ill repute, today, Porzia stands dashing, cheek-by-jowl in this fertile Parkdale corridor with a number of nearby heritage-meets-modern iconic spaces, such as Chantecler, Grand Electric and The Mascot, to name but a few.

While you won't necessarily feel like you're back on the continent, many of the pieces chosen for the interior by Maylor Hardware design, strive for that Old World feel. Rectangular antiqued glass with reclaimed rosette fringe, add depth to the dining room, doubling the procession of globe lights overhead. The host stand itself is a retro-futuristic installation striking for its interactive airplane gauges, phone, and Edison lightbulb. One prize piece is a true bit of Canadiana: a 1950s Canadian Pacific Railway blueprint. And along the bar, custom-made lighting made from McCarthy-era, American flashlights, is rewired to stunning (and sustainable) effect.

Sitting courtside at the chef's rail, choice seats to be sure, we asked Pesce to curate our feast, which gave us a promising glimpse of what to expect at future visits. The trim and readable menu, à la CMANGO Design, features a modest selection, the pasta dishes at the midpoint acting as a meridian between light and heavy. So anything at the menu's waistline you may feel, well, at your waistline.

Porzia TorontoAfter some San Nicola (gin, pear puree, ginger) and rum old-fashioned cocktails ($12), we appetize on cotechino pork sausage and rapini crostini ($12), and warm olives and almonds ($8).

Porzia TorontoNext were bars of steaming focaccia gemmed with chunks of roasted yellow pepper, which came plated alongside an array of capicola cotta and their not-to-be-missed fiery chilli jam ($14).

Porzia TorontoThe citrus salad ($11) to follow gave any bitter notes or lingering heat a clean slate. Based on his mother's recipe, it includes wheels of blood orange, grapefruit, clementine, and is adorned with parsley, mint, cracked olives.

Similarly, the hamachi crudo ($16), was refreshing, the subtle taste of the delicate sashimi cuts, never overpowered by the brighter tang of pickled radish or semi-sweet saffron. Add a drizzle of olive oil, a light dusting of wispy fennel leaves, and the dish was a golden recharge.

Porzia TorontoFrom thereon in, we hit our stride with richer textures and flavours, imbibing on glasses of Ripasso ($10), and dabbling in an involtini of eggplant wrapped around ricotta and roasted garlic ($14).

Porzia TorontoWe then slathered creamy Beef shinbone marrow, doused in a lovely snail and gremolata ragout, onto crostini ($17).

Porzia TorontoBeforehand we were unsure whether the filling in the chicken liver agnolotti ($16) would perhaps be too coarse, too pungent, too close in texture to the enfolding pockets. But plated in a pork-stock reduction, with seasonal hedgehog mushrooms, parsley, and a light wick of fifteen-year-old balsamic that would serve just as fine on vanilla bean ice cream, it ended up being a menu favourite.

Porzia TorontoIf somehow you feel your meal at Porzia is too provincial, I can't recommend enough the grilled octopus, set on a bed of pureed semolina, and strewn over with shards of granny smith, gala apples, and peanuts ($20). According to Bas, reactions to this dish ranged from hesitant to going straight "over their heads." Without a doubt, claptrap, I say.

Sweeping up the meaty bites in the semolina mixture, the inclusion of apple and peanut, while admittedly an unlikely garnish, never interrupted the substantial texture of the octopus. On the contrary, they gave a nice, light reprieve in between bites of the richer seafood nubs. Simply outstanding.

Porzia TorontoOf the three desserts available, the semolina cake with ricotta, candied orange halo, whipped cream, and espresso pour-over ($8) was the most noteworthy, while the chocolate hazelnut mousse ($8) will certainly satisfy most. Cookies seemed an odd inclusion, mulled cranberry or oatmeal chocolate chip offered that night, but as Pesce defended, for the dessert noncommittal, it's small enough to warrant an indulgence. Plus, as he says, "it's fun to experiment and taste the new batches daily."

Seasonal rotations aside, expect Porzia's menu to evolve, week to week. Chances are, if the kitchen doesn't get bored, you won't either. Longevity is what Pesce is after, and why building memories around food and eating is the restaurant's basis for setting its roots in the Parkdale community.

Porzia TorontoI imagine that the real-life Porzia, the chef's mother, and an inspiration for many of the recipes, gives her blessing. At least since she has been in as many times as number of weeks Porzia has been open. And with the current versatility and superb batch of flavours coming out of the kitchen, not to mention in-house salumi plans in the works, I expect it's already well on its way to becoming a regular neighbourhood fixture.

Discussion

24 Comments

maash / January 31, 2013 at 10:03 am
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I went there on Friday night and it was amazing! Haven't had such a good restaurant experience in a while.

My favourite was the tripe stew with a tomato and chickpea sauce. And I don't even like tripe!
brian / January 31, 2013 at 12:12 pm
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i could eat all 7 of those dishes in 5 minutes and still be hungry
$11 for a tiny fruit salad?
whats happening to Parkdale?
Krystine / January 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm
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Do people really want to eat most of that stuff? It's a little to expensive for Parkdale wallets I'd say. Normal people would not order all those dishes. Beautiful Photography but not my cup of tea.
scottd replying to a comment from Krystine / January 31, 2013 at 01:07 pm
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"normal people" ? Parkdale is filled with people who can afford this stuff by the way.

By the way I thought the photo style got in the way of seeing the food.
JoeParez / January 31, 2013 at 01:19 pm
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Being from southern Italy - I find nothing about this cuisine to be 'southern Italian' let alone done right. The food does look great though and I'll probably check this place out soon.
jameson / January 31, 2013 at 01:38 pm
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This restaurant looks awesome. Much more reasonably priced than some of the other new places opening. Definitely not something that would be a regular destination, but looks awesome.
AU / January 31, 2013 at 02:06 pm
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Looks great! Congrats to Porzia - we'll see you soon!
Joey replying to a comment from brian / January 31, 2013 at 02:28 pm
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"whats happening to Parkdale?"

You're trolling right? I mean, you can't seriously be asking this out of genuine curiosity. It's called gentrification and it's been happening in Parkdale since the early 2000s. Get use to it, or get the hell out.
jdochev / January 31, 2013 at 02:34 pm
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Wonderful review. Thank you. Why can't the rest be this substantive?
Ken / January 31, 2013 at 03:10 pm
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Great write-up Joshua. You've catapulted yourself to my top 2 food writers list on BlogTO.
Great photography as well, especially given the dim lighting.
Gabe / January 31, 2013 at 08:43 pm
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I know it can be a hard thing to make and have fresh not frozen everyday but would love to see a homemade lasagna on the menu...
I nice think piece of homemade house special lasaga...would love it
ChildishBambina / January 31, 2013 at 09:03 pm
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I went there tonight (01/31/13)with my boyfriend and it was excellent. We ordered the San Nicola to start with, and they were excellent starters to our meal. They had a cleansing quality that was quite refreshing.

We ordered the "Pizza" Di Maria to start, it was interesting and quite different to what I was expecting. The "Pizza" which was almost more like a quesadilla, was rich in Parmesan flavor but it wasn't over powering. The rich Parmesan flavor only added to the mixed cheese and Prosciutto filling.

My boyfriend ordered the Chicken Liven Agnolotti and loved it. The rich textures went well with the creamy filling that was reminiscent of ravioli, it paired well with a red but could also have gone well with a white.

I ordered the Octopus and was completely blown away. I am always a big lover of seafood and this dish was far and beyond what I expected. It was tender yet crisp and semolina paired perfectly with the dish. I chose to go with a white due to the nature of the dish and was delighted by the pairing. My boyfriend who isn't often a fan of octopus said this was the best octopus he had ever had and I would be remiss if I didn't agree.

We ended our meal with a semolina cake, which was light and just the right amount of sweetness to finish off our meal.

All in all after the meal plus a 18% tip we spent roughly $130 and it was well worth it.

If you are looking for a great date place that is rich in flavor, drinks and atmosphere you would do well to go to Porzia.
brian / February 1, 2013 at 12:31 pm
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keep this shit on the east side of the dufferin bridge...$130 for dinner for 2??? Fackkk offff
Ramona / February 1, 2013 at 09:42 pm
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TL;DR

I looked at the menu on their website and it's odd to see a place that sells 'warm olives' for 8 bucks in Parkdale. I don't understand how a few of you aren't finding it to be out of place.

The food looks delicious but for those small servings & high prices, I'd rather walk 3 feet and grab a shawarma instead.
Gabe replying to a comment from brian / February 3, 2013 at 01:51 pm
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Whatever Brian keep moving further west if your afraid of change, it doesn't stop at Dufferin. No ones forcing you to eat there, choice is good for the neighborhood.


evan replying to a comment from Ramona / February 3, 2013 at 11:03 pm
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"I don't understand how a few of you..." + "I'd rather..." = I operate under the assumption that everyone is the exact same as me.
Joshua replying to a comment from Ken / February 4, 2013 at 06:10 pm
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Thanks Ken, the feedback is much appreciated!
carl / February 5, 2013 at 11:19 am
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I really find it funny that people are upset that PARKDALE is becoming a normal area! I've been living here for the past 20 years and all I have
carl / February 5, 2013 at 11:34 am
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Experienced has been gun violence and crappy franchise restaurants. Prices are fair considering the costs of the high quality foods that are brought to the table. I have eaten there three times already and I can honestly say that the food is very good! I have no problem going to ali babas for a shwarma or rice and noodle for some cheap eats but isnt it nice to be able to get a high quality meal with amazing ingredients for a change and without having to go downtown. I think you guys/girls should at least give it a try before knocking it. Porzia is a awesome place to grab a bite, thr staff is great and prices are fair prices range from $3-$20 all menu items are made in house and the menus change almost daily. I have a reservation this weekend for me and 6 friends. I am proud to say that Parkdale is stepping up.
Saverio / February 8, 2013 at 12:40 pm
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I'm from Italy, visiting Toronto for a few days. A friend of mine invited me for dinner at Porzia. At first I was a bit skeptical (being Italian, you dont go to eat at an Italian restaurant in Toronto :-)

I could not believe it. This is one of the best restaurants I've tried during the last 4-5 years. The cuisine is a blend between "Southern Italian" and something I am not able define. There is a Canadian (or maybe an Asian) accent in the food. Delicious.

My favorite dish were the chicken liver agnolotti. I also loved the citrus salad. My friend found the octopus and pappardelle very very very good. He let me taste his dishes, they were all very good. Dessert was great.

The atmosphere is nice and elegant (without being unnecessarily sophisticated). I love this part of Toronto, it's got character, I had never been here before. Prices are reasonable, given the quality of the food, the place, the atmosphere. I will definitely come back.
Heather / March 5, 2013 at 11:34 pm
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Went there on a snowy Thursday night and had a lovely dinner.
We had a reservation and the hostess graciously moved us to the chef's table where we got see where the magic happened. Chef and company were amazingly efficient while bantering cheerfully.
The food was awesome- we ordered the bone marrow,agnolotti, parpadelle and octopus which were all delicious but surprisingly rich. Definitely felt like a place for "grown ups."
Pachinko / September 13, 2013 at 01:31 pm
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Somebody likes to garnish with parsley.
Rex / January 10, 2014 at 02:28 pm
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My friend and I went last night and sat at the chef's rail. From there we were treated to an amazing and tasty array of dishes. We just told Bas to "surprise us" and indeed he did. Each dish was unique, flavourful and presented with pride of ownership.
It was a pleasure to dine there and I intend to return with my wife when we are out for a special evening.
Grazie.
Carm / May 16, 2014 at 05:41 am
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Went last night with hubby and 14 year old son for the first time.

Lovely friendly staff and great atmosphere -bit too loud though as nothing to absorb the noise.

Food: well made and presented but too small. My son wanted to know where the rest of his pasta dish was and had it been eaten on the way to the table! He could of eaten it 3 times over.

It was enough for me but then I'm small so my boys left still hungry. Not really what you want when the food is good.

Might return but without my men.

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