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Restaurants

Strada 241

Posted by Alexandra Grigorescu / Listed on October 6, 2012 / review policy

strada 241 torontoStrada 241 had its soft opening, with minimal fuss and fanfare, a week ago, and is something of an odd man out on its stretch of Spadina. What's even more unexpected is the two men at the helm: Michael and Guy Rubino, whose previous ventures include Ame (on which they partnered with Charles Khabouth).

strada 241 toronto"Strada, for us, means fun and accessible," Michael tells me. "This is somewhere we feel comfortable." And comfort is clearly important to Michael, who's had children recently, and Guy, who divides his time between the kitchen and putting the finishing touches on a record for his band, Curtain Call. Wondering why Chinatown? "It's changed," Michael explains, "and we don't want to be a King and Bay kind of crowd. Ossington has had so much happen; we're of the opinion that it's coming this way."

strada 241 torontoThe space is beautiful, and builds on the bones of the original space, which was constructed in 1910 and was formerly a "by the hour" hotel, Michael tells me. The wood flooring has been coated and sheened, but its years of scuffs and marks are still in evidence, as is the fire damage on the ceiling in a back corner.

The layout is ingenious, and serves Strada's multi-purpose concept. High ceilings throughout lend an air of haute cuisine, but rustic accents of wood, marble and steel bring it back down to earth.

strada 241 torontoThey open at 7 a.m., and see a rush at their front cafe, which serves traditionally-prepared espresso-based drinks and freshly-baked pastries. There's a long communal table which has already seen its share of lunchtime laptops, a homey brick wall, and a spill of natural light. The middle area consists of the ultra-open kitchen--yes, ultra. There are no doors or walls, and there's even bar seating surrounding the kitchen area. In short, nowhere to hide.

strada 241 torontoThe back area is the designated dining room, but opens at lunch: polished, blonde wood throughout, and high-walled booths lend an air of intimacy. Once their liquor license comes through (projected for next week), this is where the planned menu of simple Italian cocktails such as negronis and bellinis made by Michael himself ($9), Italian and Canadian wines, and European beers will be focused.

strada 241 torontoIt'll come as no surprise that the Rubino brothers have done it again--the food is incredible. What's a bit of a head-scratcher is the simplicity of the dishes, and the focus on Southern Italian cooking which is, in essence, a return to their cultural roots. After years of polished service and costly mains, Strada is a far more relaxed atmosphere than we've come to expect from the Rubino brothers. Where dishes at Rain would take 9 cooks to prepare, Strada sees a line of four, and there are no comically stiff, white chef's suits.

Everything is made in-house--from the pastries, to the bread, to the sauces--and it's a difference you can taste. The price point, as well, is refreshing.

strada 241 torontoFirst up is the plate of cured heritage meats ($21). Inspired by something they'd seen abroad, the basket options allows you to slice how much you want and take the leftovers home, or as a pre-sliced option ($12 for 2, or $24 for 4). The meats are seasonal, but there's wild boar sausage, and both spicy and mild soppresatta. The cheese platter ($18 for 2, or $36 for 4) consists of a tough parmigiano reggiano, tallegio (imagine a halfway point between gorgonzola and blue cheese), and truffled pecorino (with black truffles for a touch of earthiness). Fresh bread and a mustard-and-peach chutney round out the plate.

strada 241 torontoThe bagna cauda ($6) falls under their piccolo platti (small plate) menu, and is perfectly sized to share. Chilled pickled vegetables such as cauliflower, radishes, and asparagus are cut to pair with the dip after which the plate is named--a warmed, spicy anchovy vinaigrette that's a nice way to up the heat on the already zesty veggies.

strada 241 torontoNext up is the Strada caesar ($9). Michael is quick to admit that with Strada, they're not attempting to re-invent Italian cuisine, or even dress it up, and while caesar salads are not especially difficult to make, but Strada's is a stand-out. Charred romaine and raddichio (or grilled on request) is topped with parmesan, crispy guanciale (that's pig cheek in layman's lingo), house croutons, and their housemade dressing. It's the little things: the lingering charred flavour, the slight bite of the dressing, the richness of freshly grated parmesan. No complaints here.

strada 241 torontoThe pasta ($12) is about as rustic as you can get--bucatini with tomatoes, and parmesan. In some ways, this is most reflective of what I think Strada wants to be. It's quality comfort food--no fuss, a bit of heat, and it arrives on a country-kitchen-appropriate red plate.

The Neapolitan-style pizza ($15) is good, from the crust--made with 00 flour--up. Wild boar capicola, Gaeta olives, virgin fior di latte cheese (which means it's the first skimming of the curd, and Guy tells me noone else in Toronto does this), homemade tomato sauce using tomatoes from the Rubino's hometown of Salerno and basil come together in a perfect balance of spice, salt, and richness. "Pizza's pizza," Michael says. "They got it right, and there's no need to put stuff on there that doesn't belong." To that end, the flavors are kept simple and fresh-tasting for each of their 9 pizzas.

strada 241 torontoThe desserts are the domain of Robert Gonsalves (formerly of Ame). I try the budino ($7), which is a truly masterful blend of vanilla-poached apricots, saffron custard and olive oil which arrives in a mason jar (as so many things do these days), and is the perfect representation of Italian desserts, which to me, are never too sweet. Even their gelato is made in-house, drawing from traditional Italian recipes. Best of all, you can pop in any time for some of their crunchy peanut caramel corn to go.

strada 241 toronto

Discussion

31 Comments

Ken / October 6, 2012 at 01:59 am
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Great write-up, Alexandra. Good insight into what the brothers are trying to do, wonderful (as always) description of the food, and definitely makes me want to check the place out.
Izzy / October 6, 2012 at 07:37 am
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I prefer Guest Contributor's reviews.
Michelle / October 6, 2012 at 08:44 am
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Strada you are so very welcome to the neighbourhood. You've done a beautiful job with the space and thank you for reviving those beautiful floors. It's a beautiful building that deserved the care you have shown it. Let's hope you're right and we continue to see changes like this to the area.
Pleased as Punch / October 7, 2012 at 06:02 am
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Everything looks great, and yes, a welcome addition to the neighbourhood!

All of the meals look sufficiently complex and/or interesting for their prices...EXCEPT for the bucatini with tomatoes and parmesan. I'm sorry, but for $12, I expect a bit more magic. For that price, I could buy the necessary ingredients at the grocery store and make the dish myself several times over.

This is not supposed to be a negative comment. The restaurant looks AMAZING, the staff are SUPER FRIENDLY (I popped in for coffee the other day, but not food), it livens up the area, and the food looks (and smells!) great. And for almost everything, I think you get serious bang for your buck. I just think they should watch the price on an item or two.

Best of luck to them!!!
Chris Orbz replying to a comment from Pleased as Punch / October 7, 2012 at 07:34 am
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"For that price, I could buy the necessary ingredients at the grocery store and make the dish myself several times over."

This is a comment that patrons often make with regards to any menu's pricing, and it's fallacious for a couple reasons:

(1), the easy one - "Then go do it." Why aren't you just sitting at home eating spaghetti? Because there's a lot more to the experience of going out to have dinner at a restaurant than simply being fed.

(2), the cost of the meal in a restaurant is not only the cost of the ingredients, it is the staff's wages, the building rental, the equipment maintenance, etc etc.

That being said, I'd never go out to eat and order pasta, I think it's idiotic to pay $14 for a *plate* of penne, and that dish in particular does look a little sparse for the price, but Strada 241 ain't McDonald's and customers walking in should realize that.
Robert / October 7, 2012 at 08:22 am
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FYI Gorgonzola IS a type of blue cheese. And, with all due respect, Taleggio is a washed-rind cheese with a completely different flavour profile. Board looks amazing nonetheless.
Chris / October 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm
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While this place does sound nice, and the Rubino's have a good track record, am I only one wondering what's "different" about this place? Don't we have "rustic" Italian places all over the city now? Seriously?

I guess I'm just surprised since I always saw the Rubinos as trend-setter types, and now it looks like they're just following everyone else in embracing the whole "rustic Italian" thing. I'm sure the food is excellent, but you cannot tell me that they're offering something that you can't already get just about anywhere else in the City nowadays.

What ever happened to being original?
Sandman replying to a comment from Chris / October 9, 2012 at 04:18 pm
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Rustic Italian Cuisine in Chinatown ... sounds original to me!
Shannon / October 9, 2012 at 04:35 pm
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I have to agree with Robert... when I read Taleggio is half way between gorgonzola and blue cheese I had to read it twice to make sure it was Taleggio she was describing... I wouldn't consider it like either of those cheeses. It's a semi-soft cheese with a washed-rind, I would think it's closer in taste and texture to a strong brie. :) Just my opinion...

Other than that, this place looks ok I guess. I'd love to see a full menu though...
Devin / October 9, 2012 at 11:18 pm
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Good review, but yes, the cheese review is a bit off. But thanks Shannon for properly describing it...

Does anyone know if the liquor license has come through? May want to go there for dinner on Friday, but hoping for somewhere with cocktails.
Alex replying to a comment from Ken / October 10, 2012 at 11:09 am
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Thanks, Ken!
Julia replying to a comment from Chris / October 15, 2012 at 09:02 pm
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Yo momma Chris. Yo momma all day.
Brigitte De N / October 16, 2012 at 10:14 am
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Hmm...I was kinda looking forward to having a meal here...to start, the server was quick pleasant and delightful...but his serving skills were certainly subpar...perhaps not entirely his fault (ahum, Chef, have a tasting for your staff and insight them on ALL DISHES!!! This guy had NO CLUE) Order fish soup...got the soup of the day..after reminding the server that I ordered soup...he forgot...got my fish soup with no issues (they let my colleague eat it (kind of them)...but my fish soup had Porchetta in it EWWW! Who puts meat in fish soup without noting that on the menu????? NOT A MEAT EATER!!!
The server had no idea there was porchetta in it...had to ask the kitchen...again...disappointing.

Servers, you are the ambassadors of your kitchen...you MUST know EVERYTHING!!!

Start asking questions people!!! Its your job..

sigh...another example of horrendous service in Toronto...

Won't return...
Joe Blow / October 16, 2012 at 04:21 pm
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Horrible service in Toronto is a reflection of poor ownership and management. Clowns like Khabouth only hire good looking kids - 25 and under. regardless if they know anything about food/drink/service. Sexism and agism are rampant in the Toronto restaurant scene. I have almost 20 years experience, working toward my sommelier certification and have forgotten more about food/drink/service then most people will ever know and I'll drop off a resume to people like them and have their managers tell me to my face they don't hire males or I'm too old. Really? And these are the same places that are always show down for their shitty service. And these are the same places that always have major staff turnover. Don't patronize the places or let the management/owners know in no uncertain terms. It'll only change if you demand it. There are plenty of good servers/bartenders out there but idiots like these won't hire them because they're all style over substance.

Someone / October 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm
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Um, Charles Khabouth has nothing to do with Strada.

And seriously, give the servers a break - the restaurant just opened. It takes time for staff to get the swing of things at a new restaurant. I'm sure service will be top-notch by the time the grand opening rolls around.
Know Thyself, Know Thy Cheese / October 17, 2012 at 05:22 pm
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I stopped reading this when I got to "...tallegio (imagine a halfway point between gorgonzola and blue cheese)...."
Acon replying to a comment from Know Thyself, Know Thy Cheese / October 19, 2012 at 06:16 am
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Alexandra the writer is halfway between brain dead and drrrp drrp.

Pathetic!
Michael Rubino replying to a comment from Brigitte De N / October 21, 2012 at 12:08 pm
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Hey Brigitte,
Thanks for the feedback. Yes we had a few issues during the opening days. They have been resolved! We have a dedicated team of professionals working at the restaurant. Management is committed to top notch quality & service. Hope you will give us a try again. I am sure you will have a positive experience.

Strada 241 Team
Christopher Bates / October 31, 2012 at 10:53 pm
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This was the best Italian food I've had since living in Italy several years ago. Totally authentic. Highly recommend the caesar salad & the pizza's. I intend to try everything on the menu.
cosmosuave / November 22, 2012 at 08:53 am
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My wife and I went for dinner last night as this was our second time and the food was great but the service was bad... Can be summed up as inattentive...

We had made a reservation and was 10 min late so I dropped my wife off and parked... My wife was pointed in the direction of where to sit... When I arrived there were no menus or drinks on the table no one had come to serve my wife 10 mins later we were served and my wife expressed her dissatisfaction when asked by the server... Having ordered the cured sausage board there was no knife to cut it except the dinner knives which are pretty much useless so wife has to go ask for a serrated knife... The server explained the sausage to us in the following terms hot, spicy, and sweet... Wow great descriptions...

I kind of expect more since the Rubino brothers have been in this business for sometime and I do understand there are some issues when you first open but it has been a few weeks now... I will give it one more try before I decide not to go anymore which is a shame because the food is good...

Another recommendation: Get rid of those 3 round tables that seat 2 people as you are shoe horned between the other tables and it lacks any kind of ambiance... I kept getting bumped into by servers and guests the whole time I was seated...
Lizz / November 24, 2012 at 11:38 am
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I have eaten at Strada 241 a number of times. With friends and on my own. On all occasions I can say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I am frequently in for lunches, and it is always nice to feel appreciated when you are recognized by your server, who also seems to work there frequently during the day. She is always happy to recommend dishes catering to how I feel each day. Try to get a booth or a table along the wall if you can, however when its busy, there is always the chefs table which can be a nice place to dine. The chefs are kind and happy to chat with you when they aren't too busy.

My favourite recommendations to date was the fire roasted Asparagus and the Nina pizza. Delicious and unique tastes to both. It's refreshing to see staff so invested and excited what dining selections you might make, it tells me that they care. The desserts are out of this world. The Lemone and the Semifreddo can cap off any meal just right.

The music is spot on, excellent playlist. This is something I always notice at restaurants. Perhaps a little bit loud in the dining room some days, but nothing I can't live with.

My friends were all very happy that I introduced them to this lovely place and have all been back on their own accord since then. Looking forward to my next visit!
Hailey / December 8, 2012 at 10:17 pm
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Be prepared to be ignored by the staff. Was really hoping that this would be my next coffee place, but I'm not going back there. I love coffee, I WANT to spend my money in new businesses , but as much as I tried, 3 times, I'm not going back there.
Tania replying to a comment from Hailey / December 12, 2012 at 02:35 pm
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hailey! i am so sad to read your review. i want to do good by you. please come in and ask for tania. thank you for your feedback.
RelaxedFoodie / December 13, 2012 at 02:18 am
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The first time I came here it was great. A pure gem, and on a Friday night. That was two nights ago. Came back tonight, and the waiter was a disaster. Seriously, where did you find this rookie? Figure your shit out before you subject our customers to this. I mean, I love the place. I like the pizza. But pizza shouldn't take forever to arrive at your table. Neither should alcohol, because you don't have to cook that. You just have to pour it. Seriously, how hard it is to pour alcohol?? Is is too much to expect your server to know how to do his job? I'll try somewhere new next time.
Sarah / December 23, 2012 at 11:29 pm
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Went to Strada this weekend for a friend's birthday and expected great things. The food was all-around pretty good, particularly the desserts. My problem was with the service. We were a larger party and our food came out at different times--not just a minute or two apart, but to the point where one group of people were done eating before the others began. It also took almost 40 minutes to get our bills, after asking for them 3 times (one of which required me to go seek out our server). Once the bills arrived, 2 out of 5 were incorrect, charging for things we didn't order.

So good food, poor service. Won't be in a hurry to head back too soon.
Jody K / January 12, 2013 at 04:04 am
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Second time here tonight and just as disappointed as the first time around.
REALLY obnoxious staff and the food was...well it's not worth mentioning.


Bryce / January 28, 2013 at 09:16 pm
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Owners seem like jerks, staff seem scared & the drinks took forever
john replying to a comment from Bryce / January 29, 2013 at 02:00 pm
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Not sure where you went. Staff was friendly,food awesome & the place was packed!
Karine / January 30, 2013 at 01:13 am
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I had the spaghetti as recommended by the server. it was delicious.
The white pizza was not so great. Service was ok.
The space is a bit dull and lacks that authentic Italian feel I craved.
It seems Toronto's urban pizzeria trend has no end in sight.
Joannah replying to a comment from Karine / February 10, 2013 at 06:45 pm
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The best food I've had in a long time. Fabulous venue-ingenious presentation, creative starters-of which I had 2-instead of an entree. Its a super place.....
family fortune / May 2, 2013 at 04:32 pm
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