Terroni Bar Centrale
Terroni Bar Centrale, which opened this spring, is Cosimo Mammoliti's newest addition to the Terroni Empire. The Rosedale spot has been designed to pay homage to Italy's many train station bars, staying true to its Italian counterparts with its long, narrow layout, and crowded, hustle-bustle ambiance.
The seating space is exceptionally tight, which turns out to be part of its charm. Whether you're sitting elbow-to-elbow with strangers in the front area, packed like sardines at the bar, or nestled against the long window, the surrounding flurry actually allows for a sense of intimacy. Kind of an "eye of the storm" type deal.
On a Wednesday night around 7 pm, my guest and I manage to snag one of the last two tables available. Desperate for a generously poured glass of red wine, I look at the long list of Italian vino exclusive to Terroni - and feel a bit lost. The list is reasonably priced - bottles of reds and whites range from $40-110, and a glass will run you $6-17.
With a silent vow to learn my Italian grapes, I ask our server for a recommendation. I let her know we're looking for something full bodied, comparable to a malbec or cabernet. She points to a $70 bottle and a $110 bottle. When I ask if there's anything else she might suggest, say, one of the five bottles listed at $45, she proposes the 2007 Aglianico del Taburno ($45). We go with it, and it suits our purposes just fine.
After the wine is sorted, our server launches into her spiel about the "tapas style" menu and that plates are "intended to be shared." Though I always shudder at these opening monologues, I'm looking forward to sampling a decent amount of the lengthy menu.
We begin with the Insalata Panzanella ($9), a sumptuous pile of fresh cucumber, cherry tomatoes, red onion, basil and rustic bread. The crunchy, juicy vegetables are perfectly ripe and I feel like I'm getting the dose of health food my diet has missed this week. I choose not to acknowledge the liberal pour of olive oil and vinegar drenching the salad.
Before we finish our insalata, our Fritto Misto ($12) and Polenta e Gorgonzola ($9) arrive. I'm mildly irritated by this, since the tables are teeny and I had asked to have the meal coursed, but with a bit of shuffling we make room and make do. Served in a faux newspaper wrap, the Fritto Misto - fried calamari and Tiger shrimp - is fantastic. The seafood is tender and the batter has an interesting, if subtle, mix of spices that permits the dish to be served sans sauce. The squeeze of lemon gives it a zip and before we know it, it's gone.
The Polenta e Gorgonzola is what I'm anticipating most. Stacked high with mushrooms, the polenta is piping-hot, crispy, and surprisingly, with a rather muted gorgonzola presence. Given the tendency of the cheese to overpower any dish it accompanies, the attention paid to maintaining well-balanced flavours did not go unnoticed.
For our main course, we share Lasagne alla Bolognaise ($12) and Spinach and Ricotta Tortelloni ($10). The Lasagne, baked with a heavy besciamella (béchamel sauce) and Parmigiano cheese, is incredibly smooth, rich, and hearty - the perfect winter comfort food.
Our Tortelloni, however, is disappointing. We expect the combo of butter and sage sauce, spinach pasta and sheep ricotta, to be a sure-fire crowd pleaser, but it arrives lukewarm and unsmiling. The velvety cheese center should be oozing but instead it's firm. I pout as I eat it anyway.
For dessert, I have an Americano ($2.75) and we share the Mouse al Caramello ($8) - a salted caramel mousse with raspberry sauce. I am a strong believer that salt and caramel are among the godliest pairings on earth, and so I'm delighted with the flavour-packed, whipped sweet and salty dessert. The chocolate crisp that comes wedged in the top provides some textural dynamism to our sweet treat, and my coffee compliments the caramel flavours perfectly.
The raspberry sauce served on the side, however, warrants a bit of a question mark. It doesn't seem to mesh with the rest of the dessert. Salty caramel? Yes please. Salty raspberry? Not so much.