Ufficio is a casual and elegant Italian restaurant on Dundas West that differentiates itself by offering a pescetarian menu. While most Italian restaurants would never dream of doing away with pancetta or meatballs, this place offers a menu free of meat products but heavy on vegetables and seafood.
Principal owners Jenny Coburn and Marlo Onilla have made it a priority to showcase local and sustainable products. The menu doesn't list the origins of each ingredient, but staff anticipate the inquiries and are ready to share their enthusiasm for locally-sourced lake fish, sustainable seafoods, etcetera.
Onilla is a branding specialist whose company, Biography Design (in tandem with Commute ), has played a role in designing some of the most beautiful restaurants in Toronto ( Alo , Tabule , and Little Sister among them). Ufficio is no exception. The room seems effortlessly cool and while the aquamarine banquettes and fishing nets evoke a nautical vibe, it's subtle and refined.
Drinks-wise there are cocktails from Rob Granicolo ( The Minister Group ) including the Picante Pasini ($14), a tequila and Aperol bevy laced with grapefruit-chili syrup.
It's sweet and refreshing but packs some real heat. To amp it up even further, Granicolo suggests sliding the chili garnish around the rim of the glass.
The menu is a collaboration between consulting chef, Craig Harding ( Campagnolo ) and chef Jeff Lapointe (former chef du cuisine at Splendido ). It lists a selection of assaggini and verdure d'inverno, crudo, formaggio, pasta and pesce - all of which are meant to be shared in pairs.
The Conserva di Tonno ($12) is inspired by lowly school lunches. The same ingredients, had they been less fortunate, could have found their way into a tuna salad sandwich.
Here they're celebrated without being overworked: the albacore tuna just gently poached in olive oil; garlic creme fraiche offers a creamy upgrade on mayo; celery is shaved into ribbons; black olives are simply halved; and freshly-fried potato chips are there for crunch.
The Ontario burrata ($14) features a ball of soft cheese laid over pistachio purée and accompanied by sweet and tart pickled beets and crunchy candied pistachios.
From the list of pastas, I try the canestre sedano rapa e limone ($16), tubular noodles in a celeriac puree with fontina cheese and confit fennel. A breadcrumb topping adds texture and while it's easy to imagine bacon as a natural fit in this dish, in its absence the kitchen incorporates maple-cured trout roe that contributes a hit of sweet and salty flavours.
The polpo alla griglia ($24) is easily my favourite dish of the night. The tendrils are steamed and seared until caramelized then paired with caponata and finished in a jalapeno and white wine glaze.
For dessert there's torta all'olio ($9), an olive oil cake decorated with sea buckthorns and orange supremes. Candied pepitas, black pepper meringue and fennel fronds complete the dish.
Even without meat, this meal is satisfying. The lighter dishes all manage to feel rich, while the cheese and pasta dishes ensure you leave full.
Photos by Jesse Milns