The Big Ragu
As a Toronto gal of Italian heritage, I rarely eat out at Italian restos. I could count the worthwhile ones on one hand -- and have fingers to spare.
When it comes to achieving the 'look' of an Italian trattoria, plenty of Toronto restaurants score well. A little textured paint, wine bottles on the walls, and those classic red & white gingham tableclothes all come standard issue. Achieving a menu just as authentic, unfortunately, works out to be much more of challenge.
Thankfully, in the tradition of la Ferrari or gli Azzurri, The Big Ragu is vying for top spot all around.
A couple friends and I dropped by this busy Lansdowne Ave hideaway on a Friday night and somehow manage to score a table. Even the regulars sitting next to our table remarked at how lucky we were to be seated so quickly without a reservation. Must be our night.
Co-owner, Carmine Accogli, greets us with a big smile a detailed personal interpretation of the night's specials before leaving us with fresh bread (made in-house) and some time to deliberate.
To start, we go with Insalata Gustosa ($10), a 'savoury' salad of tuna, beans, red onions, tomatoes and pitted black olives over dark mixed greens. It was a lovely way to start, and light enough to leave room for the incoming entrees.
Pastas arrive next: Pappardelle al 'Ragu' ($14) (pictured at the top) is the house specialty and due to popular demand, probably the only steady fixture on Big Ragu's always changing menu. It's a lamb ragu smothered over pappardelle pasta, which are similar to fettucine but wider and thicker. Layer on some parmesan, close your eyes, and you're at nonna's house.
Calling out to me from the daily specials was Pappardelle Boscaiola e Asiago ($15). Boscaiola usually means woodsier ingredients like porcini and portobello mushrooms sans tomato sauce -- my favourite. Having recently enjoyed this dish in Tuscany, Ragu's offering had a lot to live up to... and it didn't disappoint. Asiago shavings over top of the steaming pasta sealed the deal and soon had me sneaking a piece of bread to clean my plate with!
Lastly, a 4 Stagioni pizza ($11). Split into four "seasons", this traditional pizza features artichokes, fresh mushrooms, black olives and Italian ham & sausage. Generous on the toppings and piping hot -- key elements to a good pizza. Mix that with a thin baked crust and this pizza is rivaling Queen West's 'Terroni' for best 4 Stagioni in town. (Though if you're a big fan of preserved black olives, then Big Ragu is your winner.)
All that food left absolutely, positively, no room for dessert. Then we were presented with the dessert specials (all $7) and suddenly, possibly, miraculously, there appeared to be some room.
Tiramisu, boldly calling itself "The best in town!" did not disappoint. Made in a pan/tray (like it should be!) and then presented in a martini glass. It's both beautiful and challenging to family loyalties.
A Roman Sbriciolata combined chocolate cream and puff pastry. Try to think of something other than that for the rest of the day.
Finally, dare I say it, a Nutella CAKE! Yes, it's true.
Three espresso lungo's brought the night to a close and we rolled on home, already planning our next visit.
The Big Ragu
1338 Lansdowne Ave