On any given night, any time of the year you'll find a full house at Grazie Ristorante. I've always been intrigued by its popularity. After all, if the long line-ups outside Grazie's door aren't an indicator of success, what is?
Inspired by Southern Italian cantinas, the restaurant has great ambiance with caramel coloured walls and casual seating. For lunch you can order anything from the dinner menu which exhaustively covers antipasti, zuppa, pizza, pasta, entrees and deserts. Fortunately, I was with a group of co-workers who agreed to order different items so that we could sample a bit of everything.
The Baked Goat Cheese Salad ($11.75), pictured above, was the star of the meal and the only dish that was finished. The baked goat cheese was atop a mound of roasted vegetables, wrapped in delicate phyllo pastry and served on arugula. The creamy warm goat cheese was the perfect balance to the spicy arugula and tart sherry vinaigrette.
The Sila Salad ($11.75) included a very generous portion of marinated shrimp and calamari. The marinade was a bit too acidic. It would have been nice to have an oil based dressing to help balance the sharpness from the lemon.
The soup of the day was a rich Shrimp Bisque. Bisque is generally a highly seasoned soup, but it seemed that the chef was too heavy-handed with the salt, making it impossible to finish.
I was excited when someone ordered the Gnocchi ($14.50); the pasta was too rich for me to choose for lunch but I wanted to try the potato dumpling in creamy tomato basil sauce. All in all, I was completely underwhelmed by this dish. The pasta was perfectly cooked but the sauce was bland without even a whisper of basil.
My coworkers were told that Grazie was known for its pizza, so we ordered the Peppino ($13.75) with Italian sausage and sundried tomatoes, and the Palmero ($13.75) with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, fresh peppers and grilled eggplant. Neither thin crust pizza was well received; the flavours were so one-dimensional - there was no depth to the base tomato sauce. Thoroughly disappointed by a faulty tip, we all agreed that the pizza up the street at Amato would have been a better bet.
After eating at Grazie, I wondered if I had been too critical - after all, Grazie has a cookbook. I don't have a cookbook. What do I know? But I was vindicated the next day when I spoke to someone from the South of Italy who summed up Grazie perfectly - Italian food for Canadians who don't know any better.
It may be an unpopular view, but ambiance and enormous portion sizes can't convince me that Grazie is deserving of the masses that flock to it.
Grazie is located just north of Eglinton on Yonge open Sunday-Thurs 12:00-11:00pm, Friday-Saturday 12:00pm - 12:00am.