Pizzeria Libretto (Danforth)
Pizzeria Libretto Danforth is a lesson in nostalgia. Funkdadelic and Motown classics bounce off the walls in a room that recalls the Ossington original and it's easy to imagine that during a Friday dinner service the two Naples-made wood burning pizza ovens will crank out pies non-stop for a room packed with young parents eager for a taste of life before the sitter was the most important accessory for an evening out (and to accommodate such necessary forward thinking, this Libretto generously takes reservations).
The original Pizzeria Libretto was one of my favourite restaurants of 2008 so I jumped at the chance to check out the new east-end outpost of Max Rimaldi and Rocco Agostino's temple to Neapolitan pie.
My first Libretto experience was a giddy joyride of flavours, an exhilarating introduction the exhilarating eloquence of those three magic letters: V-P-N. Skip ahead to 2010 and the Agostino-Rimaldi conspiracy launches a little gem of a wine bar called Enoteca Sociale combining it's Enomatic wine system offering a tremendous array of vino by the glass and a solid card of rustic Italian fare and the regazze had another winner on their hands.
I realized while savouring my first bite of the anchovy crostini ($8, maybe it was prophetic that the top-billed star of this appetizer's show was a little lost among the richness of the tomatoes, eggplant, and the bright tang of buffalo ricotta) that the flavour I was actually chasing was the spark of revelation, the excitement of discovery that Max and Rocco had been feeding me over the years and that as good as all the food would turn out to be on this day, it wouldn't satisfy my hunger the way that first Libretto bite did 3 years earlier.
Foodwise, Pizzeria Libretto Danforth is every bit as good as its west-end sis and a welcome addition to the solid Greektown Italian fare like 7 Numbers and to a lesser degree, Il Fornello (the media-driven feud with Queen Margherita is overblown since there's always room for amazing 'za in any hood).
People familiar with the orginal Libretto will recognize menu items from previous visits with classics of Chef Rocco Agostino's pizzas repertoire like the duck prosciutto pizza pie making the trip east.
There are definitely flickers of brilliance coming from the kitchen in the form of things like the Shellfish Acqua Pazza starter ($13). This water is definitely crazy --crazy good! The brodo (traditionally thin and made with tomatoes, a little sea water and flavoured with the cooking fish) is a rich bisque perfumed with oregano and sweet from vine-ripened DOP san marzanos, fennel, and lobster stock. The char from the grilled bread added a bitterness that balanced the dish's sweetness perfectly cooked spot prawns and was so good we could overlook the tiny bit of grit from the manila clams.
The pizza is VPN perfection but that's what you get when you follow such strict rules. The crust is textbook blister and char with the perfect amount of give allowing the edges of a slice to be folded together. The Quatro Formaggi ($16) is earthy (from a hit of truffle), rich, salty and complex with sheep (Moliterno), buffalo (Mozzarella) and cow's milk (Parmigiano-Reggiano and Montasio) cheeses.
The pork belly pizza ($15, top image), in contrast, is sweet and intricate play of complimenting flavours. A deconstructed bacon pizza, translucent slices of fresh pork belly drape across a pie with subtle smoky flavour coming from the smoked tomato ragu and additional sweetness coming from a scatter of caramelized onion and lemon thyme. All these flavours are worked into a frenzy with dabs of "bomba" the chef's secret spicy aioli. The pork belly was my own personal bit of nostalgia since the flavours took me back to childhood summers and family pig roasts--in the east end no less!
The deserts are definitely tasty with both the amaretto infused chocolate budino ($7) and the crunchy meringue-like almond biscotti ($3) a pleasing end to the meal (though you might not want to order both at the same time unless you really like almonds). Our server, clad in a black "Pizzeria Libretto" tee, was friendly and informative, dispensing additional menu info when required and quick to refill our glasses but otherwise perfectly and professionally invisible.
Any other restaurateur would give their eye teeth to open a place as good as Pizzeria Libretto Danforth and the neighbourhood is much better foodwise for it but I can't help but miss the little bit of excitement of discovering something new that came with the previous offerings from the Libretto crew.
With the Libretto group collaborating with Grant Van Gameren (ex-Black Hoof chef) on a new resto there's still hope for more brilliant plates to come to hopefully satisfy the craving for adventure that this visit to the new Libretto lacked. In the meantime though, indulging in nostalgia never tasted so good.
Photos Courtesy Aislinn Smith