Zucca translates to "pumpkin," the name of this Italian trattoria that's been open since 1996. The name is evocative of the seasonal local ingredients of the earth this restaurant revolves around.
Specializing in fresh pasta and grilled seafood, a cucina povre style of cooking here is elevated by high-end seasonal Southern Ontario ingredients, mostly obtained from local farmers' markets.
The 50-seat space feels warm and earthy, square tables mostly seating two to four people, though there is one large round table for a big group.
A couple of women take up residence at the four-seat bar.
Meals here start with complimentary farinata, a complementary vegan chickpea flour bread with a little fragrant rosemary on top, accompanied by a few chewy green olives and black olives marinated with herbs, garlic and chili in house.
There's also house bread, very light and almost sweet wedges of focaccia and a fibrous red fife sourdough. Imported Italian olive oil is the ideal succulent dip.
Insalata di Verdure d'Estate ($17) roughly translates to green summer salad, and delivers on this description.
Escarole, purslane, wild arugula, radish, beetroot, heirloom carrots, toasted walnuts, ricotta salata, and a wild leek and anchovy vinaigrette come together for a salad that's crunchy and grassy, yet funky.
Spoia Lorda ai Funghi Selvatice ($27) are "dirty sheets" of ravioli, the thin sheets of eggless ravioli smeared rather than stuffed with a filling of Monforte fresco.
Wild mushrooms and an arugula and walnut pesto on top add texture, funkiness and herbaceousness.
A special of potato gnocchi are stuffed with scamorza (a smoked mozzarella) and lightly smothered in a rustic fresh summer tomato sauce, chili lending a kick of spice.
Trancio di Pesce al Piacere di Capo Cuoco is a daily fresh fish filet for market price. Today's is a mackerel for $30 that came in from Boston this morning, seafood obtained from markets like Osler's and Newport five times a week.
The grilled mackerel is plated on a pungent smoked eggplant puree, potatoes and stuffed shepherd's peppers, and topped with a salmoriglio of herbs, garlic and olive oil.
A rotating list of $12 desserts includes selections like a flourless chocolate torte topped with strawberries and pralines, accompanied by chocolate custard, whipped cream, and an airy buono ma grutti (good but ugly) cookie.
A bottle of Italian white wine like an aromatic yet slightly bitter Etna Bianco ($85) sets off a meal like this.
The restaurant is now run by Blair Aspinall, former partner of one of the founders, Andrew Milne-Allan. The kitchen is currently headed up by Joe Gencarelli and Colin Campbell, with Miyuki Adachi taking the wheel on pasta.