Thursday, 1 September 2011

In searching for memories of cucina della nonna, we visit Briscola restaurant

To say the competition for food dominance in Little Italy is cutt-throat is an understatement.  Rising from the ashes of Cinq 01, the newly formed partnership between Ink Entertainment’s Charles Khabouth and Amber’s Toufik Sarwa have combined like a phoenix rising from the ashes to form Briscola restaurant. At its helm, an up and coming Chef Sean Reeve takes us on a journey of good hearty Italian cuisine. I can say with confidence that there is a new contender and others should take notice. 

The atmosphere has a bistro meets lounge feel. The music keeps the good vibes going throughout the evening. If I closed my eyes, I would swear that it was just like being at home, chilling, listening to my own music collection.  What can I say? Great minds and all…

The menu relies on traditional Italian favourites borrowing from classic comfort food “nonna” style, but with a few twists. Nothing on the menu seems out of place, and there is something to satisfy most if not all tastes.

Katie, our server, was the consummate professional, cheerful and knowledgeable when it came to the menu and ingredients. She gave us great recommendations, and steered us through a wonderful meal. A big thanks goes to Katie!

Now let’s get to the food... The burrata with oven scorched tomatoes and aged balsamic (think mozzarella taken to the extreme)  was up to bat first, and it hit a home run on the first pitch.  The burrata’s delicate flavour accompanied by the sweet scorched tomatoes and lightly dressed arugula help to propel this dish and made it a star. This is a dish worth ordering again - it’s really that good! The arugula was perfectly dressed. They use their own olive oil and balsamic vinegar throughout the menu and happily you can purchase some as a small take away memory of a good meal eaten. This salad wipes away bad memories or poorly executed traditional caprese salads that I have had the unfortunate luck of experiencing, I just loved it!

The fried olives with orange zest and parsley were up next. They came in a small shallow frying pan to enhance the rustic feel to the meal. The coating is technically perfect. It did not fall off or crumble as I half expected it would. The olives had a wonderful textural contrast that is highly addicting. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself subconsciously picking at them and popping them one, two even three at a time. The fried olives are truly a great accompaniment to any dinner or just to have with a drink at the bar.


The tagliere del salumiere was served with homemade accompaniments and we asked for a bit of cheese into the mix. A traditional cheese plate is available in the desserts menu.  Upon request you can order it at the start of your meal. The cured meats included organic pancetta from Niagara, bresaola, coppa and salami. The cheese on the plate varied in texture and taste, today’s selection included a beautiful tiger blue, a goat’s milk triple cream brie and traditional Grana Padano. The homemade preserves - blackened honey, berry compote and macerated figs – made the dish unique and they paired perfectly with the cured meat and cheese selections. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed to learn that there meats are not cured in house. However, they are purchased faithfully from local vendors and from Italy. I am happy to hear that they are hung and dried in house for an extended period to intensify the flavours of the meat. Chef Reeve knows his charcuterie. The question will be asked, how did this charcuterie platter compare to the greats in Toronto? I would say it’s worth enjoying, there is care and thought put into the pairings and the homemade accompaniments make this unique to Briscola.

Tagliere del salumiere

The homemade preserves - blackened honey, berry compote and macerated figs
As many of my Twitter followers know, I am very particular when it comes to how I like my pasta and I almost never order pasta in a restaurant. I am picky for many reasons but I won’t get into that here. What I would like to say is, in all the years dining in Toronto. This is the very first pasta I have ordered and more importantly one of the only ones I would recommend to someone.  The bison bolognese pappardelle with buffalo milk ricotta was in one word…fantastic.

Bison bolognese pappardelle with buffalo milk ricotta

The flavour of the ground bison and the sauce with the fresh pasta cooked perfectly al dente made this dish a winner. If I ever crave pasta, I know where to go, Briscola. The only other times that I’ve ever been blown away by a pasta dish was in Italy. If I had to be critical, I would have liked the sauce to have a little more heat (spice). 

Just a few shots from the evening before we get to the main course.....

Chef Sean Reeve preping for a busy night at Briscola

Beautiful, stylish and elegant the decor of Briscola is a fusion of bistro and lounge.

Table settings ready for guests and some great food

Looking out to the front, the bar and some really nice decor define Briscola

Onto the entrée – the 12 oz centre cut veal chop. Although I asked for the meat to be cooked medium rare, Chef Reeve insisted I try it medium as it would enhance the overall flavour – and I’m glad I listened because it tasted divine. The frenched veal chop is cooked wonderfully, tender, succulent and well seasoned. The marinated shitake mushrooms and mizuna in the rosemary balsamic reduction was extremely tasty. 

Note: I must come back for a visit as I have heard that the braised beef ribs are just as magnificently cooked, fall off the bone tender and full of flavour.  

12 oz. Veal Chop cooked to perfection, well seasoned and delicious

Although we were getting quite full, Katie highly recommended that we must try dessert. So we looked at the small yet confident choices laid out to tempt our sweet tooth. We chose the panettone bread pudding and salted caramel chocolate tart. Admittedly, I was a bit hesitant to try the panettone as I read online that someone had said that, “it was dense and uninspired.” I beg to differ! 

Briscola's Panettone Bread Pudding is a must have!

Between the two desserts the panettone is a must have! It was served with dates, pistachio and a vanilla gelato. The bread pudding was luxurious and the fruit accompanying the pudding helped to cleanse the palate and added the perfect amount of acidity to counter the creaminess of the butterscotch sauce.  Divine!

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart - Rich, Chocolatey and Dense!

The salted caramel chocolate tart was nice, but it’s a dessert best shared between two people as it was very rich. It was the complete opposite of the panettone, which was light, fluffy and not too sweet. The tart was dense, rich and after a few bites a tad too sweet. 

After dinner and walking off our delicious meal, I took the time to really reflect on the meal. Looking at the dishes as a whole, I smiled and said “yes!” what a great meal. The music, the ambience, the service and most importantly the food combined to make this a really enjoyable evening. I would recommend making reservations as it does get busy – especially on the weekend.

Briscola Restaurant
501 College Street
Toronto, ON


  1. Wish it were closer :)
    The veal shot is great.

  2. Thank you for your feedback! With regards to the veal shot...I had to use a hand-held LED light panel for the the time we got to the entree it was pretty dark. I am glad that you like the photo! It was delicious! Where are you writing from?

  3. Great review!! Wish I could go eat there right now. That tagliatelle - oh my! And the burrata? Yum.

  4. Hello Katherine, thank you for taking the time to comment on my review! I really appreciate that! The pasta was drop-dead delish! I can't say anything more about it. I will most definitely order that again...or figure out how to cook it myself at home. LOL! The burrata, well that is a must have at Briscola, that was a new experience for me and one that I won't forget anytime soon! Take care :D

  5. Wow, great review! So detailed and your writing style is so sophisticated :) The photos are gorgeous as expected, and the desserts look amazing! I really want to try the salted caramel tart, although as you mentioned, I wouldn't be able to finish it all on my own ;P How long did it take you to write this? :D

  6. Hello Amy! Thanks for the comment! Really appreciate it! Thanks for the compliment about the writing style...never really thought about it that way...actually I don't really think that i write that well...I am most definitely more confident about photography as opposed to writing. If you ever get the chance to visit Briscola, I am certain that you will enjoy it! The food is quite nice. Especially, the pasta, which I am really loving.
    Have a great day and tweet soon!