Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bread-Heaven is a place on earth

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”
Robert Browning (1812-1889) English poet

I’ll let you in on a secret: I know the bread Robert Browning was writing about. It is available here in Toronto, but here’s the catch: they won’t sell it to you. No, they insist on giving it to you for free!

The French are known for their bread, and with good reason, but let’s give credit where credit is due: Some of the best bread around can be found at our city’s Italian eateries. From the unlimited bread at the Spaghetti Factory whose soft warm bounty has spoiled many a keen appetite, to the sharp squares of olive bread at Trattoria Vaticano whose flavour strikes you in bold strokes like a Mondrian painting, bread has become so much more than an afterthought to tide you over while you await the appetizers.

But it is in the outer reaches of the borough formerly known as North York where bread has been elevated to an art form. Bread-heaven can be found just a short subway ride away, at a restaurant called Mezza Notte. The first few times I visited, I ordered bruschetta as an appetizer. This was a mistake. There is nothing wrong with the perfectly lovely bruschetta they delivered, but it sat unappreciated next to the delights of the free bread basket. There’s fresh, light white bread of the finest quality for traditionalists, a zesty tomato focaccia that manages to be simultaneously nostalgic and adventurous and an unexpectedly savory potato-rosemary focaccia. You know you’re in for a special meal when you can’t stop raving about the bread basket.

The experience was in no way diminished by the courses to follow. All the homemade pastas are perfectly cooked and the sauces that bathe them are harmonious combinations of earnest, quality ingredients. There are six vegetarian pastas, and numerous pizzas. Among the standout pastas are the plump gnocci in a salty and savoury sauce of pesto with cream and tomatoes, both regular and sun-dried, and the crespelle alla napoletana, similar to but head-and-shoulders above the typical cannelloni with a silky béchamel sauce.

In the highly unlikely event that you are still hungry, the desserts are by Dufflet Pastries and as such are delicious but oddly familiar. Then you can relax in the elegant yet somehow still rustic ambiance of the dining room as you and your dining companions repeatedly query each other, “Have you ever tasted such amazing bread?”

5304 Yonge Street


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