Sotto Bene

Anyone who has been to Sotto Sotto knows what we do – it’s superb.  We were looking for a restaurant for dinner that had great food with a local/neighbourhood feeling on a Sunday night, which was not easy to find given that most of the trendy kitchens were closed, but not this small Avenue Road icon.

Sotto Sotto is one of Toronto’s long standing classic Italian restaurants that is popular among both the Toronto locals and visiting celebrities.  Your experience of this subterranean restaurant will start awkwardly; there is nowhere to wait for your table to be ready and so you have to stand either in the doorway as people try to go in and out or among the dining tables looking over the shoulders of your fellow diners.

The décor is Milanese grotto meets Toronto wine cellar with a lot of “Mamma’s Old Stuff” thrown in for God knows what reason.  The tables are squeezed as close together as possible in order to maximize seating, yet somehow the ambiance in the restaurant is cool and conspiratorial.  On this visit, we were actually seated at their best table – a little private alcove in the furthest corner that gave us some privacy from our fellow diners.

The Food:  The menu offers an ample variety of simple Italian dishes: pasta, pesce, carne, and antipasti without being overwhelming.  Additional daily special dishes from the kitchen are also available.

The last time we visited Sotto Sotto we were less than thrilled with the food.  It was like the years had stripped the kitchen of its flair and made this another run-of-the-mill trattoria.  But that was a couple of years ago and we had our fingers crossed for this evening.  During this visit we ordered:

Campagnola Salad – Plenty of arugula salad with mushrooms and a soft fresh cheese

Prosciutto with olives and parmesan – reasonable antipasto offering.  The prosciutto was delicate and nicely complimented by the excellent parmesan.

Linguine with meatballs – A special for the evening, it was delicious in its simplicity.  The meatballs are a blend of beef, chicken and veal while the tomato sauce was bursting with flavour.

Grilled Calamari – perfectly grilled and tender texture accompanied by a simple green salad with an olive oil and lemon dressing.

The food tasted the way it used to in Sotto Sotto’s haydays.  Whatever the issue had been during our last visit, it was resolved and the kitchen was putting out truly inspired, simple Italian dishes – just the way they should be prepared.  We spent the entire meal oohing and aahing, trying to figure out how they got the meatballs to taste so good, or what the secret to the grilled calamari was.

Parma – $16
Campagnola – $14
Linguine and Meatballs – $20
Calamari alla griglia – $25

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