Review: Aria Ristorante (2013 Summerlicious)

For the third stop of my 5-day foodie gorge in Toronto’s 2013 Summerlicious, I had a dinner date at Aria, a contemporary Italian restaurant located in Maple Leafs Square, just 5 minutes from Union Station.

But first, some quick stats (courtesy of Google):

Address: 25 York St, Toronto, ON M5J 2V5
Phone: (416) 363-2742
Hours:
  • Sun           Closed
  • Mon          11:30-12:00am
  • Tue           11:30-12:00am
  • Wed          11:30-12:00am
  • Thur          11:30-12:00am
  • Fri              11:30-12:00am
  • Sat               5:00-12:00am

Aria has had a bad year in terms of their reviews from the blogosphere, red-flagging it’s service time and time again, so I was a bit hesitant in visiting the restaurant. However, the menu charmed me with its promises of salmon crudo and beef carpaccio, and before I knew it, I was in a committed relationship with a Dinner ‘Licious at Aria: cocktail in one hand and olive-oil dipped bread in the other.

Aria, meaning Air in Italian, fully incorporated this element into the design of their restaurant. Wooden ribbons flutter mid-air in Aria’s high vaulted ceiling, in good company of the gorgeous lighting reminiscent of a fireworks display. In the far end of the restaurant (that is unfortunately not captured in the picture), sits a 2 storey high glass wall filled with glass bottles that sections off the chic dining area from the restaurant’s small entryway. Sitting in the centre of the restaurant, I was immersed in the happy hustle of the chitter chatter and laughter, perfect place for catch-up date, maybe not so much if you’re looking for a romantic evening.

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Photo credit: http://retaildesignblog.net

As expected from the many reviews, the service was friendly, but flawed. For one, it was very impersonal, where we didn’t get a dedicated server for our meal. Service was not as attentive as expected from a restaurant of this calibre, with no one asking for our drink orders or even asking whether we would like coffee with our desserts. Our water goblets were left empty towards the latter part of our meal. Having said that, I didn’t mind the service too much, since I prefer being left alone enjoying my food.

To start, I ordered the beef carpaccio, which was hands down one of the best renditions of carpaccio I have had in a while. The dish was as beautiful on the palette as it was on the plate. The strips of thinly sliced beef had a hearty smokiness that reminded me of smoked prosciutto, dosed in the salty tartness of the caper vinaigrette. The citrus perfume from the lemon aioli livened up the dish, while the toasted pine nuts and, yes, baby potato chips, added a delightful crunch. And need I mention the shaved parmigiano cheese? Eccellente!

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My dinner date’s Chilled Zucchini Soup had nice robust flavours that I suspect came from a seafood broth they used as a base to the zucchini. The chopped shrimp meat on the soup added flair to the soup, as did the fried zucchini blossom. Call me biased, but I still love my carpaccio more.

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For the main, I ordered a beautifully prepared pounded rib eye steak, albeit a bit too greasy for my liking. The meat was flavourful, and the arugula salad helped set off the fattiness to the dish. Overall, it was a well balanced dish, but not as mind-blowingly delicious as the show stopper app.

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My date ordered the Pan-Seared Mediterranean Fillet with a beautifully crisp and perfectly seasoned skin. However, compared to Chiado’s Skate Fish and Risotto, or Starfish’s Salmon with Piquillo Sauce, the flavours I got from Aria’s Mediterranean Fillet paled in comparison.

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However, what the entrees lacked, the dessert made up for. Sexiness captures the essence of the decadent dark cherry chocolate pate, and this dish is worth every bit of gushing over. Think smooth luscious dark chocolate with the perfumey note of almonds. Now imagine adding a note of slightly sour amarene cherries that brighten and round out the rich flavours, and meld those flavours with another imaginary spoonful of a light, yet creamy whipped mascarpone, mixed in with the crunch of the chocolate crumble and caramel chips. Mmmmmmmmmm… Words really don’t do this dessert justice.

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My dinner date ordered the apple and grana padano tarlet with a truffle honey gelato, which I found underwhelming. There was a prominent savory, corn-like flavour in the gelato, which dominated over the delicate honey flavours I was expecting.The tartlet was light and flaky, but to me, it felt like just another pastry. A good dessert, but I expected more.

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Although not without its flaws, I would still recommend a visit to Aria. When you order the “right” dishes, the flavours are phenomenal. While the service is lackluster, this may be a byproduct of the general craziness of the summerlicious festivities. Just go for the food, and enjoy the smart, laid-back evening downtown!

$25 Lunch

ANGURIA E CRESCIONE
Watermelon salad, mint, basil, Campari vinaigrette, caprino cheese and watercress pesto (vegetarian)
or
BRESAOLA E FUNGHI
Mixed greens, bresaola, fresh mushrooms, toasted walnuts, shaved parmigiano reggiano, lemon and black pepper vinaigrette (local)
or
CALAMARI FRITTI
Fried calamari, tomato salt, basil aioli

SALMONE E FAGIOLI
Seared B.C. salmon, white bean salad, shaved asparagus, cherry tomato, basil, fresh herbs and roasted tomato vinaigrette
or
TAGLIATA DI MANZO
Seared entrecôte, served medium rare, arugula, cherry tomato salad with shaved parmigiano reggiano (local)
or
PASTA ALLA NORMA ‘DIVERSA’
House made ravioli stuffed with roasted eggplant and garlic in a tomato basil sauce with shaved ricotta salata, toasted bread crumbs (vegetarian)

AFFOGATO AL CAFFE’
House spun vanilla gelato, espresso coffee, 70% chocolate and amaretti cookies
or
TIRAMISU’ ALLE FRAGOLE
Savoiardi cookies, mascarpone, white chocolate and Ontario strawberries (local)
or
TORTA MIMOSA
Sponge with crème anglaise, pineapple and Strega liqueur

$45 Dinner

SALMONE CRUDO
B.C. wild salmon, compressed melon, basil and lemon vinaigrette, crispy prosciutto, basil and mint
or
CARPACCIO DI MANZO
Thinly sliced raw and marinated beef, caper vinaigrette, crispy potato chips, lemon aioli, shaved parmigiano reggiano and arugula (local)
or
VELLUTATA DI ZUCCHINE
Chilled zucchini soup, crispy zucchini blossoms, shrimp salad and chili oil (vegetarian/local)

PISELLI E AGNELLO
Rigatoni with peas and lamb in a light tomato sauce, shaved pecorino romano (local)
or
ORATINA MEDITERRANEA
Seared mediterranean filet, shaved asparagus, grapefruit, basil, orange and chili saffron vinaigrette (local)
or
ROBESPIERRE DI MANZO
Grilled pounded rib eye, crispy potato and artichokes, rosemary, chilies, roasted garlic and arugula (local)

SALAME DI CIOOCCOLATO
Bittersweet chocolate pate, whipped mascarpone cream, amarene cherries, chocolate crumble and caramel crunch
or
TARTINA ALLE MELE
Apple and grana padano tartlet and truffle honey gelato
or
ZABAGLIONE E PESCHE
Basil stewed peaches, vanilla gelato, cold zabaglione, crumbled in amaretti cookies

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