FAJO Picks — Stylish Venues
Nestled amongst the Portuguese haunts of Toronto’s Brockton Village is a place where flavourful agnolotti takes a bold new shape, and conversation flows under artistic chandeliers.
At first glance, the equation of Cafe Bar Pasta seems simple, but the result – from first bite to last sip – is anything but. Helmed by husband-and-wife duo Tom Bielecki and Christine Vieira, the restaurant brings a modern take on pasta to Dundas West, fusing the owners’ interests in fashion, family business and local flavours.
Walking in, you’ll immediately notice the hanging taraxacum lamp from the MoMA in New York City. Head downstairs, and you’ll find yourself peering into the wine cellar in the private dining room, or immersed in a collage of images by Toronto fashion photographer George Pimentel, whose studio is just down the street.
“I wanted to integrate the artistic life of the neighbourhood,” says Vieira, an interior designer and former fashion stylist. “We didn’t want to do barn-board-everything. We thought, ‘Let’s up things a bit. Let’s move the neighbourhood into its next life.’”
These interior details, such as the wall installation by local artist and Lula Lounge co-founder José Ortega, are not lost on anyone with an appreciation for atmospheric dining.
So what happens when a vegetarian editor and pork-dodging photographer show up for a tasting at Cafe Bar Pasta? Well, a lot more than your average gnocchi.
It’s a known fact that great Italian food can be found in many parts of the city. With “pasta” in the name, one might arrive at CBP expecting just that. But take a closer look at the menu or have a chat with executive chef Jay Scaife, and you’ll quickly note the influences of French and Japanese cuisine, as well as some playful modern touches to house-made classics.
Classically French trained Scaife takes an inventive approach to his fare with signature dishes like “Green Eggs ‘n’ Ham” Carbonara, the Daily Angnolotti, and Lobster and Corn “Lollipops.” The result is a solid menu that’s succinct yet full of options that appeal to a range of preferences, including vegetarian and gluten-free.
For FAJO’s exclusive tasting, we sit down at the chef’s table with Bielecki and Vieira to enjoy four dishes from the fall menu, starting with the Buffalo Mozzarella with heirloom tomato and curled carrot. With arugula aioli, micro basil and garlic vinaigrette, this appetizer stimulates the senses without overpowering the standalone quality of the local cheese.
Focusing on seasonal ingredients, Scaife says he does his best to source items locally, while embracing international specialities such as Italian olive oil and 00 flour.
This approach is evident as we bite into the Daily Agnolotti, filled with a fluffy rosemary ricotta. The shape of the pasta is noticeably unusual, a result of a fortuitous day when Scaife’s tool to make the traditional fluted shape lost its wheel. “I didn’t have time to run out and buy a new one so I started to do them by knife,” he says. “As I was plating them, I thought, ‘These are unique.’ Most people who know my work will look at them and say, ‘There’s Jay making an egg roll.’ But the proof is in the pudding on the inside.”
The Daily Agnolotti almost steals the show, until we meet the gnocchi. Made with russet potatoes, a touch of mascarpone, smoked paprika and done in a cauliflower puree, the texture is divine. Two types of roasted cauliflower – romanesco and white – complement the medley. The purple potato and parsnip chips offer a crispy contrast to the smoothness of the gnocchi, which Scaife describes as “biting into a cloud.” This is what vegetarian dreams are made of.
For devoted carnivores, the Creste Rigate is a favourite among Cafe Bar Pasta’s clientele. The pasta is done with a five-spice duck confit, chantrelle mushrooms, white corn, crispy duck skin, and warm fall spices like cinnamon and clove.
Along with the food, it’s the collaborative and personable nature of the team that make Cafe Bar Pasta a city highlight. “We’re trying to be a staple in the neighbourhood,” says Bielecki as we finish off the tasting with a double espresso and spicy chocolate truffle.
With a selection of local, premium estate wines – available on tap and hand picked by master sommelier John Szabo – the space transitions from restaurant to bar after dinner, and often holds special events on the weekends.
Leaving with charmed taste buds, it’s safe to say we’ll be returning to Cafe Bar Pasta for coffee, drinks, dinner or all of the above. In the meantime, we’ll be dreaming about gnocchi clouds and agnolotti pillows.