An Evening at Enoteca Sociale

It started as an evening with the promise of three things: food, fun, and friends. How were we to predict the absolute beauty and hospitality offered by Enoteca Sociale? The simple, elegant menu we already knew; we had read it online. What we had no idea of, was the warm hospitality of the staff, the accommodating atmosphere filled with trendy music, and the overall great time that was in store for us.
As ten of my closest friends and I entered the private wine cellar of this Italian eatery (Enoteca Sociale provides the opportunity to dine privately in the wine cellar for groups of 8 to 12), we had no expectations other than the knowledge that the food served here had been widely praised. Chef Rocco Agustino has made some name for himself, boasting a two-decade career and Roman training.

Rabbit Pate with Brioche

The first thing I observed as I entered the wine cellar was the vast selection of local and Italian wines. Reds and whites from the North and South of Italy decked the walls, immediately inspiring us to order a bottle of red. We settled on a luxurious Piemonte red, a 2007 Ca’ du Rabaja Barbaresco ($165). As there were quite a few ladies in our group, we specifically liked the story attached to this wine in the menu. According to the menu, Barbaresco is a queen- the wife of King Barolo. She’ll make dinner while Barolo lays in his easy chair smoking a cigar, but under her apron she is toned and muscled, and will smack Barolo upside the head with a wooden spoon when nobody is looking. This turned out to be the perfect descriptor for the sharp, exotically perfumed, and yet velvety-smooth red.
As we sipped our wine and listened to the mellow background music of Florence and the Machines, The Black Keys, and Dashboard Confessional ( background music which, at one point, I could have sworn was connected to my iPod), we were told by our server that the Chef’s special that day was a silky rabbit pate. We quickly ordered two portions, along with two portions of grilled octopus ($12, each), and Ontario buffalo mozzarella melted on a buttery grilled brioche ($12).

Grilled octopus

Our entire Antipasti selection was well done. The rabbit pate was sweet, with hints of maple and served with pickled vegetables and grilled brioche for spreading. The octopus, one of my favourite foods in any capacity, was grilled to perfection, dusted with chili flakes, and served over a bed of new potatoes and green beans. We easily could have ordered two more servings of each, had we not been anticipating a few more courses to come. The buffalo mozzarella on brioche was like an Italian grilled cheese- it was simple, creamy, with a hint of sweetness from the bread.
Our second course consisted of chickpea fritters, set on a bed of lentils ($15). The fritters were light and fluffy, and the lentils were perfectly seasoned. While our original plan had been to go through the entire menu, we actually found ourselves getting full from our antipasto course. We decided it would be overkill to order the lake trout and flank steak, the other two items on the Secondi menu. It turns out that, while the food is very high quality and reasonably priced, the portions are actually really big!

Chickpea Fritters on Lentils

We did, however, order a couple more bottles of wine. We decided to lighten our wine selection up, by ordering a bottle of white. Our white was a 2010 chardonnay from Umbria (75), and was decent. Although it didn’t stand out much when compared to our previous red, not to mention all the amazing foods we were in the process of consuming, it was light and complementary to our meal. We would eventually order another bottle of red, and decided on the 2005 Sagrantino di Montefalco (125), another Umbrian selection. The round, muscular red was a perfect accompaniment to our main pasta course.

Raviolis, with watercress pesto

Papardelles with Rabbit Ragu

 

The pasta course, like the courses before, came to us family-style. We made short work of the pasta menu, ordering the raviolis stuffed with ricotta and marscapone, topped with pesto, brown butter and breadcrumbs ($16), pappardelles topped with Ontario rabbit ragu ($16), and the bucatini all’amatriciana with spicy tomato and guanciale- also known as Roman bacon- sauce ($15). All the pasta dishes were done perfectly. While there was some discussion at the table as to whether the ravioli dish was sufficiently seasoned (some thought it lacked salt and finishing herbs), the overall consensus was that the food was excellent. Of course, being an Italian restaurant, it would have been blasphemy to over-cook the pasta. Luckily, Chef Rocco did not let us down, the pasta was cooked to just past al dente- bordering on over-cooked, but not near enough that it wasn’t perfectly delicious! My definite favourite was the pappardelles with rabit ragu, which was simple, elegant, and a wonderful balance of herby, salty, and sweet. This chef certainly has an affinity for preparing rabbit, as all of his star dishes were comprised of this sweet game meat. In the future, I will be sure to order anything rabbit-based from his menu again, and would advise everyone to do the same. While the raviolis were not enjoyed by all, I found them exquisite, and would recommend them for those who like natural, understated flavours that are not over-powered by salt. Because the pesto is a watercress pesto, it is extremely light and mildly sweet- not a flavor that everyone can appreciate, but definitely a winner in my books!

The cheese cave

Although none of us were in the mood for dessert, we did agree a cheese platter would be a beautiful ending to our meal, which had now lasted about two hours. All evening, we had been in direct view of the cheese cave- the humidity and temperature controlled cavern that houses the restaurant`s selection of gorgeous cheeses- and we were now able to give in to temptation and order an array of the cheeses offered in the menu. We ordered an assortment of Italian and Canadian cheeses, firm and soft. The soft cheeses on our platter were a Quebec chevre (Grey Owl), and Robiola, an Italian blend of goat`s milk, sheep and cow`s milk. The firm cheeses were a sweet Italian blue, known as Gorgonzola Dolce, made with cow`s milk and sweetened mildly, and a Quebecois cow`s milk cheese known as Blackburn.
The overall impression of Enoteca Sociale is one of refinement, quality and hospitality. The server was a pleasure the entire night, attending to our every need and making any necessary explanation to the menu. The food was well-priced and delicious, and we were left full and contented. Of course, the wine and the atmosphere played a huge role in ensuring our successful evening, and we were not let down in any capacity.
Enoteca Sociale is located on Dundas St. West, west of Ossington. It is open for dinner seven night a week, from 5 pm to 11 pm.

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