Ficoa, Little Italy's new tasting menu spot, serves warm and whimsical dishes

Tasting menus aren't always a friendly affair, but chef Gerry Quintero has created an intimate space and warm atmosphere at Ficoa that's full of nostalgic touches and bold flavours. 

Ficoa | Ficoa's seven-course tasting menu is full of seasonal ingredients, fermented flavours and bold cooking choices

Ficoa: What’s the vibe

Nestled in the desirable College and Clinton intersection, amongst some of the city’s top restaurants and patios, comes Ficoa. The intimate tasting menu restaurant has been open for over a month and replaces Il Covo, one of Toronto’s favourite Italian restaurants.

When the lease on ALMA + GIL expired, chef Gerry Quintero saw it as an opportunity for a new beginning. The café and grocery in the Junction, which he and his wife Mandy Sou ran, moved to a pop-up brunch program in the new College space. This change freed up the dinner service for Quintero to unleash his culinary dream (a decade in the making), resulting in Ficoa.

Ficoa | Chef Quintero cooks at Little Italy's Ficoa
Ficoa | The Ficoa Tasting Menu offers around 16 bites across seven courses

At Ficoa, the dining experience spans two dining areas and two hours. It starts in the lounge, where guests can enjoy drinks and small bites influenced by Quintero's Mexican heritage. The journey continues in the dining room, where a striking citrus mural serves as the backdrop to your meal and the part of the evening where the flashiest plates and pairings appear.

While most visitors to this Little Italy spot will experience a blind-tasting menu, there is the option to tailor the meal to your preferences. The Golden Ticket for $500 offers an all-inclusive menu that's up to four hours long, with beverage pairings. There’s even an annual membership option which gives diners access to members-only events, like wine tastings. However, as Quintero knows from his past in restaurant consulting, you’ve got to cater to every crowd: The Neighbourhood Tasting for $90 is a 4-course meal for those not looking to linger.

The space incorporates a mandarin oorange theme, down to the fragrance that wafts through the room, and thanks to its ample greenery and soft design touches, the restaurant has a light, cozy feel. According to Quintero, the restaurant was designed to feel more like a home and will likewise continue to change as photos of the team are added to the wall.

Ficoa: What’s on the menu

Though menus change constantly, guests can expect around 16 bites across seven courses. A tiered plate arriving at our table marks the first course and is a microcosm of what’s to come. Oysters with punchy chilli and cilantro oil showcase Quintero’s love of fermentation. His other obsession is with high-quality seasonal produce: The pig, which Ficoa gets in whole, has been butchered in-house and, in this instance, manifests as a truffle sausage.

Textures, flavours and even temperatures vary across courses, and while they may challenge traditional palates, it’s a worthwhile endeavour. Ice-cold fish is served for one course, while seabuckthorn, horchata, and champagne vinegar provide a palate cleanser in freezie form before dessert.

Ficoa | Chef Jerry Quintero is in charge of the menu at Ficoa
Ficoa | Chef Jerry Quintero's 'Losing Duck' dish at Ficoa

Quintero is driven by nostalgia, and it’s the dishes that draw from his own experiences and memories that really impress. The ‘Losing’ Duck is a cheeky nod to the dish he made on Fire Masters that did not win but has since become a crowd favourite. The duck is slow-roasted over binchotan charcoal, glazed with fermented mushroom garum and served with corn husk and onion skins, in line with his zero-waste cooking approach.

Ficoa’s tamale dish spreads a masa dough into a taco-like shape before smothering it in mole almendrado, a spicy, smoky and earthy sauce. Quintero claims the dish was inspired by the snack his grandmother would make him while he waited for supper to be served, his favourite part of the tamale.

Ficoa | The decor at Ficoa features plenty of muted orange shades to fit the mandarin theme
Ficoa | Cocktail and wine pairing options are available at tasting menu spot Ficoa

Dessert is created by Quintero's wife Mandy Sou. Expect less common fruits, like kumquats and (you guessed it) mandarins popping up in your final course, with as much whimsy as you’ve come to expect by now. We end the meal by cracking our spoons over a crispy funnel cake mashup; and lift the lid on a biscuit-tin-sewing-kit with two jam-filled biscuits hiding below.

Ficoa: What to drink

Ficoa has a small cocktail list with bold flavours which continues the restaurant’s ethos. Find spent coffee in the zero-proof Pick Me Up, and pork chicharron and carnitas fat-washed tequila in the Uruapan Fashioned. Halfway through our meal, we sip Tea Ceremony, which involves a cheeky pour of yuzu earl grey syrup over an iced beverage from a compromising part of a ceramic bull. You have to see it for yourself.

Ficoa | A tower of tasting menu bites at Little Italy's Ficoa
Ficoa | Chef Gerry Quintero delivers a dish at Little Italy's Ficoa

Guests can order drinks by the glass or opt for a chef’s pairing add-on, which combines a mix of cocktails, spirits and wine to accentuate the courses ($150). If you prefer to go the wine route, pairings are available with plenty of unusual and delicious options ($100). The most unique wine of the evening is an Italian pinot nero, which presents as white wine after removing the dark skins but drinks a little like champagne.

Ficoa never takes itself too seriously, but across its seven-course tasting menu, there are moments of wonder and warmth that you won’t find anywhere else.

The Ficoa Tasting Menu is $200 pp and must be made two days in advance.