Stelvio Toronto: The vibe
I must have walked or ridden the streetcar past Stelvio about 100 times without noticing its unassuming facade. Set in a row of brick buildings with large front windows, Stelvio blends in with this stretch of Dundas West, just east of the Ossington strip. Further down on either side, more brightly-coloured spots steal your eye like Patois and Collective Arts. But in a city brimming with Italian restaurants, Stelvio does anything but blend in.
Inside, seated at the large front window flanked by plants, I feel instantly at home. Warm glowing Edison bulbs hang overhead, their long black wires crisscrossing the ceiling. My eyes keep drifting to the interesting posters that adorn the walls and down the length of the restaurant. The modern, rustic space is much larger than it appears from the outside.
Stelvio Toronto: What's on the menu
Toronto is no stranger to great Italian restaurants dishing out primo plates of pasta, but Stelvio does things differently. Co-founders Giacomo Erba and Andrea Copreni, as well as co-owner and general manager Anna Erba all hail from Lombardy in Northern Italy, and executive chef Andrea Tranzillo was born and raised in Modena.
With Stelvio, they aim to bring the authentic flavours of Lombardy to Toronto. While there's some similarity to other Italian cuisine, many of Lombardy's traditional dishes are unique to this mountainous region.
We start with an order of sciatt, crispy deep fried buckwheat fritters with a gooey, cheesy centre, that are native to Valtellina. Carpaccio di bresaola, a lean salted beef with hardly a speck of fat on it comes on a bed of arugula and topped with parmesan shavings and the lightest amount of lemon dressing. At first, I wonder why there isn't more of the dressing, but when I taste how this tender meat shines as-is, I realize it doesn't need anything more. All of the cured meat and cheese here are imported from Italy.
We can't decide which of their house-made pastas to choose so we opt for a smorgasbord. A hearty dish eaten in the mountains, the pizzoccheri di Teglio is a short, buckwheat pasta with potatoes and cabbage slathered in a gooey three-cheese sauce with butter and sage. While it's quite heavy for this hot summer day, I can't wait to come back and dig into this warm and comforting meal during the cool days of fall.
Despite its blue hue, the blueberry tagliolini ai mirtilli e funghi doesn't exactly taste like the fruit. It has a slight sweetness which pairs well with the earthy mushrooms. But my favourite is the caramelle di coniglio, a light ravioli stuffed with delicate rabbit and served with juicy blistered cherry tomatoes and large shavings of truffle.
Bellies bursting, we're mortified when the ginormous orecchia di elefante easiva arrives at the table. The massive "elephant ear" is a tender pork loin that's pounded flat, breaded and fried. It's crispy and delicate, and made all the more delicious with the addition of a squeeze of lemon and a zesty aioli. It's so good, we can't help but eat most of it (and pack the rest for a delicious lunch the next day).
Stelvio Toronto: What's on the drink menu
While their take on a margherita with lavender and limoncello is nice and tasty, we only get one cocktail in before the allure of their unique Italian wine list draws us in. The first sip of sangue di giuda wins me over in an instant. The lightly sparkling red is so fresh and fruity with just the right amount of sweetness — it's like summer in a glass. I could drink it all night, but we opt to move onto a dryer red, a nebbiolo d'alba. It's another winner. The wine list isn't long, but it seems to be very well-curated, like everything at this homey Italian spot.
Dinner and drinks for two: around $120 before tax and tip