Restaurant review: Ascari King West

This longstanding Leslieville spinoff launches a new outpost in the Fashion District, extending its menu of Italian favourites. 

What's the vibe

Eight years after opening in Leslieville, Ascari Enoteca is branching out and sharing the love with west end fans of handmade pasta and great wine. Located at the intersection of King and Portland, Ascari King West sets up shop in a downtown foodie nabe with a much higher footfall than its sister in the east end.

Translating a beloved 38-seat Leslieville restaurant to the Fashion District is no mean feat, but Ascari on King finds a way with its clever layout. The Italian eatery is split into three sections; a buzzing, barside strip stretching back to the kitchen with tables and high stools; a light-filled terrace-like section to the left-hand side; or a moodier raised area with plush, grey banquettes to snuggle into on the eastern side. The restaurant seats 110, plus their patio overlooking King Street can seat 24 more.

With Bar Buca and Gusto 101 just a few doors down, your friendly neighbourhood Italian turned trendy King Street eatery will have plenty of competition for pasta. However, owners John Sinopoli and Erik Joyal, who opened the Broadview Hotel in 2017, know a thing or two about drawing big crowds and catering to the masses.

What to drink

All cocktails are new to this location and either rework a classic or have a basis in Italian culture and flavours – expect lots of bitters, aperitifs and vermouth. The Storia D’amore, with Cinzano Rosso, blood orange and prosecco, might just usurp Aperol Spritz as your summer sipper.

The knowledgeable staff will be ready and willing to walk guests through the impressive wine list, which naturally includes plenty of unique Italian labels. Plus, Ascari King West will soon be launching their aperitivo nights on weekdays from 4-6 pm, offering guests after-work cocktails and a spread of housemade antipasto in true Milanese fashion.

What to eat

With a bigger kitchen, Ascari King West is able to introduce a secondi portion of the menu, encouraging guests to engage in a more traditional Italian way of eating. Order a mix of antipasti, share a pasta dish or two and save room for the main meal (and dessert).

Fans of modern Italian can't go wrong with Michael Lam's (Il Covo) menu, but the insalata di burrata deserves top billing. Though Ascari generally puts a seasonal focus on their menu, they opted for a Wisconsin burrata, a creamy vision nestled in between bright garden greens like spring peas and baby gem lettuce. Fans of the east end outpost will be pleased to hear that Ascari's peppery punch of a carbonara made the cut, delivering an understated classic that reminds us why fell in love with the classic pasta dish in the first place.

Their sea bream crudo, with rhubarb and pistachio, is a bright and summery plate without the hallmark puckering acidity of these dishes. The Agnolotti di Zucchini, neat little pillows stuffed with mascarpone and ricotta and topped with a creamy, brown butter sauce, isn't just for the plant-forward diners (and yes you can eat the pretty zucchini flowers on top). But if you're looking for a meaty main, the rack of lamb, which looks like a miniature woodland scene with foraged greens topping it, is an excellent choice.

End the night with some Italian espresso and dessert, like the bigne alla crema pasticcera, a pretty choux pastry with amaretto chantilly sauce. That's amore.

Dinner and drinks for two; around $180

620 King St W., 416-366-3673;