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Sotto Voce

Location: Toronto, Little Italy, College St.

My first year in Toronto, I had almost no memorable meals. It wasn't for lack of eating out, I just seemed to be eating at all of the wrong places. This is why I started buying guidebooks of the Toronto restaurant scene, and soon after that, I'd found all sorts of really tasty places to eat. If I'd been thinking, I would have used one of those guidebooks last night.

saffronjan, a newly-minted Torontonian, went out with me to find dinner along the College strip last night. We meandered for a while and finally settled on a fairly reasonably-priced restaurant doing thriving business on their patio, so thriving that we took a table inside, since that was all that was available. The wine list looked respectably varied, but neither of us needed anything soporific: I'd been half-asleep all day, and saffonjan was keeping herself awake one coffee at a time.

The menu offered a variety of Italian foods, and I was delighted to see them categorized into primi and secondi in such a way that a reasonable size of meal could be achieved, admittedly in a non-traditional fashion. Crostini and bruschetta were primi offerings, with the pastas and risotto listed under secondi. Still, it came closer to achieving that balance in food portions than most Italian restaurants on this side of the ocean, who list primi and secondi, and then serve everything in enormous portions, rendering the concept of two courses useless.

The ambiance was pleasant, with dark hardwoods, candlelight, and elegantly slender waitresses. The music was slightly too loud, and fatigue probably confused our hearing too. We spend the evening in pleasant, sporadic conversation, trying to figure out what the other person had just actually said.

The food, alas, was not quite up to the company. My insalata verde was sickly sweet, with an over-sugared berry vinagrette which the modest crumble of blue cheese and onion couldn't begin to counteract. My companion's appetizer was the highlight of my meal - she generously shared a few bites with me once she ran out of steam. Her insalata caprese featured a very tasty tomato layered with fior di latte (in lieu of the mozzarella di bufala they were out of) and vividly fresh slivers of basil, all smoothed together with a good olive oil.

The second pasta special of the day is what lured me in in the first place: farfalle with smoked chicken, pea pods, garlic, and an olive oil-white wine sauce. The smoked chicken came in deli meat slices, but was, despite that, rather tasty. The dish as a whole was fine, but nothing particularly exciting, and not as good as my wishful expectation was hoping for. It was all much better - in my estimation - than saffonjan's polenta. The polenta itself was cooked appropriately, she said, but my one sample of her sauce left me wanting no more of it - it was a very dull relative of creamy tomato sauce with an odd aftertaste. The mushrooms in the sauce were good though.

I wouldn't protest going back to the restaurant - between us, we had one respactable meal - but I certainly wouldn't go out of my way for it.

(saffronjan, by the way, is temporarily without internet access. One of the routers is problematic, but it's not clear to me if it's her router or her ISP's.)