Simple and handcrafted Italian at TOCA Restaurant

You would never guess but nestled on the second floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Toronto is one of the cities most charming, Italian restaurants. The restaurant is TOCA Restaurant and it literally feels like an Italian oasis within the city without spending the thousands of dollars flying directly to Sicily.

Opened in 2011, TOCA is a mix between classic Canadiana (honouring our local producers and farmers) while encompassing true Italian heritage in its dishes with a classically inspired menu.  The dining room is dark, yet romantic and offers a chef’s table and my personal favourite – a cheese cave. Yes, you most certainly read that correctly.  Our server tells us that the cheese cave is TOCA’s point of pride and should guests be interested are allowed to explore and be given a guided cheese tour and experience before selecting what they want.  The room is small, but it’s glorious.

While prices do vary from $16 (appetizer) to $98 (main course), one of the beautiful things is that diners who want to have a taste of everything can also choose the option of ordering from the $89 4-course tasting menu, which changes from day-to-day. The menu, which is currently showcasing many summer items had us in awe of the Canadiana Caprese ($28) which included Nova Scotia lobster and imported Italian tomatoes. Also, for those wanting to try a smaller scale version of the Risotto – ask for it in appetizer size, like we did ($18). This lemon and saffron risotto with meatballs was the pop of summer we needed. If I could have this risotto everyday, I would.

Where the restaurant shines though is in its main courses, which they offer a variety of different choices ranging from vegetarian to meat-heavy. Whatever your selection, they have you covered and can take care of you. We would be hard-pressed not attending TOCA and trying out some of the handcrafted pasta, which the kitchen spends extra time and love into. For example, the Ravioli Caprese ($18/$30) are beautiful pillows house-made dough filled to the brim with caciotta cheese and marjoram in a light tomato glaze. It was not my first choice when I glanced at the menu, but I cannot stop craving it since I’ve had it. Next up, the tried and true classic of Carbonara ($19/$28) was served up in an egg sauce, different than usual. For me, the carbonara was missing a bit of the pepper flavours that I love and enjoy but it was still quite lovely especially since it had large bits of bacon.

When you’re heading into a restaurant, what you want to see if how they pay attention to other details like fish and meats – TOCA has it all in spades. What could be seen a simple tempura dish ($39) includes squid and red mullet alongside marinated vegetable and saffron aioli. It’s harmonious, light and prepared with care. However, it was the 6oz. Bison tenderloin ($52) that had us singing praises. Despite these similarities, bison and beef do have some differences. Bison is a leaner cut of meat and therefore can be a bit more difficult to prepare yet the dish was a solid contender for best of the night.

While this evening out might be a pricey one, what can be said is this: it’s well worth it and if you can – save your pennies to go, even just once. What I would suggest is perhaps dropping in to test-drive the Cheese Cave or go in for their Brunch Menu on the weekend. If you have an anniversary or special occasion, you should test it out then. You will not be disappointed by the quality of food, quantity of food or the service received nor will you feel like this is a high-end establishment you don’t deserve to be in. Overall, TOCA is serving up elegant meals in a rich comfortable setting.

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