TOCA Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton Toronto

Classical Italian.

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It is almost an embarrassment of riches. Located at The Ritz-Carlton hotel in downtown Toronto, TOCA is true fine Italian dining: handcrafted dishes with seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients that will whet any appetite. And don’t forget about the cheese cave.

Restaurant chef Jitin Gaba, a star in his own right, has the pleasure of consulting chef Oliver Glowig, who has two Michelin stars at his eponymous Roman restaurant in the Aldrovandi Villa Borghese. What these two gentlemen can say about, and do with, tomatoes is encyclopedic, exciting. Gaba has experience gained around the world, beginning in India but gravitating to Europe before coming to Canada. His inventive touch with traditional Italian dishes is something of a marvel, but the approach always, as great Italian food has to be, is to put flavour at the top of the priority list.

Bufala cheese here may come with braised heirloom tomato and lobster; the ravioli stuffed with caciotta boasts two different types of tomatoes, to compare and contrast. These are attractive plates, and delicious, not necessarily what nonna would cook, but she’d be plenty happy to eat them. Fegato grasso is foie gras served with green apples and a pistachio mousse, a new way of thinking about a classic dish. The parmesan risotto has, in season, shaved black truffles and an egg yolk, to take it into new territory. The baccala is bread-crusted, and served with a classic tomato sauce, green olives, and capers. There are enough red meat options to please the most resolute steak-house aficionado, as well.

There is a sushi bar, just off the prodigious, classical Ritz Bar, and some Japanese influences find their way gracefully onto the menu, including a sensational tempura-battered whole red mullet. The cheese cave, presided over by chef Gaba and restaurant manager Peter Muir, has both local and international specialty cheeses, such as a prize-winning Lankaaster from Ontario, and an aromatic, quirky, decadent truffle Barolo from Italy. All you have to do is ask, and they will happily bring you right into the cave, located in the main dining room, all enclosed in glass to protect the temperature and humidity.

Wines are thoughtful, carefully selected, and ordering by the glass with each course is a rewarding way to go, including specially-made house wines from Ontario’s Niagara region and Prince Edward County that really are terrific. Private dining, a chef’s table, a spacious but warm and welcoming room, all conspire to make this a special experience. Well worth a visit.

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TOCA, 181 Wellington Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 3G7, Canada, 416-585-2500.

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December 8, 2015