Review: Toni Bulloni (Subhead: I Heart Pasta)
Comforting, versatile pasta is easily one of my favourite foods. This past week, I was lucky to have had two great pasta experiences -- first with a new (to me) restaurant, and second with an easy and delicious recipe. The restaurant experience came about because Dave invited me to a screening of Michel Gondry's new film, The Science of Sleep, and we needed somewhere to eat beforehand. Unfortunately, the screening happened to be in Yorkville, an area of town where "inexpensive" is a dirty word. After a quick intarweb search, we settled on Toni Bulloni (156 Cumberland St.), an Italian restaurant right across the street from the movie theatre that turned out to be not only inexpensive, but homey and entirely satisfying.
Toni Bulloni is a skinny restaurant -- to get to the seating area, you have to walk down a narrow corridor that follows the length of the bar. The atmosphere is dark, warm, and inviting with cozy booths and interesting, brightly-coloured art on the walls. The attentive and friendly server brought our drinks promptly and left us to peruse the menus once we were seated. The menu is large, with a focus on pasta and pizza as well as some meat entrees. The chalkboard on the wall beside us also listed several tasty-sounding specials. It was difficult to choose, but I decided on penne in vodka rose sauce (one of the specials), and Dave chose linguine in a chicken, asparagus, and sundried tomato rose sauce.
As we waited for our meals, the server brought us a small loaf of complimentary bread fresh from the oven, with garlic butter melted over the top. It was delicious and the perfect thing to whet our appetites for the dishes to come. As we munched on the bread, we saw a pizza go by that looked amazing.
Soon after, our generously-portioned pasta dishes were placed in front of us and topped with fresh ground pepper and parmesan. I dug into my penne and was immediately impressed -- the sauce was creamy but not too rich, with chunks of fresh tomato, onion, and just a hint of vodka flavour. The noodles were perfectly cooked to al dente, each one coated with a lovely thin layer of sauce. I was thrilled with my choice.
While I enjoyed my penne, Dave was busy attacking a mountain of linguine. The long, plump noodles were covered in chunks of chicken and crunchy-fresh thin asparagus spears. The earthy-tasting sundried tomato rose sauce tied the entire dish together -- in Dave's words, "mmmm."
While we were in pasta-heaven, our server stopped by to give us some free soda refills -- something that I find is rare at non-chain restaurants (and a complete surprise in Yorkville). She was also happy to accomodate my doggy-bag needs when I couldn't finish my huge bowl of pasta. Overall, the service and food at Toni Bulloni were excellent. It made for a perfect pre-movie dinner and this spot will be at the top of my list next time I'm craving a big bowl of pasta downtown.
8 spaghetti westerns out of 10
After our experience at Toni Bulloni, I was in the mood to make some pasta at home. I turned to one of my all-time favourite cookbooks, Rebar by Audrey Alsterburg and Wanda Urbanowicz, and their "September Spaghettini" sounded like a perfect (and appropriate) antidote to my craving. The simple tomato-basil sauce in this recipe has loads of garlic and tomato flavour. The red chiles add a nice kick, and the touch of honey really mellows out the acidity of the fresh tomatoes. I recommend serving big bowls of this pasta with garlic bread and plenty of extra Parmigiano-Reggiano.
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
pinch red chile flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked pepper
6 ripe garden tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
30 g fresh basil
1 heaping tsp honey
1/2 lb spaghettini
Parmigiano-Reggiano for garnish
1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add onion and saute until soft and lightly golden. Add garlic, bay leaf, chiles, salt, and pepper, and saute for 5 minutes over low heat. Stir in tomatoes and honey, and simmer gently uncovered up to an hour, until the sauce has acheived your desired thickness. Add chopped basil and season to taste.
2. While the sauce simmers, cook the spaghettini in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and toss the pasta with half the sauce. Distribute pasta into bowls, and then top with the remaining sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Enjoy!