Considering yesterday’s misty-then-sunny weather I was happy to have been invited by rock-it promotions to taste the spring menu at Maléna and be reminded of a warmer, sunnier climate. Maléna’s owners David Minicucci and Sam Kalogiros bill their restaurant as Ionian Coastal Cuisine with inspiration from that sea’s Greek and Southern Italian cultures.
The partners started with an Italian osteria and wine bar called L’Unità in 2008 and added Maléna in 2010. Since opening it has received high praise including a spot on James Chatto’s list of the top ten new restaurants in 2010.
After enjoying cocktails and salumi (the first act was stolen by the bacon jam) at L’Unità we moved to the private dining space (that holds 40) upstairs at Maléna.
Conservation concerns for seafood consumers has moved well beyond celebrity species like Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna to the point where many equip their smartphone with lists of the current species non grata. All of Chef Doug Neigel’s course introductions included a stress on sustainable or local sourcing from the white shrimp in the fritto misto to the delicious sea urchin on the crostino. Even when they move inland for their more carnivorous customers they look to local supplier Perth Pork Products for the Berkshire pork chop.
I’m hard-pressed to pick a favourite even just from the antipasti course that included lightly-charred octopus on root vegetable fregola; a sardine dish that Chef presented as his take on all the best flavours from Caesar salad (i.e. light on the lettuce); sea urchin and avocado crostino; and fritto misto featuring buttermilk-soaked halibut cheeks delicious enough that I had to restrain myself from them all.
For the main course the whole grilled sea bream barely edged out the seared branzino as the group’s most popular choice. Mine was delicious (if a bit over-seasoned) but on top of the simple, fresh flavour I think the attraction whole fish holds for diners is the opportunity to demonstrate rarely used carving skills on a small scale. As far as I could tell all of my table mates wisely chose to look their dinner in the eye rather than opting for the de-boned and skinned fillet.
The careful intertwining of the two influences–thankfully more at the menu level than the common and uncomfortable combinations at the dish level–continues smoothly into dessert. I’m still thinking about both the Greek ‘loukoumades’ and mascarpone cannoli and wish I hadn’t limited myself to one of each.
The dinner was well-attended by talented peers who take food seriously enough that they frequently share their writing and photos online. (Our end of the table was practically flood-lit by camera flashes.) As stories from their sites go up I’ll add links here.
- Suresh’s post on Spotlight Toronto featuring his always excellent photography.
Maléna: 120 Avenue Rd.; 416-964-0606
L’Unità: 134 Avenue Rd.; 416-964-8686