Yesterday, I offered my cheat sheet to surviving Winterlicious and today I’m going to take a look at what is out there for those who decide to go a different dining route over the next few weeks. Thanks to the hospitality of Il Fornello and Knot PR I was given the opportunity this week to kick the tires on Il Fornello’s Winterdelicious (note the “de”) menu. This promotion is running at all Il Fornello locations (except King St.) on Sunday through Thursday from January 12 to February 11.
Like most prix fixe menus Il Fornello’s $25 (of which $0.75 goes to charity) version is divided into appetizers, mains, and dessert. Diners can choose between four appetizer options, the same number of mains, and one dessert. I was lucky enough to sample all nine dishes in thankfully smaller-than-usual portions. Well, except the dessert which was full-size and for this, no complaints emanated from my corner of the table.
Highlights from the appetizer section for me were the crostini and the grilled calamari. The squid was remarkably crispy to the point where I didn’t wish it had been deep-fried. The basil oil and the red pepper coulis are the perfect partners to help complete the summery portrait. The crostini stands at the seasonally opposite end of the spectrum where the earthy aroma of truffle oil and the rich and smooth celery root puree remind us that there is still snow on the ground.
Though not as outstanding as the crostini or the calamari the stone soup is still quite good. This menu item appropriately ties the food to the theme of raising money for the Daily Bread Food Bank. Both the Stone Soup Story and the recipe for Il Fornello’s version (in restaurant-size quantity that I’m sure can be scaled-down for home use) are available on their website. The stone soup is also on the regular menu for $6.75 (of which $.75 goes to Daily Bread) so it’s possible to help support the cause even if you don’t have the prix fixe menu. This is, understandably, a hard time for Daily Bread between holidays and during the winter when demand is higher so I applaud Il Fornello for adding this charitable element to their campaign.
My favourite from the mains section was the veal stew with gnocchi because of the contrast created between the gnocchi’s lightly sauteed crust and the veal’s tender succulence. I understand why prix fixe menus need to have vegetarian options but wish I could have the toothsome fresh papardelle served with rabbit or venison instead of vegetable ragu. The pizza main puts a mushroom velouté to interesting use in place of the usual tomato sauce and the chicken parmigiana is pleasantly heavy on chicken flavour and relatively light on sauce or crust.
I am a guy and therefore will eat just about anything that is put in front of me so even though yesterday’s post revealed my neutral-to-negative stance towards desserts on prix fixe menus I was happy with the chocolate Zabaglione. It manages to be lighter than usual without sacrificing the chocolate’s rich flavour.
Tasting Toronto was also at the sampling dinner and they have a post, including excellent pictures, with their take on the menu. As well, Sarah B. Hood has posted on her site, Toronto Tasting Notes, about the meal. For supporting a great cause, and offering a hearty menu at a very good price Il Fornello should definitely be at the top of the list of alternatives to Winterlicious. Other worthy entries on that list include Pizzeria Libretto’s four-course prix fixe for $26 ($2 to charity), The Burger Bar‘s Burgerlicious (described thus on Twitter: “just offering a good deal for feb. lunch $15 – app or dsrt w/ burg fries &1/2 pint, $20 @ dinner with a full pint or cocktail”), and Vodkalicious at Samovar Room.