Splendido Bar & Grill
is a great Italian Restaurant
Ranked #1 of 13 Restaurants in University Toronto.
Some say it is certain.
The Latest Review: ★★★★★
Sent on the 3rd of January, 2010
Rank #1 of 13
Most foodies know that Prevedello has given up restaurants for designer jeans and real estate, but the long arm of Franco Prevedello still influences Toronto dining profoundly. So what if he sold Centro and Splendido? He was the visionary who built them (as well as Pronto, Biffi, Acqua, Acrobat and Terra), and in so doing changed the face of Toronto restaurants. Prevedello's big thing, after breathtaking beauty, was service. Impeccable attention was his trademark. Perfect food was never his goal -- it only had to be good quality, and full of big flavours. Shortcuts were sometimes taken.
There lies the first point where son of Splendido breaks away from the father While the service remains true to Prevedello's style -- professional and gloriously attentive -- the food has taken a giant step up. It makes sense that when a chef gets his very own place, his standards suddenly go up. The new Splendido looks more subdued than its predecessor. Exuberant florals have given way to pared-down bone, taupe and brown, with huge bevelled mirrors the sole accent. The pizzazz is all on the plates this time around.
One evening begins with barely cooked oysters wrapped in spinach packets and set in fragile white-wine and cream broth. There is a "compression" of foie gras with duck confit (both melt-in-the-mouth), with tiny sides of blood-red ostrich tenderloin and burgundy duck breast prosciutto, the whole thing a sensual meditation on meat. Or perfectly poached cold lobster with grilled calamari, ceviche of fat scallops zinged with lime, and a tiny avocado-mango salad for fragrance. Chef David Lee even manages to gentle Tunisian grilled octopus into tenderness, and for a moment he fools us into thinking this is only bistro food, serving the octopus with a down-home potato salad smoky with bacon.
After the appetizers, Lee sends out sorbet, just like lots of other chefs. It's usually a gesture of self-aggrandizement, a silly too-sweet interruption to the meal. But here too Chef Lee nails it He makes fresh lime sorbet and douses it in grappa, producing a boozy citric thrill that sets the stage for his carefully articulated main courses.
This chef makes a certain kind of music with duck. In a clever duet, he roasts the breast only until it's blood-red tender, and he makes a crisp and oozing confit of the leg, with the added punch of apple-kumquat marmalade. Lee uses Splendido's wood-burning oven to great advantage on a fat capon breast, roasting it tender sweet, then taking it up a notch or two with a velvety blanket of foie gras. He pan roasts halibut golden on the outside, perfectly cooked snowy white inside. The only time his touch is less than certain is in the wood roasting of red snapper, which is overcooked.
The chef redeems himself with desserts. His fruit soup (an invention I normally disdain) is a marvellous mauve colour, concord grape gentled with just enough cream to make it go down like silk. But nothing tops his caramelized lemon tart with rumtopf, citric filling in short sweet crust with caramelized roof and a side of rum-soaked summer fruit.
This new Splendido is serving up heady stuff, that rare combination of wonderful food with divine service. All over town there are waitstaff who are just passing time, doing a job because they have to. This crew, led by Centro's Tony Longo, are career waiters. Their purpose is our pleasure, and they do it with more savoir-faire than most. They understand the difference between good service and taking it as your personal mission to make every customer feel like a VIP. How utterly splendid.