I never knew pasta until I went to Italy. It seemed there was something magical in the air (or oil) that just made the pasta that much more delicious than anything I'd ever tried in North America. Although the pastas were simple, they were full of flavor. The downside of such deliciousness, however, was that I was sorely disappointed when I returned to Canada. I have spent many of my foodventures hunting down something to equal what I ate in Italy. Toronto, with all its diversity, seemed a promising place to finally find what I had been looking for. At the top of BlogTO's list of the best pastas in Toronto was Enoteca Sociale, located in Little Italy. With our lack of planning, we had neglected to make reservations but decided to chance it anyway as Enoteca's website advertised plenty of walk-in space and it was nearing 9:00. "Plenty" was probably a bit of an overstatement, as we were told it would be a 45 min - 1 hr wait. Exhausted from circling around and around for parking (one of the major downsides of restaurants in this area), we left our number at the front so we could get a text when our table was ready and headed out to explore the surrounding area.
True to the hostess's estimate, we received a text around 40 minutes later and headed back. We were given the choice of seats at the bar or at a communal table and chose the bar for a bit more privacy. Enoteca Sociale has a cozy atmosphere, warm and bright. The ground floor is a fairly small space filled with wooden tables and chairs and simple decor. The bartender doubled as our waiter, and patiently explained the highlights of the menus and answered any questions we had. I was impressed by his knowledge of the menu and his very correct pronunciation of words such as arancini, proper enunciation and all. We settled on the arancini to start and then a pasta for each of us with the accompanying wine suggested on the menu.
Soon after we had placed our orders, complimentary bread was brought to the table. I was a little disappointed that it wasn't warm, but the flavor of the bread more than made up for it. The arancini came out quickly (almost too quickly), consisting of risotto balls filled with cheese served in a tomato sauce. These were tasty but didn't have any distinguishing features - I couldn't help but compare to the pea and cauliflower filled arancini at Corso 32. For $12, I also thought it was quite a small portion.
The pastas were the highlight of the night. Nhi ordered the Carot Mezzaluna, Burnt Walnut Pesto & Maple Syrup. Mezzaluna, which is a half shell pasta, was filled with a creamy, carrot filling which was not overly heavy. It had a nice consistency and was overall a great filling to a perfectly cooked outer shell. The highlight of the dish for me was the burnt walnut pesto in maple syrup. When first ordering, I definitely had my reservations about the maple syrup as part of a pasta dish; however, as I tasted the burnt walnut and maple syrup I was pleasantly surprised with the numerous flavour notes this combination brought. The walnut in both the pesto was incredibly nutty and worked quite well to both highlight and temper the sweetness of the maple syrup. The pesto could have used a bit more basil or salt in terms flavour, but regardless, the walnut still made the pesto incredibly tasty. Overall, the Mezzaluna was a great pasta dish, though a bit more modern/fusion than what I was used to in Italy.
My dish was the torchiette, sausage, sunchoke, kale, and aged pecorino pasta tossed in oil. The sausage was seasoned just right, and the sunchoke brought a slight sweetness to the dish. I'm usually indifferent to kale, but it was actually my favorite part, cooked to a perfect crisp and offering a great contrasting texture. The simple oil sauce highlighted the ingredients rather than overwhelming them. I would have liked the pasta to be cooked just a bit more al dente, but overall this was a solid dish.
Although I found the portion sizes to be a little small for the price, overall Enoteca Sociale offers up solid pastas with fresh ingredients. Together with the cozy feel of the restaurant and the friendly service, I had an enjoyable dinner experience and will likely return. Next time, however, I will be sure to make reservations as "plenty of walk in space" didn't exactly hold true on this visit.