I think I will want to visit Negroni (492 College St. west) again in the summertime. We were seated at the back of the quiet, spacious resto, and from that vantage point it was clear they have a beautiful patio. It's not a massive, cram everyone you can fit patio, nor is it a two table sardine can, but is just right. Inside and out, Negroni is decked in smooth, natural looking wood, which glows in the warmth of yellow walls and candlelight. I feel that they have a classic and unhurried vibe, which made for a relaxing dinner with Pietro, my roommate Molly, and her mother Meredith who was in town for a conference with a colleague.
We started with a round of drinks, and while everyone pretty much stuck to tried and trusted beers, I went into dangerous territory and ordered the signature drink. Maybe it's because I've been following the cocktail challenge over at BlogTO, but it seems a bit tragic that people of my generation aren't well versed in good mixed drinks (beyond the bar rail!). Maybe it's just our budgets, though, since the drink was under two shots and over ten dollars. I enjoyed the negroni, which is a shaken mix of campari, gin, and Italian vermouth. It is sweet and dry, and easy to nurse- not like a gross sugar martini.
Now, how's their food?
A classic I've always eyed but never tried! I think my run in with raw beef at Origin boldened me up to try another raw red meat dish (though in actuality it takes little boldening for me to try anything, and beef is my favourite meat cooked or not). Under sharp shavings of parmesan and a heap of arugula were our rounds of paper thin, cool beef drizzled gloriously in truffle oil, which I will liken to butter without the flavour of dairy- creamy, fatty, rich as anything, with a clean aftertaste. The meat itself fell apart as we tried to divide it onto five plates, it was so delicate. Raw, the flavours that reigned were iron and salt, and it was mild. I feel like I tasted a hint of anise. I am very happy to have tried the carpaccio, but I don't think it's bold enough for my palate.
I'll take a bottle of truffle oil, though!
Meredith and I each opted in for a different risotto. I think what I've had for risotto in the past came from a box and can hardly wear the name proudly. These were real, freshly cooked risottos of round arborio rice! They were served in large bowls, though the portion itself was not overwhelming. I am sad there wasn't a light salad or some lightly steamed veg on the side to nibble on and refresh the palate in between creamy mouthfuls- not that the dishes weren't filling, because they certainly were! It would have added more interest, however.
The mushroom risotto was comparable to a ragout for flavour. It has all the earthiness and light pepper, even had the flavour of gravy while being vegetarian. I enjoyed the buttons of mushroom which poked out here and there, adding some texture and something to chew on.
Less stunning in flavour was the butternut, which I ordered. It had a beautiful colour, but tasted so mild in comparison to the mushroom, which was overflowing with subtlety. I like that the butternut was both sweet and savoury at the same time, letting me mull the taste over slowly. There were no chunks in it to add interest, just the glutinous, swollen grains of arborio. Both risotto's were thick with sauce and clung to the stomach.
The rest of the table opted to try Negroni's apparently famous grilled sandwiches. Molly had this unlikely assortment of unusual stuffing. Without the capers and artichoke, this would be a lot like a nicoise sandwich, but with them it's something new and all it's own. I didn't get to try the sandwiches this time (so wrapped up in risotto and conversation was I), but she relayed to me her pleasure with the sandwich, it's surprising ability to stuff (I thought the sandwiches looked too flat to be filling, but was proved wrong!), and it's interesting lemony taste.
All three sandwiches came with salads of arugula and greens in a balsamic dressing.
Grilled Sirloin, black garlic mayo and cheddar cheese make this Negroni's take on a Philly steak melt. From enthusiastic mm's I think this sandwich was VERY tasty and flavourful. I hadn't heard of black garlic before, either, and I love adding new culinary weapons to my armoury. Apparently it's everything white garlic is, but better.
What could Negroni possibly do to make the untouchable B.L.T. even better? Add some heat! Make it leaner! Not everyone has to agree with me on that last point.
By substituting spicy and chewy panchetta for bacon, roasted cherry tomato for raw hothouse slices, and arugula for romaine (or iceberg if you're a travesty), this sandwich effectively takes it up a notch for spiciness and texture. It's also grilled. Take that, tradition!
I would love to come back once these interminable rains end, so that I can lounge out back with a lovely cocktail and maybe test out the dessert menu. I found the service here friendly and helpful by the way, which was a real treat in Toronto-with-the-chip-on-its-shoulder.
For me Negroni's menu constitutes summery food, since most of it was so delicately handled.