There are many reasons to choose a restaurant. In most cases, I have an extravagant formula that combines a number of factors including who I’m with, what’s trending, what my friends or websites suggest, how much I want to eat and whether or not booze will be involved. Others are less calculating. I’ve had guests who have requested vegetarian, clean and/or gluten free food. I have one who avoids garlic and onions and pork can be a sore spot. One of my most recent requests was simple:a place uptown with easy parking. Oddly, this proved to be a daunting task. I could hope for the best and try a place along Bayview or Yonge but parking availability is so random. Knowing my guest liked Italian food, Fabricca immediately came to mind. Located in the shops on Don Mills plaza, this member of Mark McEwan empire offers complimentary valet parking in addition to a parkade only a short distance away.
The spacious restaurant is complete with an outdoor patio, a full bar and a dining area with a view of an open kitchen which includes a wood fired pizza oven. Despite the pseudo-casual atmosphere, Fabbrica has all the components of a fine dining experience. The waitstaff are classically trained and a nicely dressed expediter quarterbacks the kitchen team, ensuring that a salad is neither under- or overdressed or that a parsley leaf is not out of place. I felt a bit like I was on an episode of Top Chef Canada for a second.
Picking a wine is always a bone of contention for me, especially when a table’s worth of palates are on the line. I wouldn’t classify myself as a connoisseur but I can tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon so I could get by in a pinch. However, I’m not the guy to go to as a spokesperson when it comes to the dreaded taste test. Sure, I can speak in front of a room of 200 people but having to take the inaugural sip of pinot gris in front of a half dozen people is a daunting task. That said, I have never seen a bottle sent back. In fact, I was thinking it was more of a formality. Not tonight though. We order a bottle of Conundrum from California. My guest took the honours and had a sip. A perplexed look was followed by a second sip and an exclamation that the wine was fizzy. The waiter carried it away and returned shortly with a fresh bottle and an agreement that his call on the wine was correct. In the end, the conundrum was a great choice.
On this night I was in the mood for a salad and pasta. I started with the misticanza salad consisting of seasonal lettuce, fennel, celery, herbs and house dressing ($11). It was delicious in it’s simplicity. The dressing was refreshing and a perfect compliment to the fresh ingredients in the salad.
For the main I ordered the fettuccine with sweet peas, artichoke, pancetta, and crotonese ($20). The pasta was nicely cooked but the dish was too oily and the artichoke pieces were rather large and took away from the taste of the rest of the dish.
For dessert I couldn’t resist the rice pudding with arborio rice, strawberry rhubarb compote and aged balsamic ($11). Oddly enough, I’m not a rice fan but put it in a pudding and I’m a happy camper. In fact, it would likely be one of the five foods I would choose as a desert island choice. The rice maintained its firmness among the creamy base. The compote was hidden in the bottom but once accessible added a nice tartness to the sweet pudding. I thought the addition of the balsamic was brilliant and something I will do when I make rice pudding at home.
Fabbrica is set up to appeal to the masses. It has a bit of the old school Italian eatery mixed with a modern day spin, so it wasn’t surprising to see an array of patrons filling the tables. There was a delightful older couple who may have been celebrating an anniversary, a large table of businessmen laughing incessantly at their own jokes, a table of younger mothers (one of which began breastfeeding her child which raised a few eyebrows among the traditionalists) and even a suave young guy hoping to get to third base by treating his date to dinner including the sundae designed for two. Then again, maybe the other patrons looked at our table as the pretentious one which actually had the nerve to send back a bottle of wine because it was fizzy. In the end, the Fabbrica experience was pretty decent although I was a little disappointed given Mark “Mercurial” McEwan’s high standards on Top Chef Canada. The salad and dessert were fresh and vibrant although the oily pasta was average at best. In the end, I think there are better options in the city for fine Italian fare but if the thought of parallel parking on a busy downtown street or dishing out $20 to jam into a makeshift lot makes you cringe then this may be your place. Plus, you can mingle with “the haves” and get that Coach bag, Solomon jacket or go to across the way to McEwan for that expensive olive oil you always wanted.