There isn’t denying when a restaurant is good, but what happens when the restaurant is great? Do you do the moral thing and spread the word? Or are you greedy, keep it to yourself a little bit long before letting people know? There isn’t anything that the public doesn’t already know about Impasto. This modest Italian eatery in the heart of Little Italy is the product of years of friendship, a passion for food and a shared devotion to the cucina by two friends and business partners, Stefano Faita and Michele Forgione.
You might recognize Stefano as being one of the cool animated spokespeople of IGA “Eating Better” campaign, his former cooking show on CBC, his line of cookbooks, or tending the counter at his family shop Quincaillerie Dante; and Michele from one of our Pay-Per-View mud wrestling specials OR, from when he headed the line at Osteria Venti. Keeping transparency, this review was not solicited nor did they know I was coming – I went in on a day Stefano was off and Michele was due in later in the evening.
We started with the octopus, served on brandade of cod, with chick peas, celery and garnished with picked onions and parsley. Large and incredibly tender pieces of sweet octopus complimented by the briny brandade was light and satisfying. The toothsome chickpeas added great texture that mimicked the octopus in bite but contrast in flavour – rounded out each bite. I’m not a big fan of celery, but paired with parsley, its inherent perfume helped lift the dish to the next level in this curt, straight forward antipasti. I’ve eaten my way across the city in octopus – I would order three to four helpings of this and call it a meal.
The Trieste style gnocchi with brown butter sage sauce and speck. On their own, the dumplings were pillowy, soft and muted in flavour. However, they were the ideal bed and canvas for the wallop of sensory arousing goodies the straddled the gnocchi that provided the knockout punch. The salt that seasoned the dish came from the shaved pecorino that melted into the gnocchi as well as the speck that flirtatiously laid itself across the dumplings. The dusted cinnamon added a profound depth to the dish that brought out the sweetness of the butter-fried sage as well as the prunes that were stuffed in the dumplings.
Campanelle with lamb ragu and cerignola olives. Known for making their own pastas (check out Chef Forgione’s Instagram page – he often posts awesome in-progress extruder porn), Impasto brings old school and little known pastas back to the public eye. This spinach ribbon pasta was tossed in a rich lamb ragout, fresh mint and bathed in gravy. Simple and delicious.
The Porchetta del nonno is one of Chef Forgione’s signature dishes. Obviously a family recipe I imagine inherited over many decades of crushing tomatoes in the garage, making sausage on the kitchen table and many summer evenings hosing down the sidewalk with his grandfather. Served with poached pear, sautéed rapini and candied figs, this dish epitomizes everything that is good in the world.
Floral and aromatic, the pork was fragrant in rosemary and fennel. The subtle bitterness of the rapini is a great accoutrement to this dish.
The candied figs steeped in mustard oil help cut through the richness of the pork and added a nice hit of heat.
Sitting at the bar (best seat in the house in any restaurant) we were staring at this bad boy the entire evening. The Torta Caprese – a chocolate almond flour cake – was moist and light. It was dense but wasn’t cloyingly sweet and decadent as some chocolate cakes are.
I’ve never been to Italy, but after my dinner at Impasto, I don’t think I need to. The food at Impasto is momentary – changing every four months with the seasons reflecting what is available at the Market and what local farmers and producers and harvesting. More importantly, the food at Impasto is the word of Chef Forgione; it is the culmination of years refining his craft, forging his family secrets and sharing them with the public. This is Michele Forgione’s culinary dissertation and he will defend it to the end.