Location: 1281 Bloor Street West, Toronto
I might be cheating with this one.
Okay, I’m definitely cheating with this one. The food they serve at Sugo isn’t Italian, per se; it’s Italian American. That’s actually a pretty huge distinction, but let’s face it — Vatican City is barely even a real country anyway. Certainly, there’s no such thing as Vatican City cuisine. So why shouldn’t I cheat a little bit?
Mostly, I was just looking for an excuse to check out Sugo, which I’ve been hearing nothing but good things about.
I’m glad I did — it’s as delicious as its reputation would lead you to believe.
The menu is pretty basic: three pastas, a few different sandwiches, and a handful of appetizers.
I tried a couple of the pastas, which were both saucy as hell and exploding with flavour. Certainly, “subtlety” is not a word in this restaurant’s vocabulary (that’s not a bad thing).
My favourite of the two was the rigatoni, which features a creamy pink sauce (a mix between tomato and alfredo) with a satisfyingly zingy flavour. I also tried the spaghetti with meat sauce, which has a meaty substance, but is lacking in the assertive flavour of the rigatoni.
And of course, you can’t come here without trying the baseball-sized meatball, which has a slightly mushy texture, but is otherwise quite good. It compliments both pastas quite nicely.
Location: 1000 Finch Avenue West, North York
Chaihana is tucked away in a fairly anonymous office building; though there’s a small sign outside, it’s very easy to miss. My dining companion and I had the entire restaurant to ourselves — outside of the staff, the place was deserted. It’s pretty much the definition of a hidden gem.
A lot of hole-in-the-wall joints like this can be dingy and unwelcoming, but Chaihana is clean and colourful; they’re definitely trying to attract more than just the grizzled regulars you’d expect in a place like this.
They specialize in the ‘stans: the website mentions Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. The dish I ordered is actually the national dish of Kyrgyzstan, so that’s a fourth ‘stan to add to the roster.
I ordered beshbarmak, which a pretty simple dish — boiled beef (which is sliced), topped with sauteed onions and served on a bed of very broad noodles. There’s really not much more going on than that — there’s some green onions, dill, cracked pepper… and that’s about it. It’s basic, hearty comfort food.
The pasta was a bit mushy and it was incredibly greasy (you know when you’re eating something really greasy, and your lips get grease-slicked with every bite? Yeah), but it was pretty satisfying. The tender beef, the noodles and the onions all go quite well together.
It’s served with an equally simple bowl of soup — basically just broth (mutton, according to Google) with a little bit of dill and some green onions for colour.