Every neighbourhood needs a La Cascina: a neighbourhood restaurant run by friendly, accessible owners who produce delicious, vibrant dishes and a welcoming, cozy, fun atmosphere. (Yes, it really is all of those things.) We have been going for about a year now and we are never disappointed. Everything from the variety of antipasti dishes at the beginning to the decadent desserts at the end is plate-scrapingly great. We have always found the staff to be accommodating and knowledgeable, not to mention charming without fawning ridiculously over clients.
Our first meal there was a three course prix fixe seafood menu that is now a monthly special. The tuna croquettes were the stand out of the five antipasti dishes, but there wasn’t a morsel left in any of the five small bowls that had been brought to the table. Next up was the linguine vongole, or linguine with clams. The homemade pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente and the brininess from the clams was perfect. Salty deliciousness, I tells ya. The main was a beautiful piece of seared trout, with crispy skin that crackled as you cut into it. I said it then and I’ll say it now: it was probably the best piece of fish I’d ever been served.
After that stellar meal, there was no doubt we’d found a new neighbourhood fave. Subsequent visits have only reaffirmed how much we love the place. Their Valentine’s Day menu was an ambitious, mouth-watering, seven-course extravaganza with oysters, cheese plates, risotto, pasta, mains (choice of lamb or halibut…we had one of each) with a side of unbelievably great roasted potatoes and a dessert. (nb – the potatoes were SO good that when the chef came out to say hello, J grilled him on how he did it and then spent the next two weeks trying to perfect it at home. Mission: accomplished, by the way.)
When my birthday rolled around, J asked what I’d like to do and I replied that I’d love to have dinner at La Cascina. So off J went and discussed with the front of house maven, the fabulous Sharifa, what could be done for a special dinner. We were greeted by our very enthusiastic and sweet waitress who showed us to the prime table by the open, garage-door-type window where we could watch the world walk by. The meal opened with the usual complimentary bread with house-made pecorino oil (crazy hot, I must warn you) and then the five antipasti dishes arrived: braised fennel with cheese & onions; roasted zucchini cooked with almonds; potato gratin; baccala w/ red peppers; and eggplant. Now, I must admit that I am not normally a fan of eggplant. But this? THIS was delicious. It was creamy and beautifully seasoned. If anyone can get me to like eggplant, it’s going to be chef Luca.
Next up was the absolutely-to-die-for ricotta ravioli smothered in truffles. As always, the pasta itself was made well and cooked perfectly; but that truffle kicker? Holy smokes. This particular dish had been on the Valentine’s Day menu and became an instant favourite. The pungent, earthy truffles don’t overwhelm the homemade pasta, but they certainly do enhance it. J and I each had four nicely-sized pieces and probably could have eaten fifty more, but then we wouldn’t have any room for what was to come next…
Following that fantastic pasta course, a plate of beautifully seared arctic char arrived…..once again, slathered in truffles. This is the way to eat, my friends. The fish had a beautifully fatty layer just under a crispy skin, and the orange/ruby flesh melted in our mouths. The fish alone would have been wonderful; the layer of truffles on top was excessive decadence in the best way possible. It was so good, I took a piece of bread and sopped up the teeny remnants on my plate.
After that kind of dish, what could the kitchen possibly serve that would top it? I’ve had desserts at La Cascina before, so I knew I was in for something good. What I didn’t know was that a luscious, creamy panna cotta topped with berries was headed to the table. Oh, drool. We devoured every little bit of that dessert, happily scraping up the last little bits and then contentedly sitting back to ponder the wonderful meal we’d just had.
La Cascina is one of those restaurants that you don’t come across that often: it balances local ingredients with authentic flavours in a welcoming, warm environment. It’s a somewhere you want to hang out for hours and I have. (I went in the fall with a girlfriend and we sat for HOURS eating and drinking wine and never once felt like we were being nudged out the door, which is more than I can say from some other local restaurants.) They often have live music and from 5pm-6pm on weekdays you can pop in for a drink and free appetizers. The menu changes from week to week, so some faith in the kitchen is required. On average, there are generally a couple of pasta options, a meat/fish course and sides to be ordered. If they have the figs, honey & cheese plate available, get it! Or the gnocchi with lamb ragu. Or…well, I could go on.
I can’t recommend this place highly enough: it’s one my absolute favourite spots in the city.