Buca Yorkville, the third of lauded Toronto chef Rob Gentile’s expanding cache of Italian restaurants, specializes in uncommon, exquisitely presented seafood dishes in a warmly sophisticated atmosphere.
If, like Burt Lancaster, you judge the quality of a restaurant by its bread, Buca Yorkville’s signature nodini could convey all you need to know about Gentile’s ethos—namely, that he aims to comfort his guests as much as surprise them. Warm bread knots no bigger than your thumb—with golden, rosemary-flecked exteriors and a mochi-like, soft inner chew—they effectively whet the appetite for more. Those keen to keep the carbohydrates coming will find much to enjoy on Gentile’s menu—the burrata pizza is intensely delicious, and pastas are expertly done (a seasonal special of anolini with fresh fiddleheads, chanterelles, and nettles was no exception).
Yet the true draw of Buca Yorkville, and what sets it apart from its siblings as well as much of Toronto’s fine dining, is its seafood. Gentile’s cured fish charcuterie, or salumi di mare, is a signature offering. Difficult to find beyond the Italian coast, the preparation uses up a variety of seafood—odd bits and all—in the manner of snout-to-tail butchery. Served on a cool marble slab, bites like soppressata di polpo (octopus salami) and capesanta affumicata (hot-smoked, saffron-brined Bay of Fundy scallop) are nuanced and artfully crafted. The branzino crudo is a show-stopper; a server presents the European seabass whole to your table before slicing it on the spot with a precision that falls somewhere on the surgeon/ninja spectrum, and then drizzles its opalescent flesh with lemon and oil. “We serve 10 to 20 [branzino] every night,” says Gentile. “If you do that constantly, you’re going to get really good at it. The dish has four ingredients, so the skill of the wait staff really shows. They can do it better than I can,” he laughs. “Not everyone can fillet a fish.”
Desserts, such as a deconstructed tiramisu in which a thick, sweet zabaglione is poured over mascarpone and espresso in a chocolate shell, ends the meal on a high note of nostalgia-with-a-twist. Complete with intuitively attentive service and unfussy yet suave décor, Buca Yorkville may be Toronto’s best spot for an elevated seafood feast.
Buca Yorkville, 53 Scollard Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5R 0A1, 416-962-2822.