Ardo, on 243 King Street near Sherbourne in Toronto, was only six weeks new at the time I first visited in June. Named after the chef’s son, Leonardo (he couldn’t pronounce his name at age two and just called himself, “Ardo”), the fifty-four seat restaurant also features a retractable garage door that opens in warm weather. Charming and casual, the restaurant is an ode to Sicily by talented Chef and Owner, Roberto Marotta. The chef’s family lived in a port town in the North-East corner of Sicily. He draws his inspiration from this Southern Italian region and from the family recipes that have been passed down to him. So, of course, there is plenty of seafood on the menu, but also Italian favourites like pizza and pasta. I had one of the absolutely best pizzas that I have ever had in Toronto. The flour is brought in from Sicily and it makes for a light, puffy and tender crust. Chef Roberto recommended the Mylae pizza made with fior di latte, mascarpone, cantaloupe and speck. The pizza pays homage to the chef’s hometown.
There are many Sicilian specialties on the menu. The acciughe dish was a house made crostini bread with fabulous Sicilian white anchovies and roasted red pepper burro alle erbe. The savoury Sicilian cannoli with ricotta, candied tomato, basil and roasted almonds was a new dish for me. The grilled octopus, with a lovely vegetable caponata was tender and flavorful. For our pasta course we tried the Norma, which was torchietti, with fried eggplant, tomato sauce and salted Sicilian ricotta. Another pasta dish that I haven’t found in Toronto was the sarde, which was a spaghetti with fresh sardines, wild Sicilian fennel, raisins, saffron and toasted bread crumbs. Our third dish was a couscous with Sicilian fish, clams and shellfish stew in a spicy tomato sauce. Roberto sent over a spicy ink squid pasta on the house. What I loved is every dish is unique and authentic, and everything is made in house.
Then we tried the daily catch. It happened to be a delicate piece of red snapper, which was extremely fresh tasting on a bed of vegetables in an arugula sauce. Every dish we had was brilliant. I also feel you get great value here. The starters are priced from $7-16, pastas range from $12-21, and the pizzas from $14-19. The desserts are $8. We ended our meal with a traditional made-to-order, Sicilian cannoli made with fresh ricotta, candied orange and roasted pistachios.
The lighting is soft, with R&B playing, and the staff is friendly and attentive. A recent return visit this September confirmed my opinion that Ardo is one of my most favourite restaurants in Toronto. Yes, it is crowded and noisy, but it’s energetic, the food is absolutely delicious, and the chef has such a warmth and passion that is so lacking in other restaurants.
The second visit we had a special of zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and sardines. The dish was lightly battered and served hot and fresh from the pan. The carpaccio was a prime cut beef with baby arugula, ragusano cheese, roasted pistachios and preserved mushrooms. I also had one of the best homemade gnocchi dishes and it may be a contender for the best I have EVER had. It was made with local mushrooms, stracchino cheese, and heirloom carrots, in a shaved black truffle sauce that was creamy and luscious, and cooked to perfection. This dish was a showstopper and had me moaning in delight. Some things are just worth the calories. The anatra dish of fettuccini, duck ragu in a five secret spice sauce with green kale was also a very satisfying dish. For dessert, the chef created a fresh new take on a tiramisu dish, but instead of chocolate and expresso, it was made with mascarpone and blood orange.
Folks, we have a winner. Ardo is open for lunch during the week and dinner Monday to Saturday. There is a retractable garage door that opens in warm weather. Toronto needs more places like this. I am totally enamored with Ardo.