One of Toronto’s newest restaurants is IL Covo, at 585 College Street, in little Italy. Opening in January of 2018, they have had a steady stream of customers from day one. Could be in part to who runs the day to day operations and who is cooking here. Chef Ryan Campbell and GM Giuseppe Marchesini, are both expats from Buca King Street. They also brought the sous chef with them as well. They are calling their place a Cicchetti bar, which is the equivalent of a Spanish style tapas bar, and here, they serve Italian tapas in a more upscale setting, and most of it is not finger food, as it is in Cicchetti. These are often seen in Venice. It is a dark narrow restaurant, bring your flashlight or readers if you are over 45, if you have trouble seeing in dark restaurants. The restaurant has seafoam green velvet banquets, dark nail head trimmed chairs, brick walls, sconces that look like trumpets, and lots of old mirrors. There is a back room with wood beamed ceilings and sea foam green walls. You could do a private party back there for about 12 people. The front room holds about 40 and the front bar, another 10.
They specialize in small Italian plates and handmade pasta. This encourages you to try many things. They suggest 4-6 plates per dinner. I would start on the smaller side next time and if I was still hungry, then I would order more. Even though the portions are small, they are rich and we were stuffed by the time we finished.
The menu is divided into choices from the sea, from the garden, the pasture, the cheese maker, and from the pastry chef. Some items are specifically for one person, others are for sharing, but you still may only get one bite each. They have icons beside each dish telling you if the dish contains certain elements, like onion, garlic, pork, egg, shellfish, wheat, nuts or lactose. We had some raw chinook salmon marinated in rhubarb and citrus. Then a tramezzino fritto, which reminded me of a greasy grilled cheese sandwich, but their fried bread contained shrimp, scallops and lemon mayonnaise. Then some asparagus in a pork nduja vinaigrette, and egg yolk caramel. A knockout dish is the Scrigno, a baked chest of pasta filled with ricotta cheese and spinach, (looked like a beggars purse) and served with a mushroom and pecorino sauce. This comes 1 per person. The raviolo is a standout dish as well, one round disk of pasta stuffed with braised snails, and pecorino cheese, asparagus and wild ramps. The Manzo, was a wild ramp roasted flat iron steak, and braised white asparagus. The steak was perfectly cooked. The grilled lamb chops, one to an order, comes with graffiti eggplant, rosemary and smoked potatoes.
For dessert, we went with the Tartufo of rhubarb and almonds. It would have been improved if the almonds were toasted. The cassata, is a little jewel cake of sweet buffalo milk ricotta cake, pistachio and preserved cherry and citrus. They offer many wines by the glass or you can ask for their two extensive volumes of Italian bottles on offer. The books, one for white and one for red, are divided into light-bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied selections. We got a tour of the wine cellar downstairs, and they had an impressive list of Italian wines, (350 choices) many that are hard to find in Toronto.
The staff was helpful and could explain each dish in detail. Giuseppe could match wines to your taste, budget and food pairings. I also liked that they didn’t bring more than two dishes out at a time. And there was none of that BS, that it comes out as it is ready. They change plates and cutlery often, which is another plus.
The food is more on the rustic side, with robust flavors. The food isn’t exceptional, or a trailblazer, but what you will find is some innovative, tasty and creative dishes, that are reasonably priced. Prices range from $8-15. Only one dish tops out at $22. They are currently open 7 nights a week.