Open since January, this stylish, relaxed and bright, thirty-ish seat restaurant designed by Commute Designs has established itself in my book as a contender for one of Toronto’s best Italian restaurants. Ufficio Restaurant is located at 1214 Dundas Street West near Ossington, in the former home of the Grove Restaurant. They did a complete makeover, and it is now a cool room with painted white brick walls, Aqua blue banquettes, interesting tiled floors and fishing nets that give it a nautical vibe. They play a nice selection of music, although a touch too loud for easy conversation. They offer an extensive cocktail and wine list. I found our servers Adam and Jonathan to be friendly and knowledgeable. They could describe in detail every dish we asked about. They discussed the highlights and signature dishes. But I have to say everything we tried was a home run.
Everything sounded good on the creative menu and I didn’t realize until after dinner that there was no meat or fowl on the menu. Instead Ufficio offers a vegetarian and fish and seafood heavy menu. None of us missed eating meat at all. You have the choice of eating family style or not. We decided to try a lot of dishes and share the spoils.
You have got to try their grilled homemade focaccia bread. Yes they charge $3, but it is so worth it. We started with an evening special of ultra fresh sea bass Crudo, in a goat’s yogurt with house made lemon oil and crispy rosemary which was out of this world. Their homemade focaccia was great for scooping up the tasty sauce. The Ontario burrata on a fava bean pesto, with apple mostarda, watercress and almonds was a brilliant combination of flavours. Next up we tried the fiore di zucca, lightly fried ricotta stuffed zucchini blossoms with an arugula chili. They were light tasting and delicate. The restaurant really shines with their pasta preparations. We tried an alternate pasta substitution on the menu that turned out to be a wonderful creation consisting of an agnolotti dish of Ontario fresh peas, with marscapone, ricotta and Parmesan cheese. This had some oyster mushrooms and fava beans in the sauce. The other pasta we tried was the gnocchi pomodoro which was a simple preparation of tomato, basil and stracciatella cheese, but they were the most delicate tiny pillows of heaven. My only warning is the portions are on the small side and you may not want to share with anyone. Next was the grilled octopus, served with fingerling potatoes in a vibrant romesco and salsa verde sauce. We also tried the grilled whole sea bream with cannellini beans and escarole ragu with cucumber and fennel.
I usually find that Italian restaurants fall short when it comes to desserts, but that does not apply here. We had a rich Callebaut chocolate creation with toasted hazelnuts and sponge toffee. It was so decadent and showcased the talent of the pastry chef. The strawberry pavlova was a lighter alternative but equally good. There were also five ice cream choices and two sorbets. We opted for the lemon basil and the burnt honey ice creams. We washed our dinner down with a lovely Rosé and the waiter sent out a fantastic after dinner drink, but I couldn’t tell you what was in it, only that it was a great way to end our meal.
Everything we had was fresh, tasty, and seasonal. The cooking was quite sophisticated and well-executed. The restaurant is also open for Sunday brunch.