Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sotto Sotto...Oh So So-so

Sotto Sotto- Yorkville (Avenue + Bloor)

Okay, enough with the heavily-recommended places. Next time someone suggests a place, we're NOT going there. Expectations run way too high, thus setting us up for disappointment... Although I gotta give it to Sotto, they are everything a proper "grotto" (definition to follow) wants to be and more...minus the blandularity. Lets extract this experience...

Okay so if you've seen an episode of Sopranos, you know what a typical Italian restaurant should feel like. But this isn't your run of the mill Vessuvio's, where your family can dine side by side with mobsters SYL and Furio. This is more of a I-take-my-Guma(r?)-and-hide-out-here type of place.
After a quick reference from my good friend WiKi- a 'grotto' is defined as:
(Italian grotta) is any type of natural or artificial cave that is associated with modern, historic or prehistoric use by humans.

Cave you say? That's an understatement. I felt like a prized '65 Merlot hiding out in the depths of a Naples wine cellar, surrounded by darkness. Okay slight exaggeration but really, it was so dark that we had to double up our candles just to read the menus.

Upon arrival Sotto Sotto feels like one of those places you go to to be seen, or to say you've eaten there because you are cool. The collage of famous peoples plastered in the entrance kind of displays that feeling...A certain 'you're sitting at the same table as Denzel and Jennifer Love Hewitt', so this place MUST be good. Celebrities don't eat at shitty places, right? Hmmm...
I like the feel of a restaurant underground...something about it gives off some charm. Maybe because I can't justify walking up Six Steps anymore. Open concept kitchen as you walk in shows some pride and confidence in a restaurant, and quite frankly the chefs can't hide behind any walls or doors. This is like a diner's security blanket. Always appreciate places that will cook somewhat in the open...They can be watched, you can see how fresh their produce is, and you know everything is done from scratch. Plus.

Our dining room was toite. Meaning the sont of a busboy kept knocking me from behind each time he went to the other table. But this place is quaint so you can't really expect any elbowroom. Plus the tables were a fair size so I can't really complain. I liked the brick walls, inlay patterns and mini grotta caves (more so just cut-outs). Nice big window that showed us the snow-covered trees outside, also a nice touch. Very romantic.

Considering we trekked through blizzardous conditions on Saturday to get downtown, our appetites awaited some serious Italian cuisine. I like variety, but Sotto takes it to a next level. A very extensive menu, can be a good thing and a bad thing. Good because you have ample choices, but bad because you can't decide. I personally prefer a place that concentrates on a few good items instead of offering the whole farm, but that's just me. Approximately 15 different apps, 10 salads, 15 pastas, 8 fish, 6 veal, and a few steaks and chickens...MARONE! Thats a lot to choose from. Then came the Specials...Now most places I know have 1 special app, 1 special pasta, etc...Okay Sotto had like 8 specials. Serious tings. More confusion.

Our waiter was ill. Of course, his name was Tony (we called him TONE)...and he was not short on character. Singing while pouring our wine, making jokes with the ladies, you could tell he took pride in his job. But then again Italians are passionate about everything they do. I love it. He made this a good experience. Sometimes you go to a good place and the servers treat you like you've never eaten at a restaurant before. Tony made us feel like we reach this place daily. Although he forgot to bring us our requested spicy oil with our bread the first time around, he did hook us up with the 'special' olive tapenade after we dealt with the first round. This was a nice touch, 3 little nuggets of chillies in E.V.O.O, spicy olives, and a garlic mash for our breads. And I forgot to mention how they started us all off with complementary bruschetta (pronounced BRUS-KETTA, not BRU-SHETTA, sorry, just a pet peeve), before we even ordered.

So far so good.

Our apps arrived, including traditional Caesar salads- with slabs, literally, slabs of Parmesan on top...nothing too special. Special stuffed mushroom caps- meh. I had an arugola salad with pear and Gorgonzola with walnuts...tasty, except the gorg tasted like sock. Can't really describe it any other way, but cheesey sock. Usually from my personal experiences and schooling, and I'm no chef mind you, certain cheeses should : A) be crumbled on a salad, not one big brick, and B)tossed or marinated with the dressing, not just placed gingerly on the top. Da well what do I know? Although the combination of all 4 elements did go really well together, it still left a taste of foot in my mouth.

After a serious delay, we received our mains. Here's a quick rundown of what we ordered and how it fared:
- Osso Buco (Veal shank)- tasted great, looked like Ulti (throw up)- Presentation was lacking, severely
- Fettuccine with Salmon- very good, mild sauce, pasta was froosh (fresh), nice balance of flavours
- Farfalle with anchovies, capers, lemon- little too 'fishy' smelling, light sauce, still decent
- Penne with asparagus, Rose sauce- really good...tasty sauce, thick but not too rich
- Mamma Laura's Bolognese with Penne- in a word, bland. No taste. Send Mamma Laura back to Bologna to get a lesson in Italian Gastronomy 101...Lesson 1- add SALT AND PEPPER! Come on Sotto, you can't fail on a house specialty. The base of every Italian Kitchen is their mother sauce- the Bolognese, also known as ragu. If this is lacking, you've got problems. Maybe Mamma Laura needs to tune into Food TV, channel 52 at 5:00pm, daily, for a little show I like to watch called Everyday Italian. Giada can teach her a thing or two. And she's hot.

But I digress.


Decor/ Atmosphere: 4/5- Nice, quaint setup, a little dark, but still acceptable. Don't come here with a big party, as everyone will hear your conversations. Good place to people watch, as we dined next to one Donyell Marshall and Co, of ex-Raptor fame.

Service: 4.5/5- No complaints, Tony was entertaining (maybe had some thullard), friendly and knowledgeable. Gave us a quick vocab lesson too. Front of house staff was accommodating and on the ball with the coat check. It's good to see servers really work and earn their tips.

Food: 3.5/5- A little disappointing, as 2/5 dishes were bushy. Apps were not the greatest. Bread was good. We have to give them the benefit of the doubt, as we only tried 5 items of like 132. So maybe we just picked the wrong ones. But the Bolognese-lack-of-salt is a big NO NO. Discouraging.

Price: 3.5/5- Our bill was $390 for 6 people, including 5 apps, 6 mains, and 2 bottles of Reisling, no dessert. Approx $65/person, including tip, is decent.

Overall: 3.5 STARS out of 5
Sotto Sotto, the critically acclaimed hot spot, Zagat-approved 'authentic' Italian restaurant, would have Tony Soprano himself spinning in his grave (did he die or not?) if he ate here. He himself would dunk Arti Bucco's hand in the bushy ragu if he was the chef here. This place is more atmosphere/service than it is food, in my opinion. There were some really nice touches, don't get me wrong, but for the most part, I would say it was just good. Nothing to write a blog about.
I would eat here again, but in a few years. Note- they DID have really good mints. Fruity.



Sabrina said...

Great review....I'm sure Mike told you that when we went there a few years ago we loved it. I guess its hit and miss. Nobody likes food that looks like oolite!

Sanjay said...

risotto was definitely dope last time i was at sotto sotto..

vaticano trattoria is a next solid italian joint in Yorkville. quite.

reach bunsbridge onetime during lunch.. and i'll take you to some proper authentic momma's in the kitchen italian ristorantes.

Anonymous said...

Alz...i totally agree with your comments. However, we should definately give it another try. I have a feeling we might be in for a surprise. And in terms of service, u gotta give them a waiter i ever had.

Anonymous said...

i was at the newer Sotto Sotto in Forest Village. The food was pretty good. However, service was really really slow even they were only sitting 4 tables with less than 10 customers in total.

I guess the delay has something to do with a celebrity chief and his wife was eating at the restaurant. I was annoyed by the ingratiating service offered to the celebrity chief's table. I can see the whole staff was serving them only ...