Now Open: Contrada

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Contrada Restaurant Table with full course meal and appetizer on side

TORONTO — Partners Patrick Groves, Jessie Mak and Mike Vieira are opening the doors to Contrada today, a new Italian-inspired restaurant in the heart of Little Italy at 537 College Street in Toronto.

The restaurant has emerged as the result of three friends, young but already veterans in the industry, as they unite over a shared vision to combine their talents and wealth of experience to create a local destination for great food and wine. Groves will serve as general manager and sommelier; Mak will hold the position of assistant general manager and lead designer; and Vieira will head the kitchen as chef de cuisine. Together, they bring an impressive resume full of experience at some of Toronto’s most prominent establishments including Alo and alobar Yorkville, Lee Restaurant, Brothers Food & Wine, Giuletta, Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie and Aburi Hana.

The name Contrada, Italian for “district” or “ward,” draws inspiration from two sources. The first is the Palio di Siena, an annual summer festival and bareback horse race through the piazza where each contrada shows up to represent its district. The second refers to the region of Mount Etna, in Sicily, where wine sourced from a single contrada, akin to a single vineyard, is considered wine of an elevated quality.

Mak’s vision for the space was to upcycle and re-purpose the existing interior design to transform what was formerly the Dog and Tiger pub into an atmosphere that exudes elegance and class with a touch of femininity.  Furniture and artwork were thoughtfully chosen from vintage sources. Existing fixtures and textures were preserved to achieve the effect of age and natural patina.

Joining Vieira in the kitchen as sous chef will be Lif Kalikutty, a talented young chef from stints at Toronto’s Giulietta and the internationally acclaimed Osteria Giulia. Guests will enjoy a glass of wine and some crostini, marinated olives and a tuna crudo at the bar, or be welcomed in the dining room over bowls of house made pasta, seasonal salads, vegetable sides and indulgent proteins, such as Veal Sweetbreads Marsala with seasonal foraged Ontario mushrooms and Ontario pasture-raised pork alla Milanese.

The wine list will feature almost exclusively Italian wines. Sustainability in the vineyard is non-negotiable, and producers are given additional points for exhibiting a restrained, hands-off approach in the winery. Guests can expect elegant expressions of Italy’s classics (Chianti Classico, Barolo) as well as savory rosati, elegant macerati and a range of sparkling options beyond standard Prosecco, including Lambrusco, Italian pet-nats and Franciacorta.

Beyond Contrada’s wine list, bar manager Kevin Nitcheu has developed an exceptional beverage program. An early standout on the menu, Nitcheu expects the Nitro Garibaldi to become a signature cocktail as he takes the classic beverage into the future: the classic formula of Campari and fresh orange juice is bolstered by Bonal, vanilla, lactic acid, toasted coriander seed and a healthy dose of natural orange oils. The cocktail is then clarified and served via a nitro tap, bringing a creamy, Guinness-like texture to the drink.

“The intention is not to echo classical Italian culinary traditions, but to create a menu of authentically Toronto elevated-casual fare,” says Vieira. “Using Italian techniques and ingredients inspired by both classical Italian and Italian-North American sources, combined with the use of Ontario’s bounty of beautiful local ingredients has allowed us to create a menu we’re really proud of.” 

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