Archeo Trattoria is a contemporary yet rustic, lively yet warm and comforting Italian dining experience located in Toronto’s Historical Distillery District. It was the perfect solution to the wet, slushy and windy evening my review partner, Vance, and I decided to venture out for dinner. There’s a simple yet elegant rustic charm to Archeo with the high ceilings, exposed brick, moody lighting, and reclaimed wood tables. Looking around, we immediately thought this would be a wonderful place for an intimate corporate function or wedding reception. We soon learned that Archeo is typically reserved for these types of events and doesn’t usually open to the public. As such, our suspicions were confirmed and we realized quickly that we were in luck.
Browsing their simple yet intriguing menu of Italian specialties, a few things caught our attention – the Carrot & Salt Cod appetizer for one (salt cod fritter with caramelized carrot, carrot juice, carrot top pesto, and hazelnut – $12), the Black Garlic Cavatelli main for another (butternut squash, heirloom carrots, pearl onions, and hazelnut gremolata – $18), and what exactly is a Piadini? We soon found out – it’s an Italian street food of toppings served on flatbread, it’s almost pizza-like but not quite.
My rule of thumb when trying a new restaurant: let the specials board be your guide. The placard outside boasted a roasted tomato soup with mustard greens, pesto, and a parmesan-encrusted crostini ($8) and a piadini topped with braised short rib, oyster mushrooms, caramelized onions, gorgonzola, and mustard greens served with a salad or herbed fries. I was sold on both. Vance opted for the Antipasti to start (a selection of locally cured meats, house made pickles, Archeo mustard, and focaccia – $15) and the Pappardele Bolognaise (Bolognaise pasta with blistered vine, fried white anchovies, fermented Treviso, and smoked olive oil – $19). For dessert, we split the Tonka Bean Pana Cotta served with an apple cider jelly and rolled oat crumble ($8).
We both started the night with berry-infused cocktails with hopes of forgetting the dreariness outside. I had the berry martini while Vance had the white sangria – both were refreshing, tart, and very sweet. Soon our appetizers arrived. My roasted tomato soup was simply delightful – warm, comforting, and cozy. The pesto added a nice fresh note to the dish, elevating the liveliness. There’s always a concern when it comes to tomato soup that it can feel like consuming plain tomato sauce but this was nothing of the sort. The crostini was very dense and hard but once dunked into the soup and allowed to soften, it was the perfect companion. Vance’s antipasti featured a great selection of salami and prosciutto but I found the house-made pickles and mustard to be the stars of the dish – they were crispy and had just the right amount of tartness to them.
We excitedly dug into our mains when they arrived. I was thrilled with my piadini! The braised short rib and the oyster mushrooms were rich, buttery and full of flavor. The gorgonzola gave it a rounded nutty piquancy while the caramelized onions added a burst of sweetness. The combination was out of this world. The herbed fries paired with a garlic aioli were hot, crisp and had the right amount of saltiness. Vance loved his Pappardele Bolognaise. The pasta was thick and hand cut making it very robust. It paired very well with the braised beef sauce that was bursting with bold and intense flavors. Vance found it a deeply satisfying dish. The fried white anchovies were a great addition that accented the dish with an added bit of brininess.
As we had both properly stuffed ourselves, we figured splitting a small dessert would be the best way of ending the meal. We reacted a bit too overzealously when the Tonka Bean Pana Cotta arrived as we ended up forgetting the need to capture a photo before we dug right in. The pana cotta (‘cooked cream’ in Italian) is a velvety smooth and silky fragrant pudding that was topped with an apple pie-like jelly and granola topping. The combination of textures and flavors were heavenly.
What I loved about Archeo was the whole experience – the restaurant itself is cozy and welcoming as is the staff. The menu is lively and enticing; it’s relatively budget-friendly that also focuses on quality ingredients. Most importantly, it’s delicious – right down to the great home-made focaccia served at the table with quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. All of these factors paired with the fact that Archeo caters to events and isn’t open to the public very often make any chance to dine here a golden opportunity.
Review and Food Photos by Samantha Wu
Interior/Exterior Photos Courtesy of Archeo