Friday, June 13, 2008

Restaurant review: Aspetta Caffe, Kensington Market, Toronto

Aspetta Caffe
207 Augusta Ave.
Toronto, ON

Toronto's Kensington Market community is home to some of the best niche food markets and vintage clothing shops in the city. It also boasts a handful of cozy coffee shops and restaurants that, when the sun's out and the weather's nice, are the perfect places to sit outside and people watch over a good meal.

Aspetta Caffe is one of the Market's tastiest people watching havens.

Although Aspetta is pretty new to the Market (it opened in April), it seems to have hit its stride early. For the most part, it's got an irresistible price point ($6 for its daily pasta specials and about the same for its assortment of panini) and a wide selection of cafe-style desserts (cannoli, cookies, biscotti galore, just to name a few) at about $5 or less. The odd man out on an otherwise low-priced menu is Aspetta's imported Italian beer, Peroni, which, at $6 a bottle, was the same price as an entree. Not outrageously expensive, of course, but it was a bit painful when the cost of our meal doubled in just two beers.

Frugality aside, what about the food? My boyfriend's prosciutto and fontina panini had a great rich flavour that seemed to defy its simplicity; besides Aspetta, I can't recall the last time I thought that bread, cheese, and meat -- no fancy extras -- complemented eachother so well.

My order -- Quattro Formaggi pasta, one of the daily specials -- was yummy too, although less creamy than I was expecting. Quattro Formaggi pasta is one of my favourites, but it usually isn't tomato-based. This isn't a complaint, per se -- as I said, my order was delicious -- but more of a warning for my fellow white sauce lovers to double-check before ordering.

In the photo below, you can see my pasta, a bowl of popcorn and also a glimpse of the delicious chocolate/nutella cookies that we ordered. The popcorn was a nice touch; a free happy hour promotion for anyone that ordered alcohol.

The service was perfect. After we placed our orders at the counter we took our seats on the sunny patio and didn't wait long before our beers and the free popcorn were placed in front of us. A few minutes later, our pleasant-but-not-saccharine waitress brought out our entrees and took a picture of us at our request to mark the occasion (ah, tourists!).

The football on the widescreen TV inside the cafe (combined with the obligatory cheering/cursing fans) added to the European ambiance. I was half expecting to hear a stream of Italian expletives, but no such luck. The best part was, every time a goal was scored or a bad play was made, the cheers and jeers from within Aspetta were echoed by the rowdy sports fans at the bar across the street, like surround sound. Like I said: great people watching.

The Final Verdict
Aspetta is definitely worth sampling if you're in Toronto. If you're on a budget you may want to forgo the pricy beer in favour of the less expensive Italian sodas (<$2), but with meals at about $6 and desserts for even less, you really can't lose.


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