Oretta / by Didier Young

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When one thinks of the 20s, we have a couple of things that come to mind. We might recall The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece set during the decadent era. It was the beginning of a new world post the First World War and the Prohibition was in place in America. Women wore beautiful beaded flapper dresses and the world was influenced by Art Deco. A style drawing its inspiration from cubism, fauvism and Les Ballets Russes, Art Deco became one of the world’s first International Architectural styles. Many examples of the style still remain: The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in New York, Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík, Palais de Tokyo in France and even The Maple Leaf Gardens right here in Toronto. Modern interior designers still take inspirations from the style, including the one who created Oretta.

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The newly opened restaurant at King and Bathurst is comparable to entering the wardrobe to Narnia. The unassuming contemporary look of the building it is in, with its floor to ceiling windows, wouldn’t necessarily give away the wonders that they hold within their corners unless you were to pay closer attention. However, upon passing through the front door, you will be greeted by a gigantic space with copper lights, tall arches and a multitude of colours filling the bottom part of the restaurant. The restaurant is not a replica of the Art Deco style. However it does draw its inspiration from the decadence of the era, the bright colours of fauvism and gives off a sense of luxury that could well be traced back to Art Deco.

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The restaurant is quite extensive. Featuring a large common dinning room on the main floor, a secondary area upstairs with two big harvest tables and a café in the back, the building tries to cater to a huge amount of patrons at once. Dispersed throughout the restaurant, patrons will find alternating tables of wood or white marble accompanied by colourful teal and yellow chairs. Banquets hug the walls and in the centre of the restaurant, a small bar is nested. Colourful tiles, laid in a chevron pattern, finish the look of the restaurant and gives it a sense of whimsy.

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Upon arrival at the restaurant, things started off on the wrong foot. When asked about our drink orders, I asked for a cortado and I was met with a quizzical look before the waitress asked me what that would be. When the coffee arrived, it turned out to be a shot of expresso and she very kindly offered to return it to the kitchen and grab me a latte instead, to which I obliged. Unfortunately, when my latte arrived at our table, it was barely more than an Americano in disguise. No latte art, no foam. Simply milky coffee with a touch of crema at the top.

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We took a look at the menu and I am pleased to announce that it is relatively affordable given the location of the restaurant and its apparent calibre. Most of the dishes were under $20 and one could be satiated with a pizza costing between $16 for a Margherita to $21 for a Marche pizza with black truffles. We started with the Crostone, a toast with ricotta, honey mushrooms and black truffles. The toast was nicely toasted and was easy to bite into, a nice change from most places’ hard artisanal breads. The dish had a generous amount of truffle slices on top and was nicely balanced. It could use a slight drizzle of oil but it is a great appetizer otherwise.

The toast was then followed by the Tartar Sbagliata, a dish of raw marinated bison skirt, fried egg yolk, pickled mushrooms and crackers. This dish lacked a bit of je ne sais quoi and would have benefitted from an addition of salt and possibly more of the pickled mushrooms to enhance its flavour. The fried egg yolk was delightful and remained nice and runny inside while the crackers were also a lovely pairing to the dish. A couple of tweaks could easily elevate the Sbagliata to the level it truly wishes to be at.

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Our last dish for the day was the Gnocchi dish made with spinach gnocchi, Gorgonzola, squash and black truffles. One of my favourite dishes out of the three, the pickled squash gave the dish a nice burst of sweetness. The dish lacked some of the sharpness usually attributed to Gorgonzola cheese but that in turn, makes it more of a crowd pleaser.

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New restaurants always need a bit of time to calibrate themselves to the right frequency and only time will tell how Oretta will fare in the area. As for now, you are sure to find Instagrammers making a mass pilgrimage to the restaurant. Lets hope that a standing Oretta will lead to a standing ovation.

-Didier