You can get a delicious plate of homemade pasta all over the city. But, there’s one place in Toronto that brings you to the countryside of Italy with just a forkful of pasta (and other tasty eats). La Cascina is the closest you’ll get to Italian dining without a $1,000 plane ticket and 8-hour flight.

When travelling in Italy, it’s very popular (and highly recommended) to experience “Agriturismo” dining.  This is basically like staying at a bed and breakfast, but the main part of the stay is focused on the food (obviously, it’s Italy!). The homeowners make meals from raw, fresh ingredients grown on their own property or neighbouring farms. This is true rustic Italian dining.

The menu changes every week based on the chef’s selection of seasonal, fresh ingredients. For that reason, you can’t browse the menu online. Although several Italian restaurants in the city offer seasonal menus, like Mercatto or Buca, La Cascina comes with a unique rustic and family style dining experience. On the corner of Avenue Road and Lawrence, the space is small and quaint, and the restaurant is run by the chef and his wife – true family feel!

The ordering process and variety of options can be quite confusing, so I recommend putting your complete trust in the chef and serving staff. The chef or server will explain the chef’s selections for the day, which typically consist of two antipasti, two pastas with red sauce and two with white, two meats and two-three desserts.

The meal is meant to be shared, family style. During my visit, four of us shared the La Cascina Antipasto, which featured a variety of cold dishes (several cured meats, cheese and olives) and hot dishes (farro in a tomato sauce, caramelized fennel and onions, sautéed spinach and garlic, eggplant parmiggiana and lima beans with sausage). This was true Italian comfort food! After the antipasti, we were already feeling full, but eager to try the next course, pasta (mmmm).

We ordered the Orecchiette with sausage in a light olive oil sauce and the Spaghetti Alla Chitarra (one my faves). Both pastas were unreal. Then came the meat dishes: New York strip loin with fresh arugula salad and grape tomatoes, and the most amazing sausages I’ve ever had in my life.

At this point, I was full than I’ve been in a long time and almost 3 hours had passed (it took a bit long for my liking). So unfortunately, I did something I rarely do – skip dessert. But, I was actually completely satisfied. For next time – and there will be a next time – I will definitely leave room for the fresh, homemade-daily dessert.

The owner and chef, Luca Del Rosso, has succeeded in infusing his restaurant, its dining experience and the food with true central Italian style and tastes. My mom was even inspired to cook new dishes. I’m inspired to go back for seconds.

Some food for thought:

  • If you’re on a tight budget, be sure to ask about prices since a lot of the “menu” will be presented verbally
  • Make reservations; space is limited
  • This isn’t a “quick bite” – make sure you’re ready to spend a few hours indulging yourself
  • As a trial, La Cascina is now open on Sundays for the month of May
  • Perfect spot for an intimate Mother’s Day dinner – La Cascina is currently offering a 4-course set menu for $45

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