Do you think celebrity chefs have groupies, like rockstars?
This was a question prompted by my recent visit to Fabbrica, with my friend Alex. I turned to Twitter with this question and the answer was a resounding yes.
Apparently, not only celebrity chefs have groupies, but your normal, talented chefs without the television appearances also attract a certain “following”.
I should clarify that I don’t think Mark McEwan is the groupie type. But I am fascinated about the hype that surrounds celebrity chefs, and their establishments.
For those not native to Toronto/Canada: Fabbrica is part of the McEwan Group restaurants, owned by Toronto’s Mark McEwan. The hype around Mark and his restaurants is huge, prompted by his celebrity status from Top Chef, and his charismatic reputation.
Fabbrica is Italian for factory. And the interior design complements the restaurant’s name: high ceilings, industrial looking decorative metal work, and the enormous stainless steel pizza oven.
Executive Chef, the engaging Rob Le Clair, walks around while I’m taking shots of the oven. Underneath the studded, steel construction is an authentic Stefano Ferraro oven, Rob tells me, and Stefano oversaw its installation at Fabbrica. It’s not just an impressive façade – the powerful oven cooks pizzas in 90 seconds.
I like the ambience at Fabbrica. It has an up-market yet casual feel. The restaurant is filled with an eclectic mix on a Friday lunch: large groups of business people, families with their toddlers having long lunches, and smaller, more intimate pairings.
Our waiter, Seamus, comes to chat about the menu and take our order. Alex orders the soup and sandwich combination. The soup is a Stracciatella alla romana – chicken broth, egg, and reggiano.
The soup comes with a choice of sandwiches: Mario panini (wood oven roasted chicken breast, prosciutto, heirloom tomato, fontina, and basil aioli), Letizia panini (imported tuna conserva, pickled green tomato, and provolone), or the Vitello tonato (sliced veal, tuna sauce, capers, olives, red onion, and arugula). Alex chooses the Mario panini, sans heirloom tomato.
Seamus has been advised by the Fabbrica team about my odd vegan ways with food, and lets me know the kitchen has it under control.
Many restaurants who are not specifically vegan or vegetarian tend to default to pastas and risottos for us non-meat eaters, and it gets boring, to be frank. So I’m curious to see what a fusion home style Italian restaurant with a mix of modern North American cuisine concocts for a vegan.
In the meantime, our drinks are served. I’ve ordered the Mill Street Brewery’s Tankhouse Ale; a dark ale with a darker, malt flavour. It’s a vegan friendly, local Toronto beer. Alex orders the Kronenbourg, a French ale known for its delicate bitternes. While we wait, we enjoy the plentiful bread, served with olive oil. I usually prefer balsamic vinegar in the oil, but this oil is lovely and sweet on its own.
Alex’s soup and panini arrives. We’d been discussing how the soup would look: would the egg be soft-poached, floating in the centre? The soup arrives with a lovely, creamy looking texture. It’s thicker than either of us pictured, the egg beaten into the chicken broth and parmesan.
The panini arrives with tomato, and is swiftly replaced with a new panini, as Alex has a rather strong aversion to tomatoes.
My vegan meal is, I’m grateful to say, neither a risotto nor a pasta. Rob has created a dish similar to Fabbrica’s octopus salad. Grilled tofu sits on layers of baby arugula, peppered with cee beans (Italian name for chickpeas), capers, sliced fennel, and marinated red peppers. It’s dressed with a light chilli oil.
The chilli oil and tofu is a tasty traditional pairing in the world of vegan food, but it’s the capers that I adore. The briny flavour is delicious with the firm tofu, and I made a mental note to try this on my own. It’s a delicate, yet substantial dish that works wonderfully with its combination of flavours and textures, and on a nutritional level.
Alex notes that for a lunch combination (and for the price), the portion sizes for his soup and sandwich are more generous than he expected. With the tomato slices removed, Alex enjoys his panini.
While we ruminate over the idea of dessert, the sommelier brings us a couple of lemon palate cleansers. They may be functional, but the taste is divine and I could quaff them all afternoon on a hot summer’s day.
Alex settles on the gelato selection, with a Tutto Benne. A pretty trio arrives, with a crunchy biscotti. The Tutto Benne is an espresso cocktail with amaretto, vanilla infused Ketel One, Kahlua and cinnamon. I’m not a coffee drinker, but the cocktail smells divine.
I’m still surprisingly full from the beer, bread, and tofu salad, so I order a mint tea rather than dessert. There’s a wide selection of black, green, and herbal teas. It’s a refreshing change for us tea drinkers to have a choice.
Full and content with our meal, we make our way back downtown on the TTC. Fabbrica was a lovely experience, and I highly recommend it to visitors to Toronto, and native Torontonians.
Address: 49 Karl Fraser Road, North York Toronto ON M3C 0E5
Contact Details: (t) 416 391 0307
Days & Hours: SUN-THURS: 11:30AM-10PM FRI-SAT: 11:30AM-11PM
Alex and I ate as guests of Fabbrica restaurant.
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica, over at Google+.