Friday, February 27, 2009

Calabria: feels like home

Last night we went to Calabria on Bell St. for a combination joint birthday celebration for Dad and I, and farewell (again!) to my folks, who are flying home to Rio together today. Although that’s good news, it was a bit sad as well for those of us left here in the frozen North. We’ll miss the heck out of them, but plans to go visit (and sample some Brazilian delicacies) are in the works for the fall.

In any event, if you’re going to have a laid-back family gathering, Calabria is the place to do it. It was quiet on Thursday night, with only a couple of other tables occupied, so our group of seven didn’t feel jammed in but rather welcomed warmly. Many of us began with crisp salads (hey, I like iceberg lettuce and I’m not afraid to say it) but the real highlights of the appetizer round were the fried zucchini and the calamari fritti, both lightly battered and not too greasy. The zucchini are cut in-house, into coins rather than the traditional sticks, and I like them far better that way. Their obviously house made dip is just garlicky enough. These are the best fried zucchini I’ve ever had, seriously, and the calamari were stellar as well – under the crisp breading, they were not in the least bit chewy, with zingy cocktail sauce on the side. Delicious. Chris and I discussed going back to make a meal of those two items and a big salad one night. I look forward to it.

For mains, Chris and I both found ourselves craving pizza, so we ordered a medium thin-crust pie to share. Pizzas at Calabria come on the tall silver stands, which I love so much – it’s classy and old-school. This pizza was seriously good, too. For starters, they offer capicollo ham as a topping, so we jumped on that as well as adding black olives and mushrooms. The crust was indeed paper-thin and perfectly chewy; the sauce had real zing; the amount of cheese was perfect (i.e. not too much, but far from measly) and the toppings were fresh and flavourful. High praise for this kitchen’s pizza skills.

Everyone else ordered veal or pasta – Mom went for the veal parm, which is a classic and done very well at Calabria; Dad chose the veal cognac, in a boozy mushroom sauce that was yummy over the wickedly tender veal. My sister reverted to an old favourite, tortellini in white sauce, while her husband treated himself to another classic: spaghetti and meatballs. His son K got in on the Italian kick despite the presence of chicken fingers on the kids’ menu, and enjoyed his spaghetti with red sauce immensely. (Also, the kids’ meals come with a tiny sundae in the old-school metal cups. LOVE.)

A bottle of decent Chianti watered four of us nicely; two rounds of lovely spumoni ice cream finished some of our meals on a sweet note. This place is all about the classics, done the way they’ve always been done, and that is what I love about it. Even the dishes and the green-vinyl covered armchairs are vintage. It feels a lot like the original, lamented Chances R in the west end, and that’s a good thing.

We were all beautifully taken care of by the same kind waiter who served us last time we descended on the place; he’s a career fellow who does his job elegantly and unobtrusively.

I hope we’ll all meet back at Calabria soon; in the meantime, I know Chris and I will be eating there again on our own in the near future!

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