If you are ever in the mood for a culinary adventure, you should stroll down Baldwin Street. It is packed with interesting restaurants offering a wide range of food including Vietnamese, Indian, Italian, Thai and more. In an attempt to put on explorer hats and discover a new restaurant in Toronto, two friends and I decided to explore Baldwin Street for the perfect late-lunch meal.
As you can see from the pictures, walking down Baldwin Street is a bit like walking in a theatre district, in the sense that restaurants are packed close together and constantly in competition with each other. Menus are posted outside the restaurants so you can view prices for appetizers and entrees, along with specials for the day. This way, before you get settled inside, you know what you’re getting yourself into!
Unfortunately, if you decide at 3:30 pm (like us) that you are now ravenous with hunger and in desperate need of sustenance, Baldwin Street can put up a hostile front. Most of the restaurants are closed between 2 and 5pm, and we were stuck trekking up and down the street in mountains of snow, looking for a restaurant that was open.
Luckily, we stumbled across Sambuca Grill – an inviting Italian restaurant whose menu (posted outside) boasted pastas, pizzas, Paninis and delectable entrees. The inside decor was lovely as well – little blue lights twinkled invitingly around the interior of the restaurant, a wine rack was hoisted up near the ceiling, and interesting pieces artwork were placed up around the tables. It’s a little on the small side, but the restaurant wasn’t busy, and we had plenty of space and great service.
Upon inquiry, we discovered from our waitress that the word “sambuca” is actually the name of a generally colour-less and anise-flavoured liqueur. It can be served ‘on the rocks’, with water, in coffee, or even with toasted coffee beans! Most interestingly, however, sambuca can be served as a shot and set on fire for a second or two to increase flavor. How’s that for hot stuff?!
In keeping in line with drinks, that’s where we started—and ironically, it was in the drinks that our only major complaint of the afternoon surfaces. It may be just my feeling, but the pint of beer was a little lacking in volume. However, we came to eat here, and luckily the meal turned out to be surprisingly delicious (particularly for such reasonable prices).
The three dishes ordered and served promptly to the table were pasta arabiata ($11): penne tossed in spicy tomato sauce with grilled chicken (for an additional $3.50); pizza Sambuca ($11): artichoke hearts, black olives, sun-dried tomatoes and bocconcini cheese, topped with arugula and lemon vinaigrette; and pasta pescatore ($15): linguini tossed with black tiger shrimp, calamari, mussels, and clams in white wine tomato sauce.
I thought the spicy tomato sauce was fantastic – I could really taste the fresh tomatoes in the sauce, and that really enhanced the quality and taste of the pasta. The spice was on the mild side, which is suitable if your party has picky eaters. The pizza Sambuca was quite large and filling, though the generous greens on top were a little overwhelming and we removed a few of them to balance out the delicious taste. The linguini was a hit as well, although some aspects of the seafood were not as fresh (understandable in Toronto, but a bit disappointing).
Lastly, the meal was completed with a delicious lava cake—a warm, rich, dark chocolate cake, which has a delicious melted white chocolate filling and is served with vanilla ice cream. The dessert was fantastic—perhaps too much for one person, but sharing with two others still left me wanting more.
I’d recommend Sambuca Grill for anyone looking to expand their Italian tastebuds, and for anyone who wants a relaxing, well-priced restaurant in which to experiment new foods.
Breakfast/Lunch menu: from $5 – $17, Dinner menu: from $5-$25
Monday-Friday, 11:30AM-11:00 PM, Saturday & Sunday, 11:00AM-11:00PM
21 Baldwin Street, west of University Ave, south of College Street and north of Dundas Street