Note: Get something to eat before you start this article… it`s a long one! Written by all three YYZ writers!
Paese means country in Italian. It can also mean village, or town. It’s denotes where you are from. In Canada, this is a loaded question. Being asked Where *are* you from? can either feel like polite conversation, a skeevy pickup line or a horribly intrusive question. This was actually asked to all of us yesterday. Clementine’s and Alice’s answer still have me laughing:
Clementine: My academic background? Mid 20th century History.
Clementine: Oh. You meant where my parents are from?
(without hearing Clem’s response).
In Canada, I wonder if this question really matters in the same way it might in a more xenophobic country. We are all immigrants of some kind. No matter if your family came from the old paese 10 years ago, or more than a hundred years ago, we are all international imports. The same goes for food in Canada. Everything comes from somewhere else and adapts to its new habitat. Without wanting to be, all food experiences deemed as «authentic» have all been adapted to Canada: due to ingredients, tastes, and what people are willing to pay for.
I will admit: I’m sweet on Paese for more than their ideals. Paese asked me and the other YYZ girls out on a group date to see if we would like each other. They even gave everyone this great bib to make sure we didn’t dirty out pretty clothes!
What a saucy bunch! And what a treat to eat nothing but meatballs all evening and to converse with the chef and the staff about food and wine!
But I will leave it to Alice and Leanna to tell you about more about the food. I will say that one day later, the meatball I remember most is the chicken wing meatball with gorgonzola. It is an inventive concept paired with an execution that saved it from being more than a cute idea. I told my brother to go just to eat them. And then to get a side of Parmesan and black pepper cashews (what wonderful salty goodness!).
Notes on the evening from our resident grumpy gourmande, Clementine:
Disclaimer. I have been to Paese. The last time I was there, I had their caesar salad and pizza … I think. I remember leaving thinking that I would return because it wasn’t like the other “post-theater/ touristy/ price-gougey” restos on King West. The food was simple and delectable. The decor was polished and casual.
I love Italian food. It’s one of the reasons I will never be skinny. Cherry once sent me a message stating that “pasta was a treat at her house.” WHAT?! I could never deprive myself of sleep-inducing complex carbs like that!! You might as well throw me into a giant pot of salt and end it all …
When Mr. HoM’s nonna makes meatballs (they’re usually served in a heaping pile all roughly the size of a gum ball), the strategy is to have a couple because they will be accompanied by fish, veal, salad, pasta … The servings at Paese are much more generous than “family style” servings. Each meatball was presented on an individual silver serving dish (like the ones in which Kimchi and other apps are served at Korean restos) and were roughly the size of a large egg/ mandarin orange. I knew that there would be several different versions but my mind did not process just how much meat I would be consuming. In all honesty, I was feeling full after the “Veal Meatball” (house ground veal, pork, and ricotta with sweet peas and cipollini onions braised in milk). The pace at which the meatballs were served allowed for boisterous conversation (about “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn) as well as much needed digestion. The drinks accompanying this feast: Prosecco and a caesar-esque cocktail (accompanied with a meatball, obv.)
The favourites of the night: a tie between the Chicken Wing Meatball (served with a gorgonzola dipping sauce) and the Meatball Pizza.
Reasons: all night, the common refrain was that if these were going to be late night snacks, the meatballs needed to hit you with sharp flavours. We wanted to taste more oregano, garlic or peppers! The sauce (with its blue-savouryness) served with the Chicken Wing Meatball was exactly what we were looking! I was also a fan of the density of this particular ball. For me, the Meatball Pizza (served last) had the wow-factor in TWO ways. They mash the meatball (Paese’s classic) on a simple cheese pizza in front of you when it’s served! It’s very animalistic. The crust. Oh my god the crust: chewy and crunchy. I only wished that I hadn’t eaten so much at the beginning so that I could have had another 1/2 slice!
Note to Executive Chef Christopher Palik, I ate through the pain in this last course out of appreciation for your work!
The Hiccups: In all the hub-bub, our table didn’t get the Pepperoni Arancini Balls or Sandwiches (we received the latter after we asked … ). I LOVE Arancini. I will be dragging Mr. HoM on a date night here just to try the Arancini!! The meatballs in the sandwich were scrumptious and the melting provolone cheese and potato chip added flavours that were missing from the first course of Paese Meatballs. Only, the bun was far too small and didn’t really have the lightness and eggy-flavour of a brioche bun. And, the buns would have been better toasted. I think most of us ate around the bread.
The Surreal: It was strange to be at an event where the resto wanted us to take pics of everything! So often, people who snap pics of their food are looked upon with haughty derision. Just make memories! Why do we have to chronicle everything/ live through a reality mediated by a camera lens?!? I do it on occasion but feel mortified at all of the eyes rolling in my direction. BUT, I can’t help it. Sometimes food is presented in such a way that I am compelled to capture it for posterity! Last night, people ate with DSLR cameras on the table and snapped happily as they shoved food down their gullets. It was as if this was accepted conventional behaviour!!! Though, the Giles Corens of the world would still think we were right wankers!
Notes from the discerning but appreciative, Alice:
I have a very special place in my heart for a well-made burger. It’s juicy, it’s meaty, it can be satisfyingly barbarous to eat, and it defines summertime with a cold beer and good friends. As an extension, I’ve come to appreciate meatballs as burgers-from-another-mother. I know, I should bite my tongue; I can literally hear the wail of a thousand Italian grandmothers. Mi dispiace!
I didn’t eat a lot of meatballs growing up but have definitely seen an increase to the Toronto menu scene as people seek out gourmet versions of comfort food and chefs decide to have fun playing with childhood staples. I didn’t know what to expect at Paese’s new late-night menu tasting, but 30 carnivorous Helens would agree: good meat in a good sauce can’t go wrong.
The favourites of the night: Chicken Wing Meatball (served with a gorgonzola dipping sauce), Meatball Pizza and parmesean and black pepper crusted cashews. Oh and the incredibly kind staff.
Reasons: The first thing I noticed was the description “late-night menu”. This means for me, a menu I’d choose from after a show and a couple of drinks. By that time, I know I would want strong flavours and would not afraid to get touch messy! The latter is probably true with this new menu (the event organizers cheekily gave us bibs upon arrival) but the flavours of the other courses were quite delicate. The veal meatball was playfully created and the sweetness of the veal was well showcased however it would probably go unnoticed in the evening after several martinis. If I were to picture what I’d want late night, this ode to wings (smothered in a gorgeous blue cheese heaven sauce!) and the pizza would be what I’d order. The pizza crust is a stellar competitor in our pizza-strong city, and that says a lot. Oh, I do wish the chicken wing meatball had more of a spiciness to it; perhaps a drizzle more of wing sauce?
Lastly, I have to give a shout-out to the people we met. The chef Christopher Palik, our server, the bartender Moses – all were happy to explain their inspiration and were passionate while doing it. Good food can only impress me so far. Atmosphere and the warmth of the people who stand behind their work is what convinces me to come back.
The Hiccups: We missed a couple of courses which was odd because our table was quite large and in the centre of the front room. The drinks served were quite good but it would’ve been nice if they were on a menu (nobody explained what they were).
The Surreal: First and foremost, finally being able to put names to tweets! The second was finding out there IS a decent restaurant on “Restaurant Row”. As a long-time Toronto dweller, I’ve long written off this strip of King West as a tourist trap but turns out there may be some gems worth checking out and Paese is certainly one of them. I am an adult and I will admit when I’m wrong.
Meatballs consumed: 3ish (more like 5 half meatballs!)
Beverages: 2 flutes of procescco, 1 house-made tomato juice based cocktail
Gluten Consumption: unavoidable and with no regrets