As a food blogger, I often get invited to food and drink events but I have never been personally invited to dine at a restaurant by its Chef. Until now. Oregano by Cirillo’s recently re-opened and Neil and I were extended an invitation to dine there by award-winning Chef John Cirillo who, with the relaunch of Oregano, hopes to bring a European flair to his popular west-end bistro-grill.
An extension of the Cirillo’s brand, Oregano by Cirillo’s is conveniently located next door to the Cirillo’s Culinary Academy, – a state-of-the-art facility that offers a range of one-of-a-kind recreational culinary experiences for all ages and abilities. The restaurant formerly known as “Oregano Grill” has undergone a complete transformation. Now boasting a renovated décor, refreshed bistro-inspired menu and attentive European-style service, led by his wife Margit Cirillo, the 45-seat restaurant opened its doors on July 7th.
Of their menu, Chef Cirillo says: “Our menu is seasonally-inspired, offering fresh salads, savoury appetizers, grilled meats and fish and authentic Italian thin crust pizza, as well as hand-cut pastas. We’re eager to win over the hearts and stomachs of our existing and new guests.” To help lead the charge in the kitchen, Chef Cirillo hired sous chef Robert Mills, former executive sous chef at the highly-regarded Tundra Restaurant at the Hilton Toronto. The pair began working together at Tundra in 2003 and for three years were a dynamic and dedicated culinary team.
On entering the restaurant, one of the first things you notice is how busy it is – both the dining room and the kitchen. True, we did eat at 7.30 on a Friday night but in our nearly 2.5 hours at the restaurant, 90% of tables were full. Clientele is multi-generational – as well as groups of friends enjoying a Friday night out, there were a number of young families whose kids seemed to thoroughly enjoy the pastas and pizzas on offer.
The restaurant is a little on the loud side (there’s music but you can barely hear it – it’s perhaps not even necessary for a busy dinner service) but is not unlike a true European bistro where your dining experience is anything but sedate and quiet. If you’re expecting an intimate tête-à-tête, this might not be the place for you but otherwise, it’s a fun atmosphere. Service was attentive – and not just for our table which had clearly been identified as guests of the Chef – we counted 6 servers for a 45-seat restaurant – now that’s a great server to client ratio!
The menu is fairly extensive and we spent a while poring over it. It has a definite Italian slant to it with seven pizzas and five pastas on offer but other dishes definitely suggest an Asian flair. All their meats are sourced in Wellington county, fish (where possible) comes from Lake Erie and produce is local, (again,wherever possible). Appetizers start at $8 and entrées top out at $30. Signature cocktails such as the Ginger Snap – gin, ginger, wasabi and lime – start at $9, while the wine list offers a selection of Niagara region and international wines ranging from $33 to $85.
This was incredible – so tender you could cut it with a butter knife and totally melted in your mouth. The ends of the tentacles were perfectly crispy whilst the test was succulent and tender. I am not always a huge octopus fan but this might have converted me!
We also chose the Chili and Lime marinated Grilled Prawns and Diver Scallops with Mango Jicama Citrus Slaw ($13)
This was a lovely burst of fresh Asian flavours on a very warm night and both the prawns and the scallop were perfectly cooked. A large portion though (as was the octopus) – four scallops and two generous prawns.
With our appetizers, we each had a glass of Echos Chardonnay (Tawse, Niagara VQA) ($13) which was a perfect pairing for both dishes.
For my main, I couldn’t go past one of their homemade pastas. Because it was so warm, I chose a lighter dish – Spaghetti with Garlic, Sun Dried Tomato and Pesto topped with Fresh Niagara Ricotta Cheese ($16).
This doesn’t look like a lot but is was actually a huge portion – Neil enjoyed my leftovers the next day for lunch (and, dare I say, it was even better!!). I loved this dish – cannot believe I have never had pasta topped with fresh ricotta before. It gave a slightly creamy taste to the sauce without weighing it down like a regular cream sauce would. The pasta was so fresh and light tasting and made me want to get out our pasta maker and try to replicate this at home! Thumbs up for this one.
Neil couldn’t resist the Herbs de Provence Grilled Veal Chop with Sun Dried Tomato Aioli ($27)
This was excellent. The panna cotta was the perfect consistency – no gelatin evident – and the compote was perfectly paired – not overly sweet. This was also a tiny portion (about 2/3 cup) so a perfect end to the meal. Of course, we couldn’t just try one dessert. Our server who had been spot on with his recommendation of the octopus suggested we might enjoy the Preserved Figs Sabayon Chocolate Tart ($9). The figs, he said, were preserved in red wine. Done!
I *loved* this dessert. I didn’t love that I couldn’t finish it – even between both of us we couldn’t! Both the preserved and fresh figs were melt in your mouth luscious, the sabayon inside the light chocolate crust perfectly creamy. The flavours were spot on and it was beautifully plated.
We were disappointed that there were no dessert wines on offer to compliment the lovely desserts but it didn’t really affect our overall enjoyment of the meal. The only other area of our evening that didn’t get an A+ was the temperature of the restaurant. True, we were there on a very sultry night with high humidity outside and the place was packed. As we were leaving, Chef explained that both the dishwasher and the kitchen ovens and stovetops were working at 100% capacity all the time, so even the airconditioning couldn’t compete with that. The place is tiny and the kitchen has an open window onto the dining room so a lot of the heat created in there filters through. Both front and back doors of the restaurant were opened about half-way through the meal which brought relief and it certainly wasn’t unbearable, just a little uncomfortable. I am sure, however, they are not the only small restaurant coping with this issue this ridiculously hot summer!
Overall this was a great night out, reminiscent of a good European bistro. Great food, a decent wine list, reasonable prices, excellent service and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere – what more could you want? We wish Chef Cirillo and his team well, they certainly deserve to succeed in this new venture.
Oregano by Cirillo’s
4900 Dundas Street West,
Etobicoke, ON M9A 1B5
Lunch – Tuesday to Friday 11:30AM – 2:30PM
Dinner – Tuesday to Saturday 5:30PM – 10:00PM
Thanks to Debbie at Faye Clack for extending Chef’s invitation to me.
Diclaimer:We were provided with the opportunity to dine at this restaurant at no cost. I did not accept monetary compensation for writing about this experience. All opinions expressed are my own.