Softly opened just prior to year’s end, Argentinean-influenced restaurant Tanto is breathtaking, hitting all the high notes: setting, service, and sublime fare cooked over an open fire.
Say hello to one of the city’s best restaurants and your new favourite go-to for dinner and drinks.
“I love the idea of working with properly sourced meat, cooked over live fire,” says chef/owner Julian Iliopoulos , former chef de cuisine of Cava.
And while there’s an array of meat and offal (Morcilla – Spanish Blood Sausage $14, Sweetbreads $22) on offer, unlike most Argentinean spots it’s not the only focus. “There’s a lot we do from the grill that’s not thick steaks or chops,” he says.
His ability to transform simple, humble ingredients – turnips, cabbage, tongue - into tantalizing, exhilarating morsels is extraordinary - akin to partner Chef Doug Penfold. Don’t believe me? Order the Grilled Cabbage with Egg Yolk, Pesto and Guanciale ($14).
Sharing plates from small to large allow tables of every size to get in on the action. Portions are sizeable and it won’t cost you a fortune either - prices range from $5 to $34.
Iliopoulos also has a penchant for charcuterie – currently he’s making pancetta and guanciale in-house, with plans to expand the program. An aging fridge set right in the dining room currently boasts rich rib roasts, striploins and ribs.
And just when you think there’s nothing he can’t do, he also bakes the bread and makes the pastries himself. He could open up a shop based on his sourdough and cake alone.
Co-owner Niall McCotter (also of Cava, Chabrol and Atlas) helped create the opening wine list. Not wanting to pigeonhole the restaurant with just Argentinean wines, there are more European and French selections, as well as new world picks from California and Australia.
Excited about the next few months, he’ll be rounding out the list and adding wines from smaller wineries, with a focus on organic, biodynamic and natural production. He says, “Ossington presents us with an amazing opportunity to offer wines that are often over-looked, and Chef Julian’s cuisine with the live-fire element is an amazing backdrop to these wines."
A solid array of cocktails, beer and non-alcoholic bevvies are also available.
Fixtures and Fittings
Much like Atlas and Chabrol only bigger, the team has again created a charming room filled with warmth and character, yet with minimal decor.
The striking room has a Soho feel to it, thanks to its narrow space, exposed brick walls and warm lighting. And aside from removing a kitchen wall, reupholstering the banquets and putting in a custom Argentinean wood-fired grill (from Grillworks in Michigan, the staff built the base), it was left mostly as is.
A welcoming front lounge area, replete in blue banquettes and custom circular marble tables, leads into a long ,sexy, curved bar made of Bardiglio, followed by dining room adorned with paintings of famous Argentinean women.
At the far end just before the kitchen is the chef’s table, arguably the best seat in the house. Not only do you get to catch the action, but between the glow and aroma from the wood burning fire, you’ll feel like a guest at an intimate dinner party.
Off the Menu
Beaches of Everest ($14)
Vodka, saffron-infused wine, crème de violet, lemon and mint result in a beguiling aromatic refresher you’ll order on repeat.
House Baked Sourdough with Whipped Tallow ($5)
Baked daily, crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, these buns are mighty addictive on their own. Add a dollop of enticing whipped beef tallow, and how you won’t fill up on bread is beyond me.
Marinated Cerignola Olives ($7)
Mammoth, yet mild in flavour on their own, Cerignolas are tossed in a vibrant, spicy sauce and served warm. The perfect companion for wine or cocktails.
Smoked Ricotta & Caramelized Onion Empanada ($7)
Light, crisp, refined pastry gives way to a creamy filling with herbaceous notes alongside sweetness from the onions. Served with a teeny bottle of house-made hot sauce, should you want to take things up a notch.
Tongue a la Vinagreta with Salsa Golf ($8)
This stunning tongue dish will convert even staunch haters. Pickled tongue cubes get a slash of sherry vinaigrette, salsa golf – an Argentinean sauce made with ketchup and mayo – tangle of shredded cabbage and guandilla peppers.
Grilled Squid with Burnt Almond Salsa, Pancetta & Preserved Mushrooms ($16)
Chewy, bouncy cephalopod, Chanterelles preserved in vinegar and spices, creamy almond salsa, and crisp pancetta deliver the perfect balance of chew, crunch and bite.
Grilled Cabbage With Egg Yolk, Pesto & Guanciale ($14)
It’s shocking to be so gobsmacked by cabbage of all things. But this will no doubt be the dish most talked and written about in coming weeks and months. A thick swath of green cabbage is grilled within an inch of its life on both sides. It appears wildly burnt along the edges, but just wait – first the crunchy texture, then an alluring infusion of wood and smoke takes over, paired with an umami depth. Studded with egg yolk, pesto and Guanciale, it feels as indulgent as a pricey steak.
Short Ribs With Chimichurri and Grilled Lettuce ($34)
Simple yes, but still extraordinary. Succulent beef tinged with smoky goodness underneath a deep crust of char pairs well with grilled baby gem, keeping things light. The chimichurri isn’t needed for flavour per se, as the beef is a standout on its own, but more of a palate cleanser to the rich meat.
Coconut Tres Leches Cake with Passion Fruit ($13)
Light, tropical and just the right hit of sweetness, be sure to save room for dessert.
Tanto accommodates 60 for dinner and drinks.
At the Stove: Chef/Owner Julian Iliopoulos
Head Honchos: Julian Iliopoulos, Niall McCotter, Chef Doug Penfold
Map it: 74 Ossington Ave. (between Dundas and Queen)
Tuesday to Saturday: 5 pm – 11 pm
Phone it in: 416-546-302
How Cool is This?! You’ve finally got a place that covers it all: cool neighbourhood spot (it still applies if you don’t live in the ’hood), dinner with the fam (friends are fam too), and ideal date night destination. See you there.
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