By Daniel Bromberg
Stepping into the warmly lit restaurant in the heart of Little Italy, we were met with pleasant aromas of savoury Italian cuisine wafting out from the kitchen at the rear of Tartufo D’Oro. We were comfortably seated by the hostess in front of the large windows looking through the red floor-to-ceiling curtains onto Boulevard Saint-Laurent, by now carefully sprinkled with fluffy white snow. On the wall overlooking our table, a wall-sized chalkboard was adorned with a beautiful panoramic view of Venice’s Piazzo San Marco, recently drawn up by a local artist. After a long day hustling about, cozying up with a bottle of red wine and warm Italian fare just felt, well… perfect.
Little Italy, a neighbourhood known by tourists and locals alike as the best place to dine on the finest pizzas and pastas in the city, has more recently borne restaurants with more innovative — rather than simply traditional — cuisine, raising the stakes for the best of the best. The brothers behind Tartufo D’Oro, Brian and Kevin Szubiak, born and raised in Montreal, come from Ukrainian and Sicilian descent, and it is to the latter which explains their true passion for cooking and paying homage to their ancestors.
Having worked as sous-chef at a number of restaurants and hotels around the city, head chef Brian believed the time was right for him to do his own thing. Together with his brother, Kevin, who takes on all managerial aspects – everything from finances to social media – he embarked on the journey he had been dreaming of for a long time. “I always had the idea to open up my own restaurant. I was working extremely long hours and putting in all kinds of work for someone else. At the end of the day, it wasn’t the hours that bothered me… I just figured if I was going to keep it up, I might as well be doing it for myself.” The formidable combination of passion and ambition led Brian to open Tartufo D’Oro — “Golden Truffle” in Italian — and take on the challenge of his dreams.
In an unconscious nod to its name, the Szubiak brothers insist they struck gold in opening their first restaurant. “We got incredibly lucky with this location – it was the perfect size for what we wanted, and who could’ve asked for a better place in Little Italy?” Like many of their friends and family, they grew up just a few blocks away from the restaurant, and are familiar with all the neighbourhood has to offer – particularly the Jean Talon Market. “We just can’t wait until summer rolls around again and we can do our daily shopping at the market. With fresh produce like that, you can be even more creative with what you present.” Brian, the head chef, noted that they are planning to alter the menu every few months to create more seasonal dishes, keeping only the signature dishes popular among the clientele.
If there’s one thing that separates Tartufo D’Oro from the rest, it’s that you won’t find any pizza on the menu. The menu itself is small, offering but just over a dozen options for both antipasto and main course. That, too, should not be a deterrent. Each dish is served freshly prepared, seasoned in house by the Szubiak brothers, and their Sicilian mom, who also works in the kitchen. “It’s nice to have a small staff in the kitchen, especially when they’re family. We have our mom in there every night with us,” said Kevin.
“With fresh produce like that, you can be even more creative with what you present” – Brian Szubiak, head chef
We began the meal with an Insalata Verde, served with toasted pine nuts, macerated figs and parmesan vinaigrette, as well as the Il Picco and Arancini. The Il Picco was excellent – the decision to crust the pan-seared heirloom tomatoes with panko and throw on smoked mozzarella, arugula, prosciutto and balsamic vinaigrette was pleasantly refreshing.
The main course menu features items such as the Ravioli Ortolani and the Pappardelle Ragu d’Anitra, both of which were deliciously prepared. The bright colour of the arugula pesto ravioli, stuffed with pureed carrot and sweet potato and topped with ricotta cheese created a beautiful green and orange contrast to an otherwise standard dish. The pappardelle platter was served in duck ragu sauce and pan-seared duck breast, lovingly paired with a rich, homemade tomato sauce. The other choices on the primi menu made for a difficult decision, but we definitely recommend these for your first visit to the restaurant. The final dish was the Gelato D’Oro, an unbelievable combination of homemade Nutella and Amaretti cookie ice cream with chocolate bark. I mean – does it really get any better than that?
The prices on the menu are incredibly fair-priced for the area, with main courses in the low-twenty range and bottles of wine cheaper than most neighbouring restaurants. The homely atmosphere and family-run enterprise add another warm touch to the young restaurant, which will hopefully be around for a while to come. There’s no doubt there’s some serious competition to be had in Little Italy, but Tartufo D’Oro certainly made a very favourable impression.
Our advice? You’ve already been missing out.
Daniel Bromberg is the Food & Drink Editor of The Main. Catch him on Instagram @mynxbrom. All photos by Daniel Bromberg.