SEVEN NUMBERS (343 Eglinton West, at Braemar, 416-322-5183) Think it's impossible to decorate an uptown hot spot for $5,000? This 30-seat southern Italian trat manages to pull off the feat and match it with old-school home-style cooking and casual but friendly service. Did we mention that co-owner/chef Rosa Marinuzzi is a 10-year vet of Gio's? The lineup starts now. Complete dinners for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Fully licensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, but crowded. Rating: NNNN
the hardest part about open-
ing a new restaurant is deciding what to call it. You can always name it after yourself, like Susur, Joso's or Chuck E. Cheese. You can take the evocative route with a suggestion of the menu and call it Patriot, North 44 or Canoe. You can bounce right off the wall with something nonsensical like Eat My Martini or Chez Piggy.
Or, like Rosa and Vito Marinuzzi, you can name it after your eatery's Ontario corporate registration number. Well, the sign outside their brand-spanking-new trat on Eglinton West says 1447582. Of course, no one calls it that. Instead, it's Seven Numbers. Even the person who answers the phone at this tiny southern Italian hole-in-the-wall says so.
The mother-and-son team are no strangers to spots with unusual handles. Both worked at their cousin Joe Rana's Gio's, a Yonge Street haunt marked only by a giant nose over its door, and Five Doors North, the restaurant that's actually seven doors north of Gio's.
Seven Numbers is definitely different. Take Gio's Woodbridge-rec-room- wedding-reception vibe -- complete with hanging laundry -- then transfer it to a garden shed out back and you've got the look. Poured concrete floor, unfinished chipboard on the walls, rough burlap on a dozen or so tables ringed with castoff kitchen chairs. They couldn't decorate a space more cheaply if they tried.
High overhead a row of stage lights floods the room with warmth and shadows. The whole thing's contrived, but somehow it works.
There's nothing affected about the daily-changing menu posted on three separate chalkboards: starters, mains and sides. Similar to Gio's and Five Doors North's a la carte lineup, Rosa's roster features no-frills southern Italian cooking. We're still trying to decide what to order when a basket of two marvellously dense, house-baked loaves arrive at the table. Ripping off hunks, we dip them into fruity Fragata extra-virgin olive oil. Our observant server notes our enthusiasm and brings us a chipped coffee mug filled with earthier oil and large chunks of fiery peperoncino chilies. Liquid dynamite!
We settle on breaded spinach-stuffed eggplant ($4.50) layered with Romano and the house sauce, a simple yet delicious puree of fresh tomato, sweet onion and white wine. The sauce shows up again on three triangles of pocketed focaccia topped with tasty family-made sausage, while perfectly pan-fried calamari (both $4) comes flour-dusted and drizzled in oil and lemon. A salad of blanched artichoke hearts, peas and fennel wedges ($5) gets dressed with garlicky balsamic.
Slow-roasted for five hours, Rabbit In The Oven delights with its super- sugary carrots and wine-rich tomato broth. Twin fillets of sole (both $7) swim in a lemony wash freckled with crispy blackened garlic bits. A thick slab of pink-centred Mahi tuna ($11) is covered in Rosa's wonderful tomato sauce zapped with tangy capers. Sided with oil-drenched peppers, thin slices of grilled 6-ounce rib-eye steak ($9) fails to impress, but then, look what came before it.
On our first visit, Vito's Onion ($2) blows us away. Quartered, then wrapped in aluminum foil, this slow-cooked bulb nearly dissolves in the roasted garlic and oil. When we order it a second time, the onion is barely cooked. Sigh. But this same under-cooking makes portobello mushrooms ($4.50) retain their moisture and taste of 'shrooms. Equally flavourful rapini ($3) picks up a lovely smokiness from the grill.
Desserts are wisely kept small. The best of the lot, semolina caramel sponge cake, is disarmingly light (all desserts $3.50). Lemon tart shows up with a buttery oven-warmed pastry shell, but the cold icebox chocolate version has a rock-hard crust that could damage delicate dental work. The short wine list may be scribbled on a torn piece of kraft paper, but it offers great values, such as an Italian Merlot (99 Cesari, $4.50 glass/$21 bottle).
The packed room does get noisy, especially when they decide to crank an acid jazz soundtrack. But unlike its cousins, this joint doesn't have the circus atmosphere of mock-indignant waiters throwing buns at the clientele. And once spring's finally sprung, the already crowded cafe will double its capacity by opening its patio. Lunch and brunch will be added, too.
Looks like these lucky Seven Numbers just won the lottery.