Voglié owner/chef Lia Buggemi presides as Gord Rendell (left), Neal Abdool, Niki Tsourounakis and Tania Morano snack and sip.
VOGLIE (582 Church, at Dundonald, 416-929-9108) Complete tapas meals for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and a cocktail. Average tapa $5. Open Thursday and Friday 5 pm to 4 am, Saturday 11 am to 4 am, Sunday 1 pm to 4 am. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: six steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Ever gone to a gay bar and discovered a terrifically inexpensive Sicilian trattoria?
That's what I find at Voglié, the two-storey party palace on Church, where, according to the flyers out front, every night is ladies' night. First-time restaurateur and self-taught chef Lia Buggemi took over the former Looking Glass and Spiral space next to far swankier Fuzion three years ago, and has kept the rambling Victorian pretty much as it's always been. Her kitchen, however, is an entirely different kettle of calamari.
Though it looks like every patio in the downtown core is packed this balmy summer's evening, both Voglié's (silent g, acute accent on the e) backyard deck and curbside terrace are noticeably empty. In fact, staff seem surprised when we grab a table out front and announce we're here for chef's Italian-style tapas card rather than several rounds of froufrou cocktails with names like Euphoria Luxe, $8.
Soon enough, we're knocking back a buttery Tuscan Chianti (2007 Geografico, $9 glass/$40 bottle) before tucking into rounds of grilled crostini dressed with gooey Brie, tart pear and candied walnuts ($5). We follow with fabulously meaty mini-burgers - one of charbroiled beef topped with ripe Roma tomato and crunchy dill pickle, the other a juicy roasted portobello mushroom layered with sweet red peppers and chèvre - sided with nippy jalapeño aioli.
That same remarkable mayo shows up alongside the calamari in question (all $4), a veritably priapic erection of lightly battered and perfectly timed squid exquisitely plated on a chopstick stuck upright into a lemon. Cookbook-correct saffron-scented risotto becomes baseball-sized arancini ($5) when stuffed with fontina cheese and ladled with the classically sweet San Marzano tomato sauce that also deliciously cossets Buggemi's old-school mamma mia meatballs ($6).
Michelin-star-worthy cubes of rosemary-crusted Yukon Gold potato strewn with caramelized vidalia onion flank a pair of nicely grilled Barese pork 'n' lamb sausages from a butcher in Woodbridge (can you get any more authentically Italian than that?), while a balsamic-glazed lamb chop (both $5) has us hankering for the full rack.
Only chocolate-drizzled cannoli in raspberry coulis ($4) disappoint, their crisp cookie shell shattering on contact, resulting in more creamy ricotta filling on fingers than in mouths. Moist towelettes, anyone?
Like Weezie's Constance Guitard, Buggemi left the corporate world to realize her culinary dream. If unlikely Voglié is the result, chef has reason to be proud, not just on a weekend in June but every day of the year.