Black Skirt chefs Aggie Decina (left) and Rosa Gallé cook up Italian dishes that are as classic as the revamped decor.
BLACK SKIRT (3 Charles East, at Yonge, 416-935-0240) Complete dinners for $45 per person (lunches $30), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $20/$13. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 11 pm; bar till close. Closed Sunday, some holidays. Licensed. Rating: NNN
Renda Abdo has no time for prima donnas. That's why the owner of the venerable 7 West Café put her long-time friends and associates Rosa Gallé and Aggie Decina in charge of the kitchen at Black Skirt, the midtown boîte she also owns that until quite recently was known as Wish.
"I got tired of chefs who think they know more about running a restaurant than I do," sighs a weary Abdo.
She's also changed the resto's look. Gone is the room's dated South Beach swank (listening, Charles Khabouth and Liberty Group?), replaced with the understated Italian elegance of whitewashed walls, dark polished floors and beige banquettes. Out front, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi watches over a tented patio, its comfy chaises draped with fun-fur pashminas.
The new southern Italian menu is as classic as the decor. Antipasti include golden-crusted arancini rice balls ($8) stuffed with ground veal, mozzarella and garden peas and served in a puddle of unadulterated San Marzano tomato sauce.
Peperonata ($9) finds strips of roasted red pepper and smashed potato tastily drenched in quality olive oil, while delectably delicate fillets of white anchovies ($13) - mislabelled sardines on the menu - come coupled with garlicky tomato ratatouille and several slices of grilled Riviera Bakery baguette.
Pastas are just as straightforward. A toothsome tangle of al dente De Cecco spaghetti can either be simply sauced with more of that glorious tomato ragù (Pasta della Nonna, $13) or plainly dressed with fresh ricotta and a splash of olive oil (La Fretta, $14). The version topped with sauce, slow-cooked beef spezzatino, veal meat balls and shards of spicy sausage (La Domenica, $20) is about as fancy as it gets.
Though those who regularly pig out at the Olive Garden will likely disparage the portions, no one can fault the Skirt's top-of-the-line ingredients and traditional time-consuming techniques.
See the two combine in irregularly cut beef ravioli pan-seared in butter with fresh sage leaves and dusted with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (La Ciccio, $15), and meaty veal lasagna built with a mille feuille of crepe-thin house-made noodles ($20).
Follow them with lemony house-baked cannoli ($6) and a glass of Tuscan Chianti ($9/$34 bottle) and experience La Dolce Vita first hand.
"Food doesn't have to be complicated to be good," laughs Gallé. "Just let it be what it is."