TOBA (243 King East, at Sherbourne, 416- 367-8622) This laid-back east-side eatery gets its pedigree from owner Tony Barone. His Cal-Ital menu breaks little new ground, but at its best it's the equal of far pricier cards. Complete meals for $40 per person ($20 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of house wine. Open Tuesday to Thursday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Sunday 11:30 am to 10 pm. Brunch Sunday and Saturday till 4 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
the scene: friday noon at toba, the east-side eatery down the road from XXX just opened by Tony Barone. A lunchtime house of advertising and dot-com types packs all 30 seats of this simply decorated room. Drink orders delivered, our table splits vibrant green pea soup in deliberately salty prosciutto broth ($6). Then we wait.
A half-hour passes, and other than the salad -- prosciutto over arugula with walnuts and bocconcini ($8) -- no one's got food. Our smiling server tops up our water glasses for the fourth time with promises of "Any minute now."
Behind the bar, Barone calmly slices limes while dishing the dirt with Daily Rag gossipmonger Rita Zekas. Fifty-five minutes in, I'm freaking. So's the rest of the crowd.
With an unexplained "Sorry," the mains show up. The Condo Queen burger ($9) finds a freshly made beef patty stuffed with Asiago and shredded portobello 'shrooms. A tangle of angel hair frites are mighty awesome to look at but next to impossible to eat before they grow cold.
A thin 8-ounce strip loin ($13 lunch/$18 10-ounce dinner) comes with creamy horseradish and a lovely pile of mixed baby greens. Everything's very nice, but why the absurd delay? Toba's gas grill has temporarily died.
But Barone's a pro with a proven track record at Ellipsis, Mildred Pierce and Zucca. Toba, his first solo venture, has only been open a few weeks, and disasters like major-appliance breakdowns happen.
We try again, grabbing a table next to the kitchen, and are greeted by a new server working his first shift. Simple questions -- "Do home fries come with that?" -- are met with dumbfounded silence and shuffling of feet.
Luckily, the grill's been repaired. Covered in melted cheddar, a pair of poached eggs ride sidecar to a wedge of delicious potato gratin with chipotle mayo that could be a brunch main on its own ($9). Though salmon would be the last guess in a blindfold testing, sausage-like salmon cakes ($10) with mild anchovy butter and deluxe salad greens are very tasty. Like the eggs, they're sided with tiny cylindrical scones.
Dinner's a winner. We start with grilled radicchio ($6) over diced tomato and peppers doused in sweet balsamic. Toothsome linguine ($12), a large flat plate piled with al dente pasta, Manila clams, smoky pancetta threads, garden-fresh favas and coarse tomato concassé, shows considerable skill. And magnificent grilled chicken breast -- so moist it squirts -- stuffed with soft pecorino and thyme ($15) rides a luxurious bed of buttery polenta alongside wine-braised shallots.
Executive chef Barone has assembled a promising kitchen team: his Bellevue Diner sous Debra Armstrong, Mistura vet Derek von Raesfeld and Heidi Hamilton from Verveine.
Let's hope Toba's fridge doesn't go on the firstname.lastname@example.org