Cosca: A Sicilian word which refers to any plant – such as the artichoke – whose spiny, closely-folded leaves symbolize the tightness of relationships between members of the Mafia. It is often used as a synonym for a Mafia crime family.
Borgata: From the Italian word for village, Borgata was adopted by the American Mafia to mean Family.
Right off the bat this tiny restaurant on Denman has a cool name. With a name like this, you’d half expect finding a pistol taped to the back of the toilet (if you don’t get this reference, you are missing out).
As a warning I have to tell you this post is a tad long due to the amount of food I had. Personally I think it’s worth the read, but if you have the attention of a span of a hamster, let me tell you right now this place is worth a try.
Taking a step inside, you are greeted by a long and narrow dining space, dimly lit with a long and narrow bar, much like many of the other restaurants on Denman. It’s very cozy and “hip”, completely free of checkered table clothes and suspicious looking Italian men.
What went in
After meeting the owner, we all sat down and started with a nice glass of Barbara. I’ll be honest I haven’t heard of this type of wine before that night. Although a little Googling reviewed a lacklustre reputation from the old days, this bottle was far from it. It’s a lighter red with some acidity; the after taste is where it excels, with a dense, slightly sweet tone. This is as far as I’m willing to comment on a wine.
Next comes the food, this is where my strength lies, in eating. The four of us started with an antipasto platter, calamari livornese, whole artichoke, stuffed tomatoes with eggplant, and assorted olives.
Does that sound like a lot? Yeah probably.
The antipasto platter was a pretty standard affair, with quality cheeses and meats, as with the assorted olives. The sautéed calamari really stood out from the rest. It was remarkably tender. The tomato based sauce was slightly spicy, with strong notes from olives and capers. I think I’d go as far as saying I prefer this over fried calamari (GASP!). I have never had a stuffed tomato before. And I think interesting is the best way to describe it. The tomatoes are so juicy that I’m not convinced that it’s the best thing to stuff into.
The whole steamed artichoke, “Articiocco Moderno e Roma” was very unique. And it’s no doubt the owner had this in mind when he came up with the name of the restaurant. I never had a whole steamed artichoke before. This one came with garlic olive oil and honey water with cumin seeds to dip. I was told this is based on a roman tradition that goes back to 77 A.D. Although it’s a lot of fun to eat in a group (like a much healthier version of nachos), the taste is rather simple. It’s something I’d try at least once, but I prefer heartier tasting dishes myself, which brings us to the mains.
I ordered the Spaghettini Bolognese, the bread and butter of pastas. The group also ordered a Pappardelle Boscaiola, and a Tagliolini Nero to share. Now don’t bother asking me to pronounce those two names, because I will butcher it to bits.
You know when you get up to pee on a cold Sunday morning, you come back to that soft toasty blanket that you have warmed all night long, and you jump in and just hug it to death? That is what eating this dish felt like. Hell I’m not even Italian but this plate of noodles somehow taste like home. There was something just SO RIGHT about how it went down. The noodles were cooked to perfection, and although the sauce looked soggy, it had the perfect amount of thickness. The shredded carrots softened the meat sauce, and added an unexpected richness/sweetness to it. Unless you have something against Bolognese sauce, this is the pasta to try!
The Boscaiola sauce was very fragrant. The mushrooms and truffle oil worked very well together. However the noodles were overcooked, that’s a big no-no in my books. But that’s only one out of the three so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve never had squid ink pasta before, so it was very cool to try the Tagliolini. Surprisingly the noodles itself had a seafood like taste to it. I thought it was just in my head, or it was the seared scallops, but Google proved me right.
Wait, the food train isn’t over yet.
Next up were the desserts, and we had three to share. There was Tiramisu, Cherry Chocolate Torte, and Apple Strudel. An interesting thing about the desserts here is that there is no dessert menu. Not that it’s really necessary with only three items daily. I did enjoy the old world feeling of having the waiter coming by and telling me about the desserts of the night. From what I gathered only the Tiramisu and Chocolate Torte are standard items, others come and go depending on availability and the Chef’s mood.
The Tiramisu was by far the best I’ve ever had (except for the one Joyce made of course ahem). The lady fingers are not overly soggy, and the cream was thick but not too rich. The Chocolate Torte on the other hand was heart-stopping rich, the cherries weren’t sufficient to hold its own against it. The Apple Strudel was a nice surprise. This particular one had a Mediterranean twist to it. It had pine nuts in the pastry, which added texture, fragrance, and flavour to an otherwise ho-hum dish.
What went out
We were invited for dinner so it was free to us. However all their prices are listed on their website. It’s not dirt cheap but for a place on Denman, it’s more than reasonable. For two people, a couple entrees and an appetizer will get you full, add a dessert and will get you stuffed.
The service staff was very friendly and casual. They really did make us feel like family. Everyone, including Chef Alen was very approachable. This is truly a down-to-earth fine-dining restaurant: my kind of place.
It’s tough to find a causal Italian restaurant that’s unique. They are often too much of the same. Cosca might be a dark little place on a busy street full of eateries, but it stood out in its own way. Just for that, I think it’s worth a try.
(Max Score: 10; Base Score: 5)
What went in (+/-2, 0) = 2
What came out (+/-1, 0) = 0
Service (+/-1, 0) = 1
Mr.’s Bonus (+/-1) = 1
Total Score – 9/10
1118 Denman Street