By Julian Geneen
My relationship with chef Rob Rossi goes back to his days at Top Chef Canada. On that show I found myself cheering for the even-keeled, friendly and talented chef of the mediocre Mercatto restaurants. Riding off of popularity he gained as the runner-up of the show, Rossi opened Bestellen in 2012. Bestellen was some mutated version of a steakhouse that felt like an uncomfortable pairing of Jacobs & Co. suits with Parkdale beanies. The restaurant was moderately successful, but never fully worked for me and its doors closed last year.
Giulietta, on the other hand, is a restaurant with an identity. The restaurant came together as a result of an eating trip across North America that Rossi embarked on with restaurateur David Minicucci. The outcome is a restaurant that feels more aligned with the Rob Rossi I cheered for on television seven years ago. The chef greets all of the diners himself with a warm smile and a newly developed beard for his new persona. The menu is Italian but is vastly different from somewhere like the nearby and comparable Campagnolo. Funnily enough, a more direct comparison menu-wise would be Italian-for-the-masses restaurants like Terroni or Rossi's old stomping ground Mercatto. The interior of the restaurant looks nothing like these comparables and I can’t quite put my finger on how to describe it. It’s modern with clean finishes and an open kitchen but at the same time its booths mimics a 70s diner aesthetic.
My first bite at Giulietta was an "amuse bouche," although not like those I've had before. The dish is a toast with sheep's milk ricotta and honey. It completely set the tone for the upcoming meal — tasty, Italian-adjacent and a rejection of the norm. The Giulietta Spritz was next and was a refreshing and delicious twist on a classic drink as it used Berto Aperitivo, a hard-to-find orange and rhubarb liqueur from Italy. For our appetizers, we had the bagna cauda and the steak tartare. The bagna cauda was unusual for a higher-end restaurant as it was in essence just a crudité. But I thoroughly enjoyed the anchovy and garlic dip with fresh vegetables and impressed with how bold it was to present something so simple. The beef tartare (or carne crudo) is a holdover from Bestellen, and although tasty and well-executed it felt like it belonged on a different menu.
The pizza comes with a hen's egg softly poached on top. The chef encouraged us to spread it ourselves, and "have fun" with the yolk. This sort of confidence is what so strongly appeals to me about this restaurant. The meal ended with two kinds of pasta: a chestnut agnolotti and a cacio e pepe (long pasta with cheese and pepper). I was surprised to see the cacio e pepe on the menu, which spurred me to order it. The dish was solid but belongs at a more inside-the-box establishment. The chestnut agnolotti, on the other hand, blew me away. The hardness of the guanciale cured meat perfectly matched with the gooey ricotta and chestnut. It is almost comparable to a butternut squash ravioli, although significantly elevated. I can comfortably say it's one of the better pasta dishes in the city and definitely unique.
There is something to be said about a place that knows exactly what it wants to be. When you strip down Giulietta, it is an unpretentious restaurant with the bona fides to place itself among the city's most frilly and expensive tables. Rossi's calm, comfortable and confident attitude, however, cuts through the noise of our city's bustling restaurant scene making this one of the toughest tables in the city. Just as I did several years ago, I fell in love with this attitude that separated itself from the competition.
Price: $70 dollars per person, including one drink.
Rating: Three-and-a-half stars (out of four). An excellent restaurant.