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The Italian job

Tomavinos Ristorante is back with those great pizzas you remember, but Melissa Buote might opt for delivery next time.

click to enlarge A pie to die for at Tomavinos.
  • A pie to die for at Tomavinos.

It's been years since I've been inside Tomavinos. Before it closed last year I was a pretty loyal delivery customer. I remember the second-to-last time I called for delivery and the phone just rang and rang and rang into what I can only imagine was darkness. I had a horrible feeling that I would never have another Ambrosia pizza, which disappointed me to my very depths, since the craving for that specific pizza is an exacting one. I tried calling again the next night to see if I just called on an off-night. That week word leaked out the restaurant had closed.

Finally, more than a year later, that craving is sated.

The darkened corners of my mind where the idea of what Tomavinos looked like the last time I was there are brought to life in the darkened corners of the actual restaurant. It's still a small cavern, walking a fine line between cozy and claustrophobic. When I arrive the restaurant is almost empty. It stays that way the entire time we're there.

My friends soon join me. Kate and I each order a glass of wine---the Chianti ($8) and the Pinot Grigio ($8)---while Chris orders a Harvey Wallbanger ($6.50).

We decide to split a large Caesar salad ($14.50) to start, then we each get a pizza: a Tomavino's combo ($11.95), a Montrealer ($12.95) and my beloved Ambrosia ($11.95).

The Caesar salad is huge, more than enough for three. After we have started in on the salad, our server drops by the table to let us know that they are out of the fresh grana padano the menu promised---instead we are given some grated parmesan. From the very first forkful, the salad bites back, aggressive with garlic. It's delicious: the lettuce is crisp, there are lots of tasty fresh bacon bits and the croutons are still nice and crunchy, even with the liberal amount of dressing.

Soon after we finish the salad, our pizzas are delivered.

Chris and Kate are both very happy with their choices. The Montrealer is a savoury combination of roasted chicken, roasted red peppers, portabella mushrooms, spinach and sharp asiago. The combo has a classic topping combination of pepperoni, mushroom, onion, green pepper and bacon with the added bonus of little housemade meatballs. The Ambrosia has sausage, sautéed mushrooms and spinach.

The pizzas feature a fresh, sweet tomato sauce. It works well with the savoury toppings and acts as a nice counterpoint to the mild spiciness found in toppings like the sausage or pepperoni, nudging those flavours forward a bit. The crusts are good--- crisp and a little oily. I wish there was a little more lightness in the edges; there aren't many air pockets in the cornicione. So while it's delectably thin and light in the middle, it gets a bit overly chewy and dense by the time you get to the end of a slice. That is perhaps fine for those who toss the pizza bones aside, but if you love crust it may be a bit disappointing.

Service is a little slow for how empty the restaurant is. Our water, which we asked for partway through our meal since none was offered, is never refilled, and our server doesn't check in on how we like our pizzas. Perhaps it's because he could hear every word we said. At times the restaurant feels a little too small, and privacy seems impossible even though we are the only customers.

Tomavinos is basically just as good as ever. I'm glad it's back. I might not go back to the dining room, but I definitely look forward to picking up my phone again sometime soon.

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