Crescent Street is loved and hated for a number of reasons, but its culinary spread isn’t generally one of them. Dotted with fast food, pubs and the occasional half-decent Japanese or Indian restaurant, it’s not a stretch that comes to mind when considering dinner destinations (unless you want your greasy fill of Boustan). But not surprisingly, because this is after all the restaurant capital of North America, Crescent holds at least one real gem.
Wienstein & Gavino’s has become a bit of an institution over its 20 years, though one gets the feeling that it’s often more of a go-to for tourists than for locals. Just prior to the Crescent Street’s annual F1 occupation, we sampled some of their classic Italian dishes and found both the cuisine and the atmosphere (which bridge casual and fine dining) well worth a special trip downtown.
W&G feels like a cross between a classic restaurant hideaway and an industrial pub, with exposed brick walls, chunky, distressed wooden tables, heavy black railings up and around the staircase, an exposed kitchen and a ritzy chandelier adding a touch of class. The setting, the staff and the music create a versatile ambiance, a good fit for groups of coworkers, family or friends sharing a hearty meal, or a more intimate 5à7 or date experience.
All of the above was happening around us as we were seated on the airy second floor and started browsing the à la carte menu and their recently expanded gluten-free menu — they also do brunch and have a $10 late-night menu (“10 After 10”). Gluten-free bread was not available at that moment (it usually is) but neither of us suffer from celiac so we ordered the regular bruscetta ($8). Topped with fresh and flavourful tomatoes, onions (not too many), slices of parmesan and a drizzle of balsamic glaze, the bruscetta melted in our mouths — the lightly grilled bread was easy to bite into, without the hardened crust that often makes bruscetta an unnecessarily messy, melba-toast-ish challenge. Next up was polpo alla griglia ($17), tender grilled octopus on a bed of nicely seasoned cannellini beans, another close-to-perfection appetizer.
We were just as impressed with our mains: a carbonara ($15) with W&G’s house-made fettucini, cream, parmesan, eggs, pancetta and shallots — not the most authentic carbonara recipe (which is made without cream), but well-balanced and delicious nonetheless — and misto de mare ($27), a seafood pasta dish with lobster tail, mussels, clams, shrimps, scallops and tomato sauce. The seafood was primo and generous, and I paired it with the gluten-free spaghetti that was perfectly al dente and virtually impossible to distinguish from regular pasta.
We ended our meal with (gluten-free) dessert, a slice of simple chocolate cake ($8) with a Nutella smear, half a dozen hazelnuts and dots of caramel and strawberry sauce. The dish was decadent without being overly rich, and just the right quantity for two already well-fed people to share.
After such a solid experience, I can attest to Wienstein & Gavino’s reputation as a go-to for downtown dining. Finally, a reason to go to Crescent Street. ■
1434 Crescent, 514-288-2231