The spare black exterior of L'Unita, near the corner of Avenue and Davenport, is a clue to this restaurant's success — it's all about what's inside. Built on the old-school tradition of "the best ingredients make the best dishes," L'Unita focuses on providing consistent and seasonally influenced Italian cuisine.
Guests to this osteria, opened in 2007, are greeted with endless bottles of wine lining the walls behind the long wood bar, while the warm brick walls display classic Fellini film posters above banquette seating. The lively atmosphere is peppered with numerous conversations, the celebratory clinking of glasses, and the distant sounds of a busy kitchen. Guests become part of an extended family from the moment of being seated, a welcome difference in trendy Yorkville.
With a devotion to all things Italian, the extensive wine list reads like a detailed map of the old country. But this Toronto restaurant also includes new-world options from British Columbia's Okanagan and Ontario's Niagara wine regions. Knowledgeable servers can help select from the numerous vintages, but for those who are indecisive, start with a glass of one of the four red wines available via Enomatic.
For those who prefer a cocktail, consider the The Harrison ($13.00) — Dillon's gin, muddled cucumber, fresh mint, lime, and tonic — or the Pear Sparkler ($13.00) — Grey Goose La Poire vodka, pear liqueur, pear nectar, and Prosecco. Both are refreshing and easily help transition one's mind from office mode to dinner time. There's no rush to make decisions, a welcome reminder that this is laid-back fine dining.
You won't find fusion and molecular gastronomy on this menu. L'Unita is all about hearty Southern Italian cuisine, old-school options such as spaghetti bolognese ($23.00) or margherita pizza ($17.00). But foodies can discover inventive options with the chef's daily specials and seasonal additions to the menu. This restaurant isn't about time standing still. But there are some traditions that can't be let go. Be warned — the attentive servers will gently encourage at least three courses. (Note to diners: sharing is the best way to experience the menu.)
Beginning with antipasto per tavola ($22.00/$32.00) — a combination of salumi, fromaggi, seasonal vegetables, and whatever strikes the chef's daily fancy — balances sweet, salty, crunchy, and smooth. It's a palate-pleasing starter even for picky eaters. Other favourites from the Assaggini list include the sweet pea arancini ($10.00) served with olive oil crema and lemon, or the burrata bruschetta ($15.00) with fresh basil. These Italian classics pair fresh flavours with satisfying crunch and are perfect with a glass of vino.
Crispy pizzas (not too thin or too thick) include the wild mushroom bianca with pancetta and chives ($18.00), L'Atomica with tomato, spicy chorizo, and bomba ($18.00), and the very flavourful heirloom tomato with roasted garlic and scarmoza ($19.00). All these pizzas feature fior de latte (cow's milk mozzarella) and traditional doppio zero flour. Dinner could stop here but the scents in the air are pure temptation. This is the kind of place where leaning over and asking a fellow diner about what's on their plate is expected. And it will result in pleasing the chef and your server by ordering at least one more course.
Pasta selections (house-made daily, like everything on the menu) such as cavatelli alla molisana with sausage, sweet corn, rapini, and ricotta salata ($23.00) or tagliatelle al funghi with wild mushrooms, summer truffle, and parmigiano (25.00) are hearty and tasty. Two to consider from Secondi options and consistent favourites seen coming regularly from the kitchen include the grilled rock hen al mattone with panzanella salad ($29.00) and the strip steak alla fiorentina with rocket salad and Tuscan olive oil ($38.00) — great combinations of grilled meats and fresh flavours. It's okay to ask for a doggie bag if your eyes trumped your stomach.
L'Unita provides the perfect ambience — whether it's dinner for two or with a large group. Dining here means there shouldn't be a time limit, conversation is more important than what's appearing on the smartphone screen, and a hearty appetite is preferred. Drink, share plates, take the server's advice, and try to leave a little room for cannoli ($10.00).