Review: Osteria Ciceri e Tria

When the whole Kobe Beef debacle was spilling all over Chowhound as well as here, one very smart commenter wrote, “one has only to look at Terroni threads for an example” of the passionate community that is Chowhound.

Ah yes Terroni. I am most familiar with the original Queen West restaurant: rustic décor fraught with lineups, poor service, waiters-who-are-not-that-good-looking-but-think-they-are, and food that’s ok. Just ok.

Let me clear the air on how I feel about Terroni:

I think Terroni is overpriced and over-hyped and it leaves me feeling underwhelmed every time I go.

When the same restaurateurs decided to open Osteria Ciceri e Tria, I purged myself of any prejudice against Terroni.

The word osteria refers to a tavern or humble restaurant where wine is the star attraction and tasty food is prepared to wash it down. Ciceri e tria is an Apulian dish made of deep-fried pasta, fresh pasta and chickpeas in broth, that remains on the menu every day while everything else changes.

The venue has great atmosphere: comfy old wooden tables with warm and inviting lighting. The décor seamlessly combines regal old oak and exposed brick with contemporary European lighting fixtures. Much has been written about the trendy Italian lessons that are broadcast over in the chic bathrooms.

The wait staff are friendly and unpretentious, happy to explain the menu and offer suggestions. The table arrangements are equally appealing. We sat at a large communal table with other couples where we could spy on what others were eating.

The menu itself is rustic, local, paired down and features a number of star ingredients that are in season. The emphasis is on more smaller meals rather than the North American Entrée we have come to expect.

There are no pizzas; only a return to traditional southern Italian food. I noticed potatoes, fiddleheads, cherry tomatoes and green beans made their way into a number of menu items. Seafood was the star ingredient. We had dinner on a Friday night and the menu read, Il Venerdì si mangia pesce (on Friday we eat fish.)

You can order any combination of menu-fixe items, including antipasto and primo ($23), antipasto and secondo ($28), and antipasto, primo and secondo ($35). The antipasti are most exciting: small tastes of different meat and vegetables. On Friday, they are naturally all seafood and the antipasti were certainly the most exciting part of our meal.

In the end, how did everything fair? Well, to answer that I must digress slightly.

One of my most beloved food heroines is the gorgeous and whip-smart Nigella Lawson. I like her beliefs on food because they are stripped of all ethnic bias or pretension. She, more than any other food-lover or chef I’ve encountered, loves food on a primal and spiritual level of deliciousness. She never appeals to Cordon Bleu
training or uses expensive ingredients to bamboozle people.

She is all about trusting taste.

In one episode of Nigella Bites, our heroine is boiling water for pasta and she salts it heavily, mentioning that pasta water should be as salty as the Ligurian Sea. For whatever reason, something resonated profoundly with me after watching Nigella and heavily salting the water is now an essential part of my pasta ritual and something I ascribe to the success of my pastas in general. Pasta is egg and flour. Salting the water is the only opportunity you have to add flavor to the pasta itself.

pasta water = sea water

All this being said, my farfalle at Osteria was under seasoned. Any chef will say that seasoning is one of the cornerstones of great cooking. I believe it becomes even more essential when the ingredients are paired down. You need salt to draw out the flavor.

In spite of all the beautiful décor and atmosphere and attitude and concept, I simply could not get past this simple essential fact.

Osteria is more exciting in concept than it manages to be in execution.

Rating (3/5):

Osteria Ciceri e Tria
106 Victoria Street
Toronto, ON
(416) 955-0258


  1. Comprehsensive review.

    And Terroni is overhyped and overrated.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Gary. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way about Terroni.

  3. Hey Jess, that's funny that you shared that Nigella tidbit (tidbite?). The same tip resonated with me also, and every time I'm making pasta I think to myself "pasta water is sea water."

    I also worship at the alter of Nigella. I love her cooking style, her philosophy, the fact that she is a cook, not a chef, without being painful like Rachel Raye. I wish they'd play Nigella reruns on the Food Network!

  4. Post Script: that should be painful *to watch* like Rachel Raye.

  5. Amanda, it makes sense that you love Nigella. I feel like people who really love food love her. I've seen a couple of Nigella reruns, but I could always use more. I find her inspiring.

    Rachel Ray?
    My mother told me to say nothing at all.

  6. (If I haven't got something nice to say.)