I think Ciao Toto has become my favourite Italian restaurant in the area. In fact, it may just be one of my overall favourite restaurants in the area. The food is not the Anglicised dishes that you’ll come across in most Italian restaurants in the UK, but dishes that you’d be likely to come in a small Italian town (although not all of them in the same restaurant as places there tend to be much more regional in their offerings).
So, one of us started with a dish from the north of the country. A spinach salad, tossed with walnuts, strips of salty speck and topped with a thick slice of Tomino cheese (from the Piedmont region according to Wikipedia), which had been melted so it had just started to get oozy. The other starter probably came from bit further south, near Venice – lovely sweet clams, cooked in a light broth with croutons of bread thrown in at the last minute so, if you were quick, they stayed crisp till you’d finished.
To southern Italy for both main courses. Both of them pasta. Penne came with chunks of a tasty sausage, nuggets of sweet, fatty lardo and bits of rich, earthy porcini. The pasta was, of course, perfectly cooked “al dente”. As was the paccheri – think very big macaroni – which was dressed with a long cooked meat sauce, flavoured with provolone cheese, pepper and hefty hit of basil.
Only one of us wanted dessert. That came from as far south as you can get –a Sicilian cannolo. Perhaps not the finest version I’ve eaten but still really good. Crisp pastry, thick but not overly so, filled with a sweetened ricotta mixed with a little chocolate. It was, perhaps, overly sweet for my taste and a bit claggy in texture – but I’m nit-picking here over one of my favourite Italian desserts. Unsurprisingly, espresso was hot, strong and packed with flavour
This was a cracker of a meal and I’m glad we’d made a reservation (phone or online via Tripadvisor). The place was deservedly busy on a Saturday night and walk-ins may well have been turned away.