It’s not too often that a restaurant exterior imprints our memory enough to keep on mentioning it in casual conversations about Leslieville over and over again. It is especially remarkable that we kept on referring to a local staple without actually visiting it until now.
Gio Rana’s Really Really Nice Restaurant (yes, that is the full name) has been occupying this ex-bank building for nearly 30 years and probably saw the area go through a tremendous transformation. As we approached, the main exterior feature, the massive nose above the door immediately captured our attention. This detail was a definite highlight of the otherwise unremarkable building and was the original reason for us to even know about the place. You are infinitely more likely to get directions when asking for the Nose Restaurant rather than Gio Rana’s.
The interior was charming, and a bit cluttered, with plenty of memorabilia gathered throughout the years. A curated selection of random elements scattered around (empty picture frames or a metallic-paint covered mannequin anyone?) made us feel like we are visiting an odd cross-breed between a museum and a hipster upstart rather than a restaurant.
Our very energetic waiter Mo was another one of the evening’s highlights competing with the nose sculpture. He was excellent in navigating us through the somewhat tricky menu. A four meal special for $35 Monday through to Wednesday sounded like a sweet deal, but everyone at the table had to agree to it - the desert was not in the mix and so we figured the set sounded like too much food.
Small cut pieces of focaccia landed on our table with a small bowl accompanied by two bottles of oil and balsamic vinegar. Furthermore, the focaccia was topped with dark, zesty marks which we all were quite intrigued by and enjoyed.
A perfect way to get us going before we even ordered our food. Giant Meatball in Tomato sauce turned out to be just that. Although it was Italian comfort food at its best, we found the meatball to be too hearty for +27C on this warm September evening. Next up, Buffalo Mozzarella with Pesto and basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar all over. The mozzarella fresh with sides of tomato and smells of basil - nothing overly impressive, light and simple.
Caramélized fig, Italian prosciutto, arugula, gorgonzola, toasted walnuts - was essentially a description of the dish and but also seemingly its name too. We were happy it came with a fresh fig, and as you can imagine the flavors came together quite nicely for the small antipasto dish.
A tender and soft freshly made crespelle pasta wrapped the butternut squash paste - creating a fresh pasta almost ravioli like. We ordered a small dish which came with two large ravioli and plenty of sage butter creamy sauce. A beautifully fresh and flavorful dish.
Braised Ossobuco was a giant and very tender piece of meat on a bone. We learned that it is a Milanese ragu made of veal shanks braised with vegetables including olives. As an added bonus, there was some bone marrow to enjoy as well. It was a generous piece of meat with tons of character. Would have been perfect to combine with a full-bodied Italian red. We would definitely recommend this dish.
With great pick-me-up tunes such as if you Like Pina Colada, and plenty of Abba ones, we found ourselves nodding to the light mood.
As the evening progressed the space looked romantic with all its suspended little lights roping above us from one side to the other.
The Nose undoubtedly saw it all - the grimier late 80s, transitional 90s, and gentrified 00s. The transformation is not over yet, but we hope that Gio Rana’s will continue being there.
PS: Gio Rana’s was also featured on Kim’s Convenience for a brunch scene - got to try that someday very soon!