Johnny Farina is a great place. It’s obvious that there's something special going on just from the layout of the restaurant: an annexed lounge/wine bar, the main dining room, a prominent staircase leading to a second floor dining room, and an open concept kitchen. Unusual to say the least, but it all makes sense when you come to realize that this is the old Elgin street theatre, retrofitted into a trendy Italian restaurant. Nicely done.
Shortly after being seated, we were given glasses of water and a basket of bread, served with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This was useful, as it distracted me from pondering the notable absence of our server. In retrospect, I have no idea why I was in such a hurry. As our European beers were served, I noticed the bartender had taken the time to make use of the proper glassware. It dawned on me that Farina’s is all about being casual, taking it easy, and enjoying the finer details. Luckily for us, the finer details also included the best calamari I've ever had (including what we sampled on the East coast). Great portion size, perfect golden batter, and served with traditional cocktail sauce.
Now, every wood fire margherita pizza I've ever ordered has been served with islands of melted mozzarella in a sea of red sauce. Not this time. The chef at Farina’s opted to distribute the mozzarella evenly across the crust, and used shaved parmesan to accent the flavour. As a self-proclaimed cheese enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoyed the quantity, quality, and resulting flavour, but I recognize that it came at a cost – there was little room left for the basil. I don’t really care for most things green, but in all honesty, you don’t have a margherita pizza if you can’t taste the basil. My pizza, cooked to perfection and absolutely delicious, was essentially a cheese pizza garnished with two leaves. Semantics aside, after abandoning my fast-paced lifestyle and slowing down to a reasonable pace, I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent at Farinas, and look forward to going back.
Let's just get right into this. First of all, best. calamari. ever. I don't know how they did it, but the chefs at Johnny Farina somehow managed to cook calamari in such a way to make it not chewy, and also tasty at the same time. It's always been a toss-up: either chewy and tasty, or tender and 'the-taste-was-cooked-out-of-it' bland. But these miracle workers at Farina's managed to do it all. The batter was also amazing, some kind of light powder from heaven. The menu says it was flour batter, but I've had flour batter. This was so much better. And to top it all off, the sauce was indescribable. When I dipped that first calamari ring into the "tangy cocktail dip" and my taste buds got a hold of it, there was definitely a party in my mouth. I had to try really hard to take my time, look nonchalant while eating, and not fight Jay for all of them.
I'm glad our appetizer was so good. Because I have to say, I was a little disappointed with my pizza. Actually, disappointed is the wrong word. I was annoyed... with my pizza. While perusing the pizza section of the menu, I was happy to see one with artichoke hearts on it, so I was excited to try it. The Quattro Staggioni boasted black olives, roasted red peppers, artichokes and prosciutto on a bed of tomato sauce and mozzarella. What I didn't know was that it's meant to be served with each quarter having only one of the four toppings on it. Fortunately, our wonderful server asked me if I would like it that way and I declined; who wants a piece of pizza with only olives on it? In any case, I got my pizza with the toppings all mixed up on top, and started in. To my dismay, they had not cut the prosciutto into pieces; it was just sitting in three long strips on top of everything else. So every bite I took was a struggle to pull off a bite-sized piece using my lips, without getting a mouthful of prosciutto, and without also looking like a total idiot making out with my pizza. In the end, I don't really remember much about the way the pizza tasted, or the crispiness of the crust. All I remember is my total frustration with how difficult it was to eat. It's too bad because I've been there before and loved it. At least this experience had the redeeming quality of an amazing appetizer and a delicious lager.
Johnny Farina has a great atmosphere; being a converted theatre gives it the high ceilings, brick walls and dark dinner lighting that makes it a great place to be. And the food is mostly delicious. They just need to figure out a way to make pizza less difficult to eat.
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