This is the furthest east Fratelli has ventured, Springfield Road in New Edinburgh, and it is the fourth Fratelli for owners Riccardo and Roberto Valente. Their first Fratelli (the Italian word for brothers) opened twelve years ago on Bank Street in the Glebe. A second Fratelli found a spot on Terry Fox Drive in Kanata in 2001, a third on Richmond Road in Westboro in 2005, and now this one, open since February, in a part of town under serviced for this sort of restaurant.
What sort of restaurant, you ask? I might answer, “the gap filling” sort. The New Edinburgh/Vanier/Rockcliffe/Lindenlea/Manor Park neighbourhoods haven’t much that bridges the space between their smattering of fine dining restaurants (Ambiente, El Meson, Le Saint O) and their pubs and pizza places (the New Edinburgh, The Clocktower Brew Pub, Mr Mozzarella, say.) Fratelli, with its modish dÃ©cor, Italian-ish cuisine, and mid-range prices, falls in between the two camps quite nicely.
Like its brother restaurants, Fratelli is good looking, with a distinct personality in its design – black and white family portraits of happy times with food and wine, a modern brick wall, handsome lighting, the signature built-in wine racks, a sophisticated palette of neutral colours, a bar that’s inviting for solo diners, a crew of young, energetic servers. The wine list offers a dozen choices by the glass, a few half bottles for sharing, and a lengthy international list, with a sturdy focus on Italian reds. Service is polite and pretty. And the food offers enough choice and in a price range that invites the long three-course investment, or the drop-in for a plate of pasta and a glass of wine. What’s not to like?
Change, for one thing. Twelve years ago, at my first visit to Fratelli on Bank Street, I had the distinct impression that there was a grandma back there in the kitchen, rolling the gnocchi and mollycoddling the soup. That feeling has left me. As Fratellis have sprung up around this town, this family restaurant is eating more and more like a chain. The food has become more focused on what’s popular (“add grilled chicken to any salad for $6”) and the cooking is patchy.
The bread is fresh and crusty one night. Another visit they give me stale crostini, fridge cold. I started out excited by the soup – a rich, strong broth filled in with pastina (little pasta), fresh vegetables, parsley. Yet, at another visit both soups were duds – a lifeless, watery straciatella, and a lacklustre minestrone.
The calamari is carelessly treated (too many empty clumps of tempura batter) though the squid itself, beneath the onslaught, is tender. The “Firenze” pizza would be much tastier if the arugula were wilted into the thin crust, rather than mounded raw in the centre (what are we to do with this?) The same arugula, undressed and dull, is piled beside my tuna steak as well. Crusted with pistachios, the fish arrives cooked to rare, as requested, but beneath the nuts, the fish is unseasoned and bland, served with that heap of naked greens and a serving of hot, too crunchy beets. The caprese salad suffers from tasteless tomatoes. A grilled vegetable stack with goat cheese boasts a yummy sauce, but the vegetables in the stack are all under-roasted, still crunchy, and the portabello mushroom crown is dessicated.
They make a decent red sauce here, and it drapes nicely over pasta with excellent fennel-seeded sausages and olives, and over veal with onions and capers. But neither dish rises above pleasant-enough, and the veal is thick and chewy in places, thin and tender in others. The salmon comes highly recommended, but we found it rather dull, under its smear of cold tapenade, the fish underseasoned and on the dry side.
But I’m still holding on to that first zuppa – the simple, elegant chicken pastina – and to the house carpaccio, with shards of sharp-creamy parmigiano, capers and a white truffle mayonnaise, that works with the thin leaves of raw beef. (The pepper mills on the tables for just this sort of dish, are commendable.) I can also recommend the house deli antipasti (a generous plate meant for sharing) of a gently flavoured veal pate studded with pistachios, some cured meats, sliced cheeses and olives, marinated eggplant, toasties with tapenade. It could make a fine starter for two, and then perhaps you might move on to share a pizza. Add a couple of glasses of wine, and you have an easy summer supper for under $50. And for this sort of thing, Fratelli works. But there’s too much that doesn’t work to have much confidence in this kitchen.
Desserts have been a mixed bag – a couple of tasty butter tarts, then a fig cake that has a salty, chemical flavour.