No. 19: Nora Gray
LOCATED NEAR THE BELL CENTRE IN A RETAIL NO MAN’S LAND, NORA GRAY IS NONETHELESS ALWAYS FULL—WHICH SAYS A LOT ABOUT THIS MODERN ITALIAN EATERY.
The room is small, wood-lined with a low ceiling, dominated by an inviting wood-topped bar. It is dimly lit, romantic and cozy. So while it happens to be the ultimate destination for stopping in before or after a game—or anything else at the arena—its draw is much broader. The atmosphere is just so, a civilized and welcoming refuge in a relatively desolate stretch of downtown. The chef here is Emma Cardarelli, who six years ago left the kitchens of Joe Beef and Liverpool House to open this lively spot with another Liverpool House alumnus, sommelier Ryan Gray, and business partner and convivial front-of-house manager Lisa McConnell. The cooking is highly authentic, rustic in nature but refined in execution.
It is seasonally attuned (the website features a photograph of a morel and spring peas crostini that will make one pine for springtime more longingly than during the coldest February night). Recurring classics include a rabbit and leek tart and rich, Roman-style braised tripe. Classic dishes often come with a flavoursome twist—say, vitello tonnato made with veal tongue instead of loin, or ’nduja in the linguine alla vongole. Do not forgo the sweetbreads with orange and sage. Whatever you choose, defer to sommelier Gray for help with his list, which is heavy on private import wines, mostly organic or natural, and often sold by the glass. Drinking his recommendations is an education of the most enjoyable sort.
Tuesday to Saturday
5:30 PM until 11:30 PM
IMAGES COURTESY OF NORA GRAY