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Photos by Brian Towie/Metro Toronto
Address: 1993 Yonge St.
Lunch Mon. to Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Tues. to Sat., 5 p.m.- 11 p.m.;
Private bookings: Sunday.
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $90-$110
**** (out of 5)
Ross Bonfanti and Joe Pagniello would like to thank their wives for giving them the green light to live out their dream.
It was a long time coming for the Toronto natives. The co-owners of Il Sogno (Italian for “The Dream”) are old chums, both 28, who spent their high school days at Scarborough doughnut shops designing their ideal Italian eatery with nothing but pens and napkins.
Fast forward to the summer of 2006, when the pair brought their years of experience in the food industry — Ross as co-owner of a bar and Joe in a marketing management position for an online produce vendor — to open their own establishment.
“It started as a joke,” Bonfanti says. “We used to come here on a regular basis and we knew the owner. We joked that we wanted to buy the restaurant, and then he let us.”
“Our wives came up with the name,” Pagniello adds. “They told us, ’you drove us nuts for the last nine years with this whole restaurant thing. So call it Il Sogno, call it the dream.’ We were both newlyweds and our wives supported us 110 per cent.”
And what a dream it has become. In a little less than a year, Il Sogno has become a premier name in the Yonge and Davisville neighbourhood for traditional, rustic Italian cuisine in a one-on-one setting. It doesn’t get much more Italian than this, either: Dishes range from zesty capellini pazzi (angel hair pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers in a rosee sauce), to rich veal, lamb and seafood mains — there’s even a huge portrait of Frank Sinatra in the men’s room.
“We don’t get this fusion stuff,” Pagniello says. “We wanted to keep it basic with a more traditional style. Italian cooking is simple. Back where our families are from, you live off the land and use what you have.”
What’s getting Il Sogno the most attention is its calamari, served with a homemade garlic mayonnaise dipping sauce. It doesn’t have the rubbery consistency that one might find in other venues because “we only buy the good calamari,” Pagniello explains.
“People go crazy for it,” Bonfanti says. “It’s the coating that we use. It’s not like a regular batter, it’s more like a dry rub. But it’s a secret. I can’t tell you.”
Bonfanti and Pagniello estimate 80 to 85 per cent of their business comes from repeat customers. They put this down to the food, but also the restaurant’s up-close-and-personal atmosphere.
The duo say they commonly put in a 70-hour work week, but add that making patrons feel at home is a big part of their jobs.
“A lot of people come here because of our personalities,” Pagniello says. “We’re here all the time and we make people comfortable. By the second or third time they come, it’s like they know us.”