La Fenice is celebrating 35 years of business in Toronto’s Entertainment District. The restaurant’s doors opened in 1984, when chef and founder Luigi Orgera introduced Toronto’s flourishing entertainment scene to a thoroughly Italian way of dining.
Last year, the restaurant underwent a makeover, giving it a brand new feel. This year, La Fenice will continue their tradition of being an official hospitality partner for Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
Vacay.ca met with Rita Fosco, daughter of Luigi Orgera and now owner of La Fenice, who spoke about her food, life on the District, and the future for La Fenice.
Vacay.ca: Hello Rita! It’s wonderful to speak with you.
Rita Fosco: And you! Thanks for stopping by.
Vacay.ca: La Fenice opened in 1984, which means you have been in business for 35 years. Congrats!
Fosco: Thanks! We are very proud to be part of the King West community and to still be vibrant after 35 years. We have watched the community grow and the Entertainment District develop over the years.
Vacay.ca: Can you speak a bit about your father, Chef and Founder Luigi Orgera. What drove him to pick Toronto and that spot in particular? How was La Fenice received back then and how is the restaurant received now, especially since your renovations last year?
Fosco: Luigi was a true gourmand and had a profound love for his homeland and Italian heritage. He was an artist and cooking was an expression. He was a perfectionist and every detail mattered. Luigi always sought out the highest quality ingredients and was meticulous in their preparation. He believed in simplicity.
When Luigi immigrated from Italy, Toronto was his destination. He was following his heart, his childhood sweetheart and future wife, Alessandra (who at 85 years of age still bakes the desserts at La Fenice). He opened his first restaurant in 1961 in the suburb of Etobicoke. In 1972, Luigi opened a second restaurant on King Street West on the corner of King and John Street just steps from the Royal Alexandra Theatre. He fell in love with King Street and saw the potential. La Fenice was recognized as one of the top tables in Toronto, especially for Authentic Italian Cuisine.
Vacay.ca: What drove you to continue in the family business?
Fosco: I learned Luigi’s philosophies on food and cooking from an early age and worked in our restaurants as a teenager. Hospitality was in the family blood. I have a true desire to keep my father’s legacy alive.
Vacay.ca: Can you say a few words about your partnership with TIFF?
Fosco: We are truly excited to have partnered with tiff for the 2018 film festival and we are thrilled to be working with TIFF again in 2019.
Vacay.ca: Without realizing it, you have become somewhat of a a TIFF hot spot! Can you share some stories of celebrities who have visited your restaurant?
Fosco: We’ve had so many celebrities and musicians dine at La Fenice over the years. One recent memory that stands out was when Michelle Pfeiffer had dinner here during a festival. She arrived unannounced with her entourage and we seated her at a nice private table. She enjoyed a beautifully grilled Branzino and later commented that she had a “wonderfully relaxing evening and a great meal”. But what was funny was the next day a local newspaper reported that she had been missing at her own screening party the previous evening. It appears that she ditched her own party for a meal at La Fenice!
Vacay.ca: Tell me about the people behind the scenes.
Fosco: Chef Rocco has a great supportive team, many who have worked for a La Fenice for many years. The team at La Fenice, both the Kitchen and Service team love our history and are very proud to work at La Fenice. We are a family here.
Vacay.ca: What does your restaurant mean to the Italian community? Also, what impact has La Fenice introducing different fans from other walks of life to a love of Italian cuisine?
Fosco: The Italian community has a great deal of respect for La Fenice and see us as a truly authentic Italian kitchen. We know we’re getting it right when we are told by customers that the meal they enjoyed at La Fenice was just as great (and sometimes better) as their experience in Italy. Or when our Italian customers tell us that the meal reminded them of their mothers or grandmothers cooking. For an Italian, that’s a real compliment.
Keeping our menu Regional Italian and using the Italian names for our menu items is a great experience for customers especially when they are interested in the Italian cultural experience.
Vacay.ca: I found the Antipasti menu as outstanding as the main course.One thing I loved about your menu is that it is authentic Italian cuisine. So Italian in fact that our waiter had to explain a couple things to us! Can you talk about your approach to food and discuss how you are able to keep your dishes authentic in an ever-changing and demanding market like Toronto.
Fosco: Our approach is simple, we don’t try to re-invent the wheel so to speak. In our industry, the everchanging demanding market creates a perceived need to modernize the classics. At La Fenice, we do the opposite, a classic dish is always prepared, in its traditional manner, and we always delve into the history books to seek out the classics and forgotten traditions. We stay true to the classics. Chef Rocco prepares many daily specialties which may showcase more modern twists on Italian dishes or to showcase modern Italian trends, but the core menu stays true to its roots. We don’t want mediocre menu selections and as Luigi always said “Every dish needs to Sing a Song”.
Vacay.ca: I know you won’t like this question, but what are your favourite menu items items?
Fosco: I would have to say our Grilled Fish. The Branzino and the Orata are a classic example of our style of using the freshest ingredients along with meticulous preparation to bring out the true flavours. And our pasta’s, they’re all great! I especially recommend the slow simmered ragu’s, they always remind me of my father.
Vacay.ca: What’s next for La Fenice?
Fosco: Another 35 years would be awesome!
Photos Courtesy La Fenice.
MORE ABOUT LA FENICE
Address: 319 King St W