A1 AUTOSTRADA RISTORANTE
3255 Rutherford Rd.,
If cruising into A1 Autostrada provides you with an adrenalin rush, the effect is intentional. Named after an Italian motorway and located alongside Highway 400 just north of Toronto, the 160-seat restaurant and bar with a wine list of more than 300 labels can send the senses into overdrive.
Suggesting a road race at midnight, the high-octane interior by Toronto design firm II by IV features chrome and glass accents, funky orange lighting and walls lined with glossy black subway tile. Seating upholstered in shades such as traffic light green and Maserati blue enliven the darker corners. "I wanted to bring downtown uptown," general manager Fernando Temudo, formerly of The Fifth and Bistro 990, says of his current pit stop, which isn't far from the Vaughan Mills shopping centre.
Appropriately enough, A1 Autostrada's signature cocktail, created by Temudo, is called the Pitstop. A super-caffeinated concoction combining Hennessy Black cognac with Coke and a shot of espresso, the drink can be enjoyed along with the restaurant's authentic Italian cuisine either as an aperitif or a nightcap.
Continuing the automotive theme, the menu includes at least one dish from each of the regions intersected by the Autostrada that runs from Naples to Milan.
From the north comes such fare as risotto ($21) and braised rib with lentils ($24). From the south is a grilled octopus appetizer ($14) and pizza made fresh on the premises in large wood-burning ovens ($14).
Also on the price-conscious menu are home-cured salume, many of them made in-house by the father of Luigi Becatti, co-owner of the restaurant with Joey Genova, whose own mother makes the hand-made amaretti available for dessert.
"The journey begins and ends ... with Italian cooking as it was made through the generations," Becatti says. "This is about restoring the cuisine to its roots."
The Pitstop - "a drink with the drive built into it," as Temudo puts it - simply makes that trip a little more fun.
1 1/2 ounces Hennessy Black cognac
1 shot espresso
Cocoa for garnish
Combine cognac and espresso over ice in a rocks glass. Stir. Top with Coca-Cola and sprinkle with cocoa.