GianPaolo Testa believes that the flavours of food should speak for themselves. He believes in simplicity above all else, and his mindset takes the forefront of LARDO's ever-growing but stable menu. "The ethos here is that it's quality over quantity," he says. "It's very difficult sometimes to reserve your hand or your palate to only four or five items. But that's sometimes isn't the best way to go about things. Because what happens is, if you put too much, it gets lost."
LARDO started as a sandwich shop and purveyor of Italian imported goods, but recently expanded to include a small, dine-in space where guests can sit at a high bar that lines the walls and enjoy pastas, meat dishes, sandwiches and wine in a casual, friendly atmosphere reminiscent of Italy in the 1950s. Open for dine-in for both lunch and dinner, LARDO also offers a private dining experience at a farmhouse table in a separate room. Inside that room, all of the furniture fits the theme and is available for purchase, so the vibe both changes and stays the same.
But it's not supposed to feel like you're going for dinner at Nonna's house. This isn't something you can have every Sunday, though the concept of slow-cooking and preparing dishes with love stays the same. LARDO, Testa says, is a more refined dining experience. "I wanted to be very elevated. When people come here, I want them to feel as though they're at my house, because this is an extension of my house. I'm not going to host a dinner party--we're not going have people for dinner if I'm not going to give them the best possible version of what I can do."
Testa went to school for journalism originally, but his love of food took over. His passion is evident in the dishes he serves, including a unique twist on beloved burrata, which is served with vegetables, fruit and a unique, crunchy topper. "I like radicchio. That bitter flavor is something that I've always enjoyed. And then sweetness of the plums, it fits really nice," he says. "And often times you do get crostini or bread with your burrata, but we elected to go with something a little bit different, a rosemary crumble. It's just essentially bread crumbs, but cut with a knife rather than a food processor. So there's more of a three dimensional crunch to it."
He also opted to add a classic beef tartare to the menu, making a traditional French dish his own by adding some Anaheim chillies and using the egg in a unique way: You often find it sitting on top of the tartare, but we dehydrate it," he says. "We cover it with a bunch of salt, sugar, herbs and spices. Once the yolk is firm, we take it out, rinse it and we have it just grated on top. So it looks kind of like cheese or something along those lines, but it isn't."
The pasta on the menu rotates frequently, but the bolognese version will remain a staple on the menu for a while. On this dish, the sauce is the focal point, both because it's made with really good tomatoes, but also because the cooking process is slow and methodical, made with love and passion--and a lot of time. "It's cooked over a four or five hour period. And then we actually let it sit for a few days, because the flavour does change," Testa says. "The complexity changes and it gets more condensed."
"The approach that I'm taking to these four walls is that we're kind of like our own little sufficient ecosystem," Testa says. "Everything that we offer--in our front display case, on the retail side--are all things that we incorporate into the menu, the steak being a great example."
Served with a potato pavé instead of a traditional mashed or roasted version, this dish is easier to eat and focused more on the olive oil and butter that compliments the steak rather than a crispy alternative that's main purpose is to fill the stomach. These potatoes are more thoughtful, served with a consciously selected cut of steak that's popular with LARDO's takeaway crowd.
As the menu progresses, Testa is including a selection of crostini, with different toppings served on thick slices of Blackbird sourdough. One of the iterations includes a cannelini bean puree with a bouquet of herbs and spices. "We blend half very roughly, and we fold in whole beans that are still intact. So it adds a different dimension to the to the consistency of the puree on top. And then we top it with rendered down nduja," he explains. The loose, southern Italian sausage adds even more dimension and flavour thanks to its high fat content, rounding out a menu that's full of flavour with a deliberately limited selection of high-quality ingredients.