As the Novella team sipped on a red wine chosen by Executive Chef of Levetto, Shahir Massoud, we were deciding whether to get the delicious Carbonara or the mouthwatering Bucatini pasta. During this time, Massoud joked around with us, struck up conversations with Levetto’s regulars and created a down to earth atmosphere while people enjoyed their food. It was in that moment we understood the success of the restaurant, which opened its fourth location in Liberty Village.
The New York trained Egyptian chef explained Levetto’s unique quality, “You know, the food, the price, style, the whole concept is unique,” gesturing to the menu which features several dishes under ten dollars. “There’s lots of good Italian food in the city, but not for this price. You can get a scratch made bowl of pasta, a couple beautiful salads, a Romana style pizza and we can get out of here for forty bucks without skimping on quality, without skimping on flavour. Everything is made in house.”
“A lot of people aren’t doing fresh pasta and a lot of people aren’t doing this style of pizza as well. Romano style is a finicky recipe. It’s about 90% water and most pizza dough is maybe 55% water. Over forty-five minutes, you gradually give the dough more water and fold in pockets of air, and then you get this delicious, soft and light crust.”
The choice to move into the up-and-coming Liberty Village was a conscious move by Massoud. The restaurant was designed by Toronto-based designer Henry Lin. After showing his successes in other regional markets, it was time to make the move downtown into the dense location with a different personality and community than that of his other restaurants. The Roman focused authentic Italian food, from spaghetti carbonara to the bucatini all’amatriciana, allows the guest to experience the cuisine’s different flavours.
“It’s not easy to train someone on how to make a simple dish like Carbonara properly,” he explains. “It could end up a nightmare. When I train someone to make a dish using rendered bacon fat, yolk, and some of the cooking water, they acquire the technique and the appreciation for the dish.”
Growing up, Massoud taught himself to cook through reading cookbooks and watching chefs he idolized, cultivating his love of food through his appreciation of the creation and what it means culturally to feast with others. Later in his twenties, he spent two years in New York training under a head chef. The first few months he was only allowed to prep vegetables, then later moved up to the protein station and eventually moved into the hot kitchen, where he was mentored in the skills he has now passed down to his Levetto staff. Massoud will change the menu according to location, season, and experimentation that the guests request.
“Actually later tonight, there’s a lady coming in named Nancy, and we named a salad after her,” he laughed.
Levetto’s name was ignited over a few glasses of wine and the playing around of words. “It started with the legend of Rome being founded by two wolves and the Roman word for wolf is lupa”, Massoud recalls. With the first location in Vaughn opened in September 2013, and three more last year – two in Waterloo in the former part of 2014 and Liberty Village this past December – Massoud is only looking forward to more restaurant openings in the GTA with the fifth restaurant set to open at College and Dovercourt next month.
Novella recommends trying out the Carbonara pasta (smoked bacon tossed in cracked black pepper with egg, scallion and grana padano). Then for dessert, you must ask for his warm brown butter and coconut semolina cake with pistachio, a secret recipe passed down from his Egyptian grandmother.
Show us what you had at Levetto by tagging us @novellamag and @levettoresto with your favourite dish and follow Chef Shahir Massoud @shahirmassoud.