416-979 9918 | $3.25 - $22 tapas, $32 paella
Over the last few months I’ve really been meaning to head up to St. Clair and visit Cava. This is definitely a destination restaurant because you’ll NEVER find it by wandering by. It’s tucked in a little strip mall just north of the intersection: you need to be looking to locate it.
My friend suggested it a few months ago, the menu looked terrific, and they had me at chipotle-caramel popcorn. Thankfully, Chef Chris McDonald volunteered for Dish Duel and gave me the perfect reason to make the trip.
The long tapas menu here is decked out with things you’d hope to find: ceviche, jamon, papas fritas, romesco, chorizo, chimichurri, chipotle, paella and the list goes on. Thankfully, all of these things are incorporated into some really interesting dishes that will give you a supremely hard time being selective.
Of course, you need to start with popcorn. Not sure why, but it’s served in a clamp that attaches to rod which is stuck into a hole in your table (above). I don’t get it either, but it works all the same. Either way, you gotta love caramel corn and the subtle heat the develops in your throat a few handfuls in is really nice.
Next we had the beet salad with kale currants and monforte toscano cheese (above). Tasty all-around with sweet beets and kurrents, bit of kale and pepper to keep it even keel. Little oily for our taste, but not a big deal.
Next we had two dishes in ramekins. The first was a cripsy-breaded eggplant (left) over warm tomatillo salsa with gooey queso freso and honey. This was delicious and covered with bonito flakes that added a little wow factor (they move when they’re hot, looks like something’s alive on your dish). It’s got all the textures you could want and has an addictive quality. Only thing, neither of us could find the honey to save our lives.
The second, a salt cod cake (right) surrounded by peppers and topped with a chipotle cream. This was one of the simpler dishes of the night, with very familiar Spanish flavours. The salt cod inside gave it a bit of chewy texture that you may not love, but you’ll get over it because it’s tasty.
There’s the Dish Duel dish above: seared sea scallops with smoked parsnip purée, french lentils in sherry vinaigrette and dulse powder. All I’ll say is wow. Can check out the full description on Feb 18 when voting opens for the first round.
This cauliflower dish above with Moroccan spices, squash, dates and saffron was also addictive. I’m a sucker for these flavours and cleaned the plate as evidence.
Last, but not least, for the savoury plates was the veal sweetbreads over radicchio and poblano-chile salad with walnut vinaigrette. KILLER. DISH. The sweetbread’s tasted like juicy chicken, but with more tender texture. The inclusion of poblanos in the salad is genius and the acid and nuttiness from the vinaigrette works really well. I think they also could have nominated this for Dish Duel and had a legit shot.
For dessert, Cava’s menu is unconventional. Not only is there your conventional desserts (ice creams, cakes, tarts, etc.) but there’s a chocolate and cheese pairing section. Naturally, this adventurous dessert menu comes from neighboring XOCOCAVA (below), the specialty sweets shop located right beside Cava.
The ice cream dish we ordered (right) was a combination of vanilla and black current scoops, with a ginger sauce and peanut brittle. Two highlights: black current ice cream and peanut brittle. I’d buy both if they sold them (…they probably do actually).
Then I did something risky and ordered a pairing: dark chocolate with rosemary and black walnut paired with blue cheese (top left). It sounds weird I know. I can’t say it was awesome so much as it was pleasantly strange and not for everyone. The first thing you taste is blue cheese, but then it slowly gets taken over by chocolate and mellows out at the end. If there’s rosemary or walnut there, you won’t find it under the other two dominant flavours. For $5, it’s a cool experience though.
Also, a quick comment on the wine menu: it’s enormous. I’m not a connoisseur of Spanish wine, but if I were, I’d probably have written the whole review about it.
Service and Ambience
We went on a Thursday and every seat was full by 8:00pm. You definitely need a reservation near the end of the week. It’s not a very big space inside, but that reinforces the lively tapas bar feel. A funny thing in the room: the row of stone noses at the back corner table (where those folks are sitting in the pic below).
Photo Credit: Food Junkie Chronicles
Service was great throughout, despite the fact the place was packed. Our servers were really friendly, water refills were always around, and the food never lagged from the kitchens. Really enjoyed the whole experience.
Is this my new favourite restaurant of any kind in Toronto? Yes. I wouldn’t rave about everything I ate, but it’s hard not to marvel at most of it. The concept is fun, the ingredient combinations are clever, and the menu has a ton of revisit value. I wanna go back.
Posted by: Jacob, Visited Feb 9, 2012