In a cold, rainy October night, what better way to stay warm at a Spanish tapas restaurant, and one of the mostly highly regarded ones in Toronto: Cava. The restaurant is inconspicuously situated in a small laneway north of St Clair on Yonge Street.
The atmosphere upon entering was great – candles were everywhere yet it was still very dark, but at the same time vibrant and energetic. The walk-ins in front of me were told that there was only space at the bar – the place was packed on a Friday night. I was seated at a cute corner table near the front of the restaurant. From there, I was able to watch staff at the bar hacking away at a pork leg on a Spanish Ham Stand, sufficiently dried out and getting to be pretty skinny.
I liked that the waiter offered tap water straight up as I find it can often be awkward when having to specify when they offer sparkling or still. He was also very knowledgeable of the wine list and helped us pick a “spicy, medium-bodied” red wine - perfect for this chilly night.
The list of tapas was rather long and intimidating. Since we both like to eat (or at least try) just about everything we decided to just “let them cook for us”, an intriguing proposition mentioned at the bottom of the menu. The waiter made sure we had no dietary restrictions. Nope, we were game for anything.
I had heard excellent things about the Cava Charcuteria ($17.50) and was eager to try it. We asked our server if he could include it in this line-up of dishes. It included Mortadella, Chorizo, Fois Gras Chicken Liver, and Orange Fennel Salumi. I wondered if any of the meats originally came from the pig leg on the ham stand I was eyeing earlier. They were all excellent; especially the Chorizo which had some fiery spices, and the chicken foie gras, which was light yet very rich. We also got a basket of bread alongside the cured meats.
While we were digging into the charcuterie plate and bread, the waiter brought Grilled Sardines Avalon ($12.50). The sardines were nice and mild - the hot peppers and olives accentuated them nicely. Probably would not have ordered this off the menu, especially considering they were $6.25 a pop.
Next was the Fresh Corn Tamal with Wild Mushrooms and Pasilla Chile-Wild Plum Sauce ($8.75). The tamal was not that great: dry and rather bland. It did not taste very fresh, as the name had suggested. The accompanying sauce was definitely more flavourful and was needed on the tamal.
One dish I had heard good things about here was Eggplant with Queso Fresco, Honey and Tomatillo Sauce ($9.75), and we were lucky to have received it. This dish did not disappoint. The eggplant was the highlight of the night. Eggplant is definitely tricky to cook and make tasty but they nailed it. It was well cooked, soft, oily but not overly so, and served hot. The quest fresco underneath the eggplant was awesome.
Next was a rather visually appealing plate: Smoked Octopus Anticucho with Wheat Berries, Celeriac and Dill ($13). This was another hit. The smokiness of the octopus definitely stood out. It was well cooked and not too chewy. The blend of celeriac and wheat beries underneath gave the dish a crunchy texture in contrast with the octopus. Presentation and taste were both great.
Next was a rather unusual dish: Veal Sweetbreads with Radiccio-Poblano Chile Salad and Walnut Vinaigrette ($22). These sweetbreads were a pleasant surprise. The taste and texture were good: soft and mild. I also enjoyed the raddicio salad: although naturally bitter, the walnut vinaigrette softened the taste.
Finally, we are presented with Rare Gilled Flatiron Steak with Patatas Bravas and Braised Artichokes ($24). The rare flatiron steak was good, not great. A bit too chewy and underseasoned. Nice presentation on this one as well.
The bill (including wine) came to just over $100 per person, which I thought was fair. We left very full, which is sometimes hard to achieve at a tapas restaurant at this price.
Service was excellent – our waiter was attentive, professional yet not pretentious. The selection of tapas was well chosen by our waiter. I would recommend the option of letting the staff choose for you; it was lots of fun to be surprised, dish-by-dish.
Overall a nice place and a fun experience. However, the food was not amazing enough to make me want to go back immediately. I was anticipating more exciting and bold flavours from the dishes. Some were underwhelming. Still, the tricky subjects were cooked nicely, and I have to give Cava full praise for those excellent dishes.