Cava is midtown Toronto’s answer to Spanish tapas. Tucked down a small alley off of Yonge street, Cava offers a modest but comfortable environment featuring a plentiful array of over 30 menu options. For the most part it errs on the traditional side, offering tapas dishes reminiscent of the mother land. In addition, there a few twists, with choices reflective of the current Toronto dining scene. It has received a number of accolades including number 5 on Joanne Kates’ 2012 top 100 list.
For a guy who normally does not like olives, Cava surprised me. They were like candy. I can’t pinpoint if it was the temperature, the saltiness or the variety. but I found myself eating one after another. The price point was a very fair $3.
The venison anticucho ($12.50) with a warm red cabbage salad featured extremely tender cuts of well-seasoned meat on a a bed of red cabbage. Each morsel was cooked a perfect medium rare. It’s one of those dishes in which you only order one and after the first bite think you should or ordered two…or three…or four. It makes you want to break every rule of tapas etiquette; You keep the plate at close range and encourage everybody to eat everything else while you subtly eat the entire thing. The cabbage salad worked but I would use it as a diversion, offering it to the table and suggesting that it’s just as good as the entire venison skewer you just devoured.
Translation: Anticucho- Cut stew meat usually skewered and served with a variety of traditional spices.
The eggplant with queso fresco, honey and tomatillo ($9.75) was well constructed and well executed. Hints of the eggplant’s bitterness, sweetness of the honey, the tomatillo’s sourness and the salty richness of the cheese completely painted the tongue’s hotspots. If anything, it was a little rich but was balanced nicely otherwise.
Translation: Queso Fresco- A soft, unaged mild white cheese.
Swiss chard gratin with manchego and a poached egg ($9.50)? How can one go wrong? Actually..one could but Cava produced. The chard maintained its integrity despite being suspended within a plethora of cheese. The poached egg was perfectly cooked and vamped up the dish in a way only an egg yolk can. I recommend sharing this one given there are a lot of rich flavours and a few bites will suffice.
The salt cod cake with piperade and chipotle crema ($12.75) was solid. The salt in the cod was not overwhelming and the cake had adequate moisture and good texture. The tasty piperade was a bit messy and rather one-toned in flavour, missing a punch of heat or acid that might have helped the dish a bit.
Translation: Piperade- a Basque soup made with various ingredients usually including the Espelette pepper (a mild pepper cultivated in the part of France).
The cauliflower and kabocha squash tagine with medjool dates and Spanish saffron ($9.50) was a nice rendition of the middle eastern staple. None of the ingredients were overpowering and blended together for a medley of sweet, spice, sulphur and salt.
Translation: Kaboucha- a winter squash also referred to as a Japanese pumpkin.
The brussel sprouts with black garlic ($8.95) were tasty. Neither spectacular nor bland, the garlic was a nice change from the normal pork fat laden veggies served at most of the competing establishments.
The lemon-pistachio baked alaska with saffron pepper cake and sherry poached pears ($11) was as much a mouthful to eat as it is to say.That’s not to say it wasn’t a good mouthful. There is a bit of an art and science to eating this. The lemon is tart and needs the sweet meringue and the earthiness of the pistachio to round out the dish so a careful spoonful is needed to incorporate all the ingredients. The cake was slightly spicy and the saffron was not overpowering. The poached pears were wonderful by themselves but a bit of an odd addition to the plate from both a taste and visual appearance.
The coconut pineapple clafouti with sea buckthorn sorbet ($12) came with a 20 minute wait….I was given adequate warning. When it did arrive it appeared more like a souffle. It was fluffy and light with a wonderful mouth feel. The confusion came with the addition of the pineapple. Although it had a sweetness to it, the combination with the custard didn’t make sense, especially when topped with the acidic sorbet. The use of cherries or sweetened berries would have made this a near perfect dessert.
Translation: Clafouti- a french flan usually containing fruit.
Translation: Sea Buckthorn- a fruit similar to a gooseberry or cranberry grown in part of Europe, Asia and across Canada.
There was very little mundane about the food. It would have been nice, however, to have a cava-english dictionary to interpret some of the dishes. I was left to feel a bit inferior if I wasn’t clear on certain dishes, especially since there were creative liberties taken on many of the dishes offered (ie piperade and clafouti). Not that the service was bad, it was a bit pretentious.
On another note the food was fairly expensive. It’s amazing how quickly pricy tapas adds up. In addition, there were about half a dozen red and white wines by the glass. The minimum price for a 5 oz glass was $10 and went up to $25 for a 8 oz glass. This is not to say that the wine is not of a good quality, however it seems to be a bit of a gouge for somebody who simply wants a glass of wine (eg. $23 for an 8 oz glass of a wine which is $19/bottle). That being said, the bottles offer much more of a variety with a wider variety of price points.
Cava is a bit of a hidden treasure in midtown Toronto. It’s a cozy environment but clearly its focus is on the food. The large menu can be overwhelming as it is full of descriptions and definitions that are truly foreign to many. On the other hand, I could go back again and eat 8-10 different choices and be totally satisfied. I barely scratched the menu’s surface in that I didn’t order many of the traditional dishes (scallops, octopus, tripe and of course, paella) or the modern menu favorites (sweetbreads, brisket and sablefish). There are plenty of vegetarian choices which sometimes is an issue with other small plate establishments. The beer selection is scarce and wine by the glass choices are limited and on the pricy side. The desserts are served in a very shareable size and are an enterprise in creativity which offer extreme flavour and texture variations all within the same bite.
Translation: Go to cava, be decisive and bring your wallet….and your appetite.