Review:Toronto:Midtown:Cava

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.

Must

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.

Warm Olives ($2.95)
Warm Olives ($2.95)

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.

Venison Anticucho ($12.50)
Venison Anticucho ($12.50)

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.

Eggplant with queso fresco, honey and tomatillo ($9.75)
Eggplant with queso fresco, honey and tomatillo ($9.75)

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.

Swiss chard gratin with manchego and a poached egg ($9.50)
Swiss chard gratin with manchego and a poached egg ($9.50)

Maybe

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).

Salt cod cake with piperade and chipotle crema ($12.75)
Salt cod cake with piperade and chipotle crema ($12.75)

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.

Cauliflower and kabocha squash tagine with medjool dates and  Spanish saffron  ($9.50)
Cauliflower and kabocha squash tagine with medjool dates and Spanish saffron ($9.50)

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.

Brussel sprouts with black garlic ($8.95)
Brussel sprouts with black garlic ($8.95)

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 lemon-pistachio baked alaska with saffron pepper cake and sherry poached pears ($12)
The lemon-pistachio baked alaska with saffron pepper cake and sherry poached pears ($11)

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.

Coconut pineapple clafouti with sea buckthorn sorbet ($12)
Coconut pineapple clafouti with sea buckthorn sorbet ($12)

Mundane

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.

My Take

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.

Cava on Urbanspoon

Advertisements

Fare..Eat..Ales Predictions of 2013 Food Trends.

Each year sees a shift in the direction of the restaurant industry.  I’m going to take a chance and speculate on what food trends will start or continue  in the Toronto dining scene  in 2013. Feel free to agree, disagree or suggest your own trends by commenting here, voting in the poll or tweeting #2013tofoodtrends.

1. Ramen Rage

Arguably the biggest craze in 2012, noodle houses will continue to appear like Starbucks and Subways in the coming months.  Given the versatility of this noodle dish, I suspect new variations will emerge and will not be limited to ramen restaurants  alone.  I expect the big chains and even the small fusion eateries and food trucks to join the ramen rage in some way, shape or form.

2. Offal Offerings

Black hoof has gained international exposure for its offal menu with thumbs up from celebrity chefs including Anthony Bourdain during his lay over visit and  Richard Blais’  endorsement on his list of favorite restaurants on Urbanspoon.  Adaptations of  the nose to tail concept have been adapted by many eateries, even including  a beginner’s lesson in offal  at Skin and Bones in Leslieville. This concept will continue to flourish given the surge in responsible eating as well as those seeking the adventure of multiple organ consumption.

3. In a Jar

I’m not referring to the traditional strawberry jam, pickled cucumber and mango chutney here.  In efforts to use more local ingredients throughout the year, preserving is gaining popularity.  Local and seasonal cranberries, tomatoes, peppers and tree fruit can be used year round when processed into sweet or savory condiments to compliment meats and even cocktails.  Savory and briny condiments are definitely in.  One of the best dishes I had in 2012 was a pickle tray at Sidedoor in Ottawa and it only makes sense that these creative, unique and in many cases  relatively inexpensive foods are housemade to complement  menus and blackboards in 2013.

4. Eat Street

Despite strict downtown by-laws and less than favourable year round weather, Toronto is catching up with other large metropolitan centres regarding  the presence of food trucks offering anything from smoked meats to tacos to cupcakes. More and more private businesses and fundraisers are seeing the potential in these nomadic sculleries as an awareness raising tactic. In addition,  the low overhead, creative license and geographical flexibility are appealing to restauranteurs, ensuring that the fleet of food trucks will continue to grow.

5. Carrying the Torch

The chef’s blowtorch is a cooking method which has typically been reserved for creme brulee and more recently sushi.  The ease of use and aesthetic properties of charred food could expand the use of this handy tool to other areas of food preparation.  Vegetables, cervices, meringues, terrines and even fois gras could be meliorated with a quick singe  of the blue flame.

6. Mexican Mania

Tacos were the rave of 2012 with the success of Grand Electric and  La Carnita taco-heavy menu. Burrito Boyz, Mucho Burrito and Burrito Bandidos are lunchtime and late night hotspots.  Baja fish tacos adorn almost every chain restaurant’s lunch and dinner menu.  Modernized twists on tasty tostadas, multifarious moles and piquant pozole will expand beyond the traditional taquerias, making Mexican fare one of the hot ethnic cuisines across the board in 2013.

7. Soul Train

Soul food has just gotten started.  The success of Barque, Stockyards and new additions such as AAA combined with the Hogtown and Urban Smoke food trucks have put pulled pork and brisket on the must eat food map.  Look for  southern food to dominate  in 2013 with the expansion of  southern-influenced mainstays such as shrimp and grits, collard/mustard greens, gumbos and maybe even a crayfish or two.

8.  Snack Time

Tastebud teasers  including  spiced nuts and other savory snacks have been a complimentary mainstay of bars and taverns for years.  It seems this concept has crossed into the dining room, with a snack menu available offering munchable morsels, such as warm olives at Patria and Campagnolo, even before the appetizers arrive.   In particular, popcorn is gaining popularity, providing a blank slate for various flavors including  truffle at Origin and chipotle-caramel at Cava,

9. Comfort Zone

It appears chefs have dusted off  their old copies of  “They Joy of Cooking” and “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.  A return to comfort food is an emerging trend. In 2012,  coq au vin was a staple at Richmond Station and Trevor Kitchen. Chicken Pot Pies were  being baked up traditionally  at C5 and with fois gras gravy at Reds Wine Tavern.  Fried chicken is half the menu at Paulette’s and is available for two at County General.  Old school bourguignon and gamy stews are emerging elsewhere.  Expect a cornucopia of European inspired comfort food in 2013, complete with the use of fresh meats and seafood, rich sauces and homemade, flaky pastries.

10. Icy Indulgence

Frozen desserts have become a common default dessert item for many big name chefs, especically those with a aversion to baking.  Working on the notion that frozen sugar and milk fat make anything taste better,  unique flavours have been incorporated into ice creams, sorbets and gelatos alike.  Whether it be savory flavours such as thyme or balsamic vinegar, sweetness through the use of commercial sodas or fruit nectars or incorporation of tart flavours like yuzu, a good ice cream maker and imagination is all that’s needed for this trend to blow wide open.

What do you think?  Answer the poll and add your comments.  Multiple answers are acceptable!