WB and I are procrastinators. Sometimes it gets the better of us. But sometimes it leads us to things we wouldn’t have discovered if we had things our way in the first place. For our anniversary in Toronto, WB and I wanted to eat at Scaramouche, consistently rated at the top of Toronto’s best restaurants list. But then we forgot to make reservations until the night before. Predictably, it was all booked on a Saturday night.
So instead, we found Cava, a restaurant serving up Spanish-inspired small plates that has also earned good ratings. Despite its meaty menu (above), it had a surprising number of vegetable-based options. And its website claims its dedication to “sustainable and ethical ingredients,” and “nose-to-tail” cooking.
In attempt to give our restaurant reviews a little structure, I am introducing a new system. And so, Wandergirl and Wanderboy present to you:
THE WANDERLUSTKIND RESTAURANT REVIEW METHOD: CAVA
Who: Wandergirl and Wanderboy
What: Spanish-inspired tapas and small plates
When: August 25, 2012
Where: Toronto, Ontario
Why: Our first anniversary celebration
Ambiance: It’s a small restaurant and was busy, but not so noisy as to inhibit conversation. It was trendy and welcoming, but getting to the washroom was a bit awkward due to its proximity to the kitchen and the corridor through which food is brought. There were almost a few disastrous collisions.
Service: Our waiter was friendly and experienced, though for some reason I felt a bit condescended to. I have this weird insecurity about dining anywhere classier than a Kelsey’s though, and always feel like the waiter is judging my tastes and my wallet. I think this is probably my own paranoia. Anyway, he was helpful and attentive, we always had water and wine, and we were happy and gave him a good tip.
Wine: There was a large wine list. We went for something Spanish and red to fit with the theme. I just hate how expensive wine is at restaurants, because I imagine the spectacular bottle I could have bought at the LCBO for the same price. But such is life. It was a nice wine, fairly robust, and I imagine would go well with most of the menu if it went well with vegetables and seafood.
Food: The food was excellent. It was inventive and thoughtful, with quality ingredients. It was not only delicious, but fun to eat, which is what we look for in a dining experience. We can make yummy ordinary food at home. Out, we want something different, and Cava obliged. We were very happy and very full, and the food itself provided plenty of conversation for the length of the dinner. I make it sound like after one year of marriage we don’t have anything else to talk about. But, you know, it’s fun to talk about something besides unemployment and who’s turn it is to do the dishes.
Favourite dish: We unanimously agreed the edamame bruschetta with grilled green onion, Moroccan olives, and anchovy-garlic scape dressing was surprisingly amazing. If you swapped the vinaigrette – perhaps with some sundried or roasted vegetable-based dressing – it would be exquisite proof that vegetarian food can be intriguing, morish, satisfying, filling, and inventive. The grilled green onions were so good. This was smoky and tangy and comforting; not quite what we expected from such a combination of modest ingredients.
WB also really liked the smoked octopus anticucho with purslane and hot bacon vinaigrette (I didn’t have any):
WB says: This was really smoky. I can’t tell if it was from the octopus alone, or the bacon added to it. Though it didn’t taste like bacon – or any other kind of smoked meat. It also was unlike any other form of octopus I’ve had, and I’d recommend it even to people who aren’t sure about octopus. It was really tender and didn’t have any of the chewiness normally associated with octopus. It was delicious!
Least favourite dish: the corn tamal with wild mushrooms. The plum sauce was yummy, but the tamal itself was pretty bland, without any of the exciting and unexpected flavours we saw though the rest of the meal. Maybe if the corn to mushroom ratio was perfected (there was far too much corn tamal and not enough mushroom taste) it would be better. It wasn’t bad, we just wouldn’t recommend it.
Most interesting dish: Flavour-wise, they almost all had interesting aspects. But the dried tuna flakes on top of the eggplant were most intriguing. I don’t really get how they went with the rest of the dish, and they didn’t really taste like anything to me, but as they sat on top of the piping hot eggplant they waved about in the steam in a fashion that looked most life-like, and they didn’t really stop until the plate was removed from our table. It was kind of creepy, kind of funny.
Price: $160 for two people: 7 small plates (plus a cone of popcorn), one of the cheapest bottles of wine ($40), tax, and tip. Plates range from $2.95 for a dish of olives to $30 for charcuterie. They also serve a two-person paella at $32/person.
Worth it? Yes. For a fun, upscale dining experience and an utterly filling and interesting meal, it was a very good deal. Especially considering that over a quarter of the bill was just wine and liquor tax, and another portion was tip, the food itself is well worth it.
Tips: Pass on the corn tamal. And wear your glasses when going to the washroom – otherwise you might collide head-on with a waiter. There’s also an option at the bottom where they will just cook for you instead of you ordering every individual plate, which could be really fun. After eating the food and seeing the service’s knowledge, I’d feel perfectly safe going this route.
Overall: We recommend this place, and would go again! Tapas is a fun way to eat, as you get to try so many different and new things. The food was delicious, the service welcoming, and the ambiance laid-back but classy. We enjoyed our drawn-out meal discussing what was on our plates and discovering new flavours. I think tapas and small plates is a new, hip trend for dining, and I’m totally on board.
Summarized in three words: Fun. Interesting. Relaxed.
Out of five stars: ****
Where it lost a star: It’s not so much that it “lost” a star, but that we reserve the fifth star for truly spectacular restaurants that blew us away. For reference, we’d probably give Kyodai, the sushi bar in Porto, five stars simply for its ingenuity and intimate dining experience, on top of the excellent food.
1560 Yonge Street, Toronto
+1 (416) 979-9918
$3-30 for small plates; $40+ for bottles of wine