Tapas restaurants are all the rage now, popping up around the world like Japanese izakayas did a decade ago. This phenomenon is happening in North America, the U.K, Mexico, Argentina, and Asia. In Spain, where they originated, tapas were tiny snacks used as a bridge between long lunches, from 1-4 pm, to late dinners, from 9-11 pm. Now, the portions are larger, shared by diners to become a full meal, and don’t even have to be Spanish. They can be Korean, Malaysian, or even Middle Eastern.
Tapa, originally meaning cover or lid, have been popular since the 18th century in Spain when they were served at no cost to travellers as a lid to protect their glasses of sweet sherry from fruit flies. The original tapas were a slice of bread or meat, speared with a toothpick. These salty treats increased thirst and increased sales of alcoholic drinks. A win-win situation to bar owner and traveller. Nowadays in Spain, tapas range from olives, Serrano ham, meatballs, and fried squid, to croquettes, empanadas, octopus, garlic prawns, and potatoes with spicy sauces. Gone are the toothpicks and sherry; in with the knives and forks, and a full array of fancy cocktails.
Why the current surge in popularity? Forty-four per cent of millennials spend their food dollars eating out, and they find meals of meat and potatoes boring. They are a well-travelled group who want more sophistication and variety in their food outings and prefer to spend their food dollars to taste the world.
So what are some of the newest and best examples of the variety of tapas in Toronto?
For a purely Spanish experience, Madrina shines. Located in the Distillery District’s main square, it has a 37-foot bar, open kitchen, terracotta tiles, and elegant ceramics and drawings. There’s a large outdoor patio with space heaters, and Spanish music that hits the perfect note with the food. The Chef, Ramon Simarro, is from Catalonia, and has worked at many Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe. The food is traditional but modern, and the extensive menu covers a wide range of Spanish dishes. Some standouts include: shrimp croquettes, bocata de calamares, grilled octopus, steak tartare served on roasted bone marrow, crab and avocado tortellini, patatas bravas, and atun rojo. The drink menu is extensive and includes sangria, cocktails, wines and beer.
Price: Dinner for two runs approximately $140 with a cocktail.
Location: 2 Trinity St.
Anyone for Korean tapas? Check out the new and creative Mezu Restaurant on Dundas West Street. Run by Executive Chef Donguk Sul, who formerly cooked at Mamakas and Momfuku, and partner Jay Jongseok Park, the menu is Korean-Canadian fusion small plates. The light and airy restaurant with an open kitchen has tables for 2, 4, and 6, as well as a sunny outdoor patio. Korean ingredients are prevalent but prepared with a twist. Their steak tartare is topped with chili, chives, sesame, and soy, and served with puffy seaweed chips; bulgogi is a marinated hanger steak, flavoured with soy, crispy garlic, scallions, and crunchy white kimchi; ssam, a lettuce wrap encloses tender pork belly and a Korean sauce and chimichurri sauce. Squid ink crispy haddock, fried smelts, arancini rice croquettes, whole crispy mackerel, albacore tuna, tender grilled octopus, and vegetable dishes round out the menu. Drinks include exotic cocktails, various beers, soju, and sake.
Price: Dinner for two is about $100 with drinks
Dinner: 1375 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON
For Malaysian tapas, there’s no place better than Soos, a family business on Ossington St. The food is a modern twist on Malaysian street food, combining the complex flavours of Malay and Nyonya cuisines. The menu is divided into small plates and larger plates. Some of the favourites from the small menu include chicken tacos (coconut cornmeal shells), served with carrot slaw, kaffir lime and topped with tzatziki, Sarawak pepper prawns, mango slaw, and flaky roti. Larger plates feature murtabak, meat-stuffed rotis with curry dip and garlic sauce, braised mushrooms with udon noodles, scallions, sesame, and green sauce, laksa, the Malaysian national dish, with chicken, shrimp, and tofu in a coconut milk broth spiced with chili, galangal, and lemongrass, and char kway teow, a charred rice noodle dish with shrimp and chives.
Price: There is a Feed Me menu, a large array of dishes at $40 per person. Dinner for two is approximately $90 with cocktails.
Location: 94 Ossington Ave
Which is your favourite restaurant to go for tapas? Let us know in the comments.
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