Monday, September 08, 2014

Serendipity in the form of Tapas - Portland Variety Café

Brandade - Portland Vareity Cafe - Toronto
We don't get out to nicer places as we used to.  In Vancouver we were out upto 4x a week. With two kids under 3, it's alot to ask of a grannie nou nou.  In any case, when opportunity comes knocking, we make it happen.  We got Gala tickets to TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) this past weekend so I decided to make us dinner reservations at a Susur Lee restaurant too.  Madness I know.   What restaurant even remotely near TIFF would have tables available on a Saturday night right?  Well, not many.  So I booked at Bent, the sons' restaurant a bit further away.  We love the food there.  That said they had changed the menu and D was disappointed when I told him.  But in the end it didn't matter because our Movie ran longer than we had anticipated with the speeches from TIFF, the director and the primary actors.  We stood out on the busy King Street TIFF zone at a loss of what to do.  We wandered over to Lee, hoping for bar seats.  They were full for another half hour even at the bar so we decided that we'd try the other restaurants on that intersection and if nothing, we'd head home to a west end place.  Valdez was full and Buca had already gone too bar-ey.  We stumbled into Portland Variety because it looked the least busy.  That said they were packed but the least packed.   I was unarmed with reviews or writeups.  In fact, when the hostess sat us at a last minute, early departure, and she asked how we heard of them, I said, honestly, we stumbled out of TIFF without a plan.

Garlic Shrimp in Pil Pil - Portland Variety Cafe - Toronto
We took a peak at the menu before being seated in case it was an all steak or charcuterie place that I would not stay for.  It was tapas.  Now, if you're a regular reader, you'll know a couple of things about me and Tapas.  1. I lived in Spain for over 2 years so I know a thing or two about Tapas. 2. I am annoyed by Western restaurants over charging for small plates under the hospices of Tapas.  The second is particularly irksome because it goes against the very spirit of Tapas.  Yes you can get expensive food in Spain but it is very high end and usual the size of a substantial main and you aren't paying for Pan con Tomate.  But when you charge high end prices for what should be casual fare.. booo and then list yourself as moderately priced because each dish is less than a 'real' main, I'm going to be bothered.  I call it 'Tapa' fatigue.  That said, it wasn't a charcuterie so we stayed because I was starving.  Glad we did.  I stayed when I saw Cassava fries on the menu.

Cassava (Yucca) Fries - Portland Variety Cafe - Toronto
More South Am than spanish, but we honeymooned in Ecuador and Cassava or Yucca was everywhere next to corn so Yummo!  We sped ordered, the guy came over to say hello and I shot four orders at him.  It was so busy that I thought it was the best thing to do.  Yucca came first.  It was piping hot, a tad on the dry side and there was no dipping sauce. Still overall, good but could have done with an Aioli or something.  Next came the grilled Artichokes which I have not seen done properly since Barcelona and still haven't.  They were the size of halve ping pong balls and under seasoned.  Served hot, which I'm always happy about in a place where I'm worried that because of the crowds, things may sit too long at the pass.  They did not.  Still, it was a meagre plate, so I started to worry.  Then came the Garlic Shrimp in Pil Pil sauce.  OUTSTANDING.  I mean OUTSTANDING.  I have not been that please with a dish in a restaurant for years.  The flavours, the spice were great and the Shrimp where cooked perfectly.  We were sopping up the oil with the bread, which we had to go out of our way to ask for.  D had half a Cornish Hen with Piri Piri sauce.  He dipped his fork in the sauce and smiled.  We'd recently had some bad store bought Piri Piri and this was miles above.  We will never touch that jar again.  As his Hen arrived I noted the table nearby received their Marrow.  Now I am not a fan by any stretch of the imagination but D is and he rarely gets to have it.  It was a nice portion cut along the length and I told D he should order it but thankfully, our server did say it would take a while and knowing we had not alot of time, we decided to wait for next time.  Our last dish was the Brandade which we make very well from scratch at home.  We scraped every molecule from the bowl.  It was very good.  It wasn't overly Potatoey, which lots of restaurants do to 'stretch' the saltcod.  It was piping hot.  Our meal was eaten with a decent Garnacha.  They ran out of glasses so we did wait abit.  That said, they had only opened a few months ago so perhaps a bit ill prepared for the TIFF onslaught.  I saw a table outside had ordered the Patatas Bravas and they looked delicious.  I know already, what I'll be ordereding next time.

Cornish Hen with Piri Piri - Portland Variety Cafe - Toronto
Now, I have no idea why this place is called Portland Variety except for the 1890s style aprons and bowties on the servers.  But the food was excellent, service congenial and we'll be back.  I enjoyed the Tapas here more than Patria which we visited a few months ago.

Empty Brandade - Portland Variety Cafe - Toronto
Food: Fantastic
Price: $$$-$$$$ (higher if you order a proper main)
Ambiance: modernised deli upfront and typical King West buzzy in back.
Wine: Decent selection, could use more by glass variety since tapas
Service: kind, helpful, happy to help
Family friendly: maybe during the day, tables far too close together but bathrooms are on ground level!!!

Portland Variety Café
King West
587 King St W
Toronto, ON M5V1M5

Portland Variety Cafe on Urbanspoon