After seeing an unusually high percentage of new restaurants open in Toronto over the past couple of years with menus built around a rustic Italian theme – think the simple country cuisine found throughout Tuscany – and a boom in quality quick eats like tacos, the city has recently seen several Spanish kitchens launch. Some have menus built around tapas, the small savory plates of food found in wine bars throughout Spain. And some of Toronto’s recent crop of Spanish restaurants focus on full meals.
Carmen Cocina Espanola falls somewhere in between. The restaurant was opened in spring 2013 by the team behind popular Kensington Market restaurant Torito Tapas Bar. Like Torito, Queen Street West’s Carmen features a long list of both hot and cold Spanish tapas, including traditional and more modern creations. You’ll find such dishes as tortilla (the potato omelet found throughout Spain), the famous Jamon Iberico ham, shrimps grilled with garlic and spiked with chili, a deconstructed gazpacho salad and compressed watermelon paired with cured ham chips.
Those with bigger appetites can also enjoy the restaurant’s selection of paellas, the Spanish rice dish cooked to order and served in a giant pan to be shared among groups. Paella Carmen includes shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops, chorizo sausage, chicken and saffron. Or try Paella de Montana, which mixes rabbit, snails and artichokes into a rice dish flavoured with tempranillo wine.
To wash down all those great Spanish flavours, sangria is available by the glass, as is a selection of about a dozen wines from Spain and Argentina.
Owner Veronica Laudes and chef Luis Valenzuela have established Torito as a culinary hit in Kensington Market, and the early buzz on Carmen Cocina Espanola suggests the demand for well-prepared Spanish food isn’t about to fade soon in Toronto.