Vela (Toronto)

I keep reading about the staffing shortage in Toronto, especially amongst the hospitality industry, where people have supposedly changed careers to find a role that has better hours, more stable pay, better growth prospects, etc. Vela doesn’t seem to suffer from this problem, three individuals checked in on us throughout dinner service. Their front-of-the-house and open-faced kitchen seemed stacked with individuals, no shortage here!

Firstly, to quickly sum up the experience - the meal was exquisite. The albacore tuna crudo ($21) arrived in huge chunks rather than the 1/3-inch slices generally found at other restaurants… a surprisingly generous portion of fish. Tossed with a dashi soy vinaigrette, crispy shallots, and compressed cucumbers, the dish certainly has Asian influences, which made the fried rice crackers an appropriate pairing with the crudo. Still, the tuna was so fresh and meaty that it tasted equally delicious solo.

The burrata ($24) may look typical, but the pistachio pesto provided such an interesting savory bite against the cool creamy cheese, with the nuts giving it a bit of texture. Plenty of figs and grapes were strewn throughout to add sweetness. If anyone remembers the iconic burrata from Campagnolo, this is in the same realm of deliciousness.

Of all the starters, the beef tartare ($18) was probably the most traditionally prepared. The meat was finely chopped and mixed with mayo, pickled shimeji (a tiny, sweet mushroom), and other spices. I liked that it wasn’t overly salty allowing the umami of the shaved truffles and parmesan to shine through.

We were already off to a good start and then the mains blew me away. Vela doesn’t skimp on the truffles in the truffle rigatoni ($40), the prized fungi mixed with chewy fresh pasta and just enough mushroom duxelles cream sauce for flavour without becoming overly saturated. Having dishes family style is best as the pasta was huge and being so rich would be a lot for one person.

The Nova Scotia halibut ($45) seemingly was poached in an infused broth as even the centre of the thick fish was tasty on its own. The herb beurre blanc is a traditional sauce to pair with the halibut but was augmented with a spicy stewed potato that added a burst of zeal that the meaty fish needed. Who knew, maybe halibut goes better with a chili sauce.

Even the flatiron steak ($35) was impressive, cooked to a calibre I’d expect from a steakhouse. The kitchen likely uses a reverse sear method to prepare the beef, starting off low-and-slow as the inside was cooked evenly and hot throughout. The caramelization of the outside was done ever so lightly allowing the lean cut of beef to remain tender. A bit of finishing salt rounded out the steak and was the ideal saltiness. Oh, and don’t get me started on the French fries, they are so crispy and flavourful rivaling the duck fat French fries from Beer Bistro that I love.

Food aside, what also makes Vela standout is the down-to-earth nature of the restaurant. The posh environment could seem too fancy and stuffy, but the warm greeting from the host and friendliness of other staff members really puts the diner at ease. Even quippy descriptions in the menu such as what was listed with the steaks help, “You all know what you like. Feel free to order blue, rare, medium rare, medium, medium-well, well-done, or burnt to a crisp. Live your best life!”

Vela’s huge dining room with white floors and walls could have become a starkly modern environment. Yet, if felt cozy with the dim lights, warm temperature, and dreamy white ceiling lights that reminded me of hazy clouds. There was even live jazz music playing on Tuesday, which really got me into a chill mood and had me ordering a third cocktail, despite it being the beginning of the work week. Vela just makes you comfortable with its atmosphere and their fabulous food. Live your best life indeed. 

Overall mark - 9 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 90 Portland Street

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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