Showing posts with label paella. Show all posts
Showing posts with label paella. Show all posts

Tapagria Spanish Tapas Restaurant (Thornhill)

Dinner at Tapagria Spanish Tapas Restaurant happened on their patio, where they transformed the parking lot as much as possible by covering a section with AstroTurf, a tarp, and string lights. The simple tables weren’t fancy, but the ones found outside at restaurants in Barcelona aren’t either - try to block out the cars and imagine yourself surrounded by the historical architecture of Spain.

Perhaps think of it as being on La Rambla where it’s crowded, hectic, and there’s tons of kitschy things happening on the iconic street. And like a La Rambla restaurant, which is typically geared towards tourists, you’ll find an extensive menu of Spanish favourites at Tapagria: pintxos (small sandwich bites), tapas (different small dishes), larger sharing plates, and paella (a rice popular rice dish that is made to be shared).

While waiting the 45 minutes for a paella, it’s important to get a few small bites to tide the stomach over. The truffle paste and Manchego pintxos ($12) was a strongly flavoured bite with the truffle dominating against the delicate toast and the buttery cheese binding things together. It’s tasty but given its powerful flavour is best eaten last amongst the sandwiches.

Surprisingly, for something that’s cooked in fat the duck confit pintxos ($14) were a little dry. Tapagria puts a dollop of mango chutney on top - a nice pairing with the fowl – but there wasn’t much of the condiment, so it didn’t really hydrate or flavour much. Perhaps a drizzle along with a condensed red wine reduction would help to give this pintxo some pizazz.

I enjoyed the nice creamy texture of the jamon croquettas ($12) but found the varying pieces of ham mixed in them confusing – one bite included diced pieces, so it was almost like having a croquette with sweeter chorizo, while another had pulled pieces. Truthfully, I was expecting slivers of thinly sliced jamon to be ribboned amongst the silky potatoes. Nonetheless, the dish’s flavours were on point.

Still, the paella de Tapagria ($56) was the star of the show. It’s a creation that can’t be rushed as you want to let it sit until there’s a bit of a crust on the bottom. While it wasn’t covered with a lot of ingredients, there was enough shrimp, squid, clams, chorizo, and chicken to go with the shallow flavourful rice. Some reviews claim it’s too salty, but I found it be seasoned nicely and like the hint of chili that makes an appearance. 

The caramel flan ($12) was very thick, possibly from the Spanish recipe incorporating condensed milk compared to the whole milk that’s used in French crème caramel. It feels like you’re eating a cheesecake (without the cheese flavours) that’s covered in a thinned caramel sauce. While not necessarily terrible, I do prefer the delicate crème caramel consistency and will stick with the churros or Spanish toast next time.

The most important part of the meal is to just take your time with it … arguably this may be difficult with the one and a half hour seating limits, but during our dinner wasn’t actually enforced. It’s the conversation over sips of wine and bites of food that really creates the Spanish experience and that is well within your control.  

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Thornhill, Canada
 Address: 230 Commerce Valley Drive East

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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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CLOSED: A La Carte at the Gardiner (Toronto)

A La Carte at the Gardiner has been opened for almost two years, occupying the space from the former Jamie Kennedy restaurant. However, they’re not new to the block; they’ve been involved with catering at the Gardiner Museum, so if you’ve attended an event there you’ve likely tried their creations.  

Situated on the third floor, the space is wonderful with high ceilings and soaring windows overlooking University. Having reconfigured the dining room’s layout, the space is much larger with a bright airy feeling to it. With beautiful wooden floors, a baby grand piano and sculptures by the entrance, it’s comfortable, contemporary and elegant.

Their prices are surprisingly reasonable for their prime location. The charcuterie board arrives with cured ham, Calabrese salami, prosciutto, chicken terrine and plenty of accompaniments for only $14. So, even if you’re not in the mood for a meal, it’d be a great option for resting, a small bite and drinks after checking out the Museum’s exhibits (or any of the other tourist destinations in the area). With glasses of wine for $10 and cocktails at $12 it’s an affordable option.

The meat on the charcuterie was decent but what I enjoyed most was the house-made julienned pickled vegetables served with it. They’re vinegary and crunchy, a great way to start the meal. Along with cornichons (small French pickles), olives and toasted crostini this was a full and satisfying platter.

Despite the above, we couldn’t help but dig into the complimentary bread as well. It was accompanied with a great za'atar spice mixture which had a chili, citrusy and savoury essence to it.

I have a love-hate relationship with paella – love the Westernized versions but still acquiring the taste for those I’ve tried in Barcelona. At a la Carte, if you’re ordering this expecting paella ($16), you may be disappointed. Unfortunately, it lacked the saffron essence, fluffy rice and caramelized crust quality that really makes the dish become paella.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t a bad dish. It had great flavours and plenty of ingredients (chicken, bay scallops, chorizo, a tiger shrimp and mussel). For me, the dish would be more aptly described as a seafood jambalaya risotto. With the abundance of the holy trinity, chorizo (that is so similar to andouille) and spicy kick, it made me reminiscent of New Orleans. The creamy Arborio rice and saucier finish is where it deviates from a jambalaya, hence the addition of ‘risotto’ required in the description.

My husband was more than satisfied with the catch of the week ($17) – in this case a lobster mac ‘n’ cheese. It arrived bubbling giving off such a fragrant aroma of butter, cheese and lobster. Thankfully, for my stomach’s sake, it wasn’t overly creamy. But, it’s not exactly healthy either as there was still plenty of butter and cheese mixed into the pasta.

I enjoyed the hint of lemon added to the dish, which helped to brighten it up. In the end, it reminded me of a cross between mac ‘n’ cheese and scampi shrimp. The frisee salad had a delicious unexpected dressing on it: vinegary and savoury but also a hint of spice - perhaps curry and/or tamarind?

What I liked enjoyed most about a la Carte was their hushed and elegant but not stuffy environment. It’s a great place to visit where you can actually carry a conversation with fellow dinner guests. Dinner is only served Fridays as events and weddings fill the space the rest of the time. Generally, they are opened for lunch and brunch service. And I’d imagine the daytime view, when you can see everything, would be even better.

Check out my return visit to the restaurant to try their summer menu.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10

Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary but the thoughts are still my honest opinion. 

How To Find Them

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 111 Queens Park (3rd floor of the Gardiner Museum)

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - 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!

7 Portes (Barcelona)

Location: Barcelona, Spain
Address: Paseo Isabel II, 14 
Type of Meal: Lunch

During the morning we were visiting Barcelonetta, the port/harbour area of Barcelona, and went to 7 Portes as I wanted paella and heard they had a long standing reputation in serving it.  I've previously eaten paella in Toronto's Little Spain and in Barcelona (at a budget friendly establishment as a student), so was excited to try something nicer and hopefully more authentic.

The restaurant is large, compared to other Barcelona restaurants, and reminds me of the old Fish Houses we had in Toronto.  

The waiter started us off with a basket of cold rolls and small plate of green olives (as a warning you're charged 7€ for and not given a choice of).  Each table has a selection of 2 or 3 types olive oils which are interesting to try although they taste very similar.

We each had a salad:
  • A seasonal salad for myself, which consists of different types of lettuce and endives with vegetable garnishs (a piece of carrot, celery, 2 wedges of tomatoes and sprig of green onion).  The salad was undressed but I could easily make a dressing with the oil, balsamic vinegar and salt available at the table.  There was nothing special at all about this dish but portion was large enough to serve 2 as a starter.

  • A rocket salad for my husband made up of spring mix salad and a large portion of baked goat cheese dressed with a raspberry (?) viniagrette.  The rocket salad was definitely the tastier of the two salad selections.
Seasonal salad (1)

We split the parellada "rich man's" paella which contained a mixture of chicken, chorizo, scallop, shrimp, calamari, mussels and lobster. I must admit, I was disappointed. When you look at the menu on 7 Porte's website they showcase large whole prawns and crab legs on their paella. What we received was chopped up pieces of rubbery meat and seafood in rice. 
For a city with such abundant seafood, the amount featured in the dish was extremely disappointing.  The prawns were small shrimps, the scallops & calamari cut into small cubes and the lobster one of the smallest I've ever seen - really a large crawfish at best.  As the meat and seafood was cut into such small pieces they were overcooked and lost all the texture and flavour seafood should have.  For all I know, the seafood could have been frozen as it certainly tasted like that. 

The rice itself was okay - wasn't too soggy from liquid but the actual flavour wasn't for me. Firstly, I expected the rice to be golden yellow (from saffron) and plump and fluffy in texture. The rice we received was light brown and seemed like it was drenched with soy sauce (which I know likely wasn't the case). After some post-trip research, I now realize the paella containing saffron, which is show cased on cooking shows, is the "Valencian" style. Whereas, the Mediterranean mixed paella generally does not contain this rare spice.

The bits scraped from the bottom of the pan tasted good as it had a smoky nutty flavour. So I'm not sure - was the paella just not cooked long enough or perhaps they should have served it in the pan rather than showing us the pan and then plating it?

Parellada paella (2)

Service was good; the staff weren’t overly friendly but attentive. The only problem arose as we had a difficult time getting our bill - it took two attempts asking different waiters and even the second person took a while to get it to us.

I didn't think the meal was worth the 52€ (also had bottle of sparkling water and a beer).  In the end, the meal wasn't horrible, but, I feel like I could have gone to other restaurants and received something of similar quality for much lower prices.

If anyone reading this is Spanish and has tried 7 Portes - can you please comment as to whether the paella served is authentic? If it is, perhaps my palette just doesn't like paella.

Overall mark - 6 out of 10

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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Photo Sources:
  1. Seasonal Salad. Trip Advisor (
  2. Paella. The Bon Vivant Blog (