The Arrival – Casa La Palma
To find Casa La Palma, you have to be in the know. There’s no sign to alert you of its whereabouts, and the main entrance at 849 Dundas St. W. grants access to La Palma, one of the most popular restaurants in Trinity-Bellwoods, but not the new lounge.
Head through the unmarked door to the left of LP’s entrance, and climb a short flight of stairs, and you’ll be met with a space like no other.
Alexandra Hutchison of Studio Marlowe and co-owner and interior designer of La Palma and Casa, has created a mesmerizing contemporary space with a quintessential Palm Springs vibe, complete with modular bar and sunken lounge area, finished with striking custom-designed couches, fireplace, and lighting by Toronto’s Anony Studio.
The 1,400 square foot lounge and private event space includes a 28-seat private dining room and rooftop patio set to be the place to be this summer.
Come for the décor, stay for the alluring menu by Executive Chef Julian D’Ippolito.
Dishes have “Italian roots with a Cali vibe,” but that’s where the similarities with the downstairs resto end. Since the room and bar are completely different at Casa, so is the menu. Designed with the space in mind, sharable snack plates feature boldly flavoured, easy-to-eat bites. Think: delectable nibbles eaten with cocktails forks, skewers, and your digits (steak knives need not apply) that aren’t saucy or messy. You don’t want to get anything on the rich cobalt carpet.
Sophisticated dishes and flavours as captivating as the décor are composed of seasonal and local ingredients where possible, from venerable local providers including Taro’s Fish, Cheese Boutique, and Cookstown Greens.
D’Ippolito and sous chefs Ilan Adler and Samantha Medeiros, bounced countless ideas around for the new menu. “I start with a sheet of paper,” he says. Oysters, fish, and lobster were “givens,” as were classics such as beef tartare and shrimp cocktail. Vegan dishes including Green Pea Falafel ($8) and Delicata Squash Tempura ($11) came about “organically,” while some were a bigger risk, like Celery ($10):
“It’s just celery on the plate. People don’t know what to expect,” D’Ippolito says, “but people feel good about it. It’s definitely thought out. I’m always looking for interesting flavours and textures.”
The focused menu of seafood and snacks includes sleeper hit Cookstown Beet ($11) with confit raisin and Ashley goat cheese, and fried salty bites (falafel, squash tempura) that call for a well crafted cocktail or two by their side.
And it’s about time someone put the spotlight on celeriac, one of the most underused, underappreciated ingredients of all time. The Whole Roasted Celeriac ($9) with horseradish creama and poppy seed is the dish of winter.
In keeping with the sleek design and focused food menu, the cocktail roster ($16-$17) is kept to a beautiful minimum – seven – with many more to be made by request, of course. The beer and cider list is equally considered – choose from 13 selections of local and far flung brews ($8-$42).
Wines (gls 3oz $7-$16, 6oz $14-$31, btl $45- $550) range from the Niagara region to as far afield as New Zealand and South Africa. You’ll notice a bigger sparkling section than most – the perfect pairing for all that seafood.
And categories are as eye catching as the vino itself. In addition to natural whites, choose from the “Steely, Bright” or “Skin Contact White” sections. Reds are divided into equally fascinating classifications. Designations includes “Crunchy, Tart,” “Classic, Structured,” and Velvety, Rich.”
Off the Menu
Mulo Rosa ($16)
This sweet, tart refresher of vodka, prickly pear liqueur, pomegranate juice, lime juice, and Fever Tree Ginger Beer served over crushed ice in a highball, and garnished with a sprig of fresh oregano, is a most elegant take on the Moscow Mule. Read: Escape from winter in a glass.
Green Pea Falafel ($8)
This emerald chickpea fritter features enticing, complex spice notes that you may not be able to put your finger on at first. The magical flavour is thanks to Morrocan ras al hanout, which depending on the blend, can contain up to 100 spices.
The dark crunchy exterior reveals a vibrant hue and flavour within. There’s nothing timid about it, but it’s not overpowering either. The iodine freshness of the watercress puree balances the spiciness, and the pickled onion adds a tart edge, resulting in a fascinating falafel unlike any other. It also might be the best looking one in town.
Thinly sliced celery is dosed with thick olive oil, dusted with torgarashi, and set with mint and Pecorino Toscano. A smoky heat infuses the dish without taking away from the celery’s palate cleansing grassiness.
Celery juice be damned - This is how you should be loading up on the fibrous green stalked veg.
Swordfish Carpaccio ($15)
Chef D’Ippolito has a way with seafood. Just look to his perfectly executed Chilled Salmon ($18) with avocado and citrus, a mega-hit on the downstairs menu.
So it’s no wonder this carpaccio is one of the most fascinating - and delish - in the city. Clean, crisp, crunchy diced Asian pear, bright celery and parsley leaves, and grassy olive oil juxtaposed with earthy, meaty, smoky charred king oyster mushroom and nutty black sesame is so enticing, you’ll swipe the plate clean with your finger.
Chairman’s Lounge Lobster Rolls ($22 for two)
There are many ways to craft a lobster roll. This is one of the best.
A top-split brioche bun is toasted in butter until sides are golden, then stuffed with hand-chopped lobster meat, held loosely together with a blend of espelette aioli and tarragon. The final touch: crisp iceberg lettuce and fresh chives. The result: a perfect balance of crunch and creaminess with a decadent buttery finish.
Like its sibling spot downstairs, Casa La Palma is engaging, effervescent, and ever-evolving, with bigger things to come. Stay tuned.
Casa La Palma
849 Dundas St. W., 2nd floor
Hours: Wed-Sun 6pm ‘til late
Casa La Palma is by Alter Ego, co-owned by Craig Harding and Alexandra Hutchison of Campagnolo and Jack and Domenic Scarangella and Steve Christian of Mercatto. Other projects include: La Palma, Constantine, and Scarlet Door at The Anndore House.
For more photos, visit Toronto Restaurants on Instagram.