Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Origin: Tapas, Godzilla & A Young Stormtrooper

Toronto has plenty of excellent restaurants, a diverse collection of cuisines, so how do you decide where to dine if you only have a day or two?  You should read up on the restaurant scene, checking reviews, as well as seek personal recommendations. Consult the restaurant websites, viewing their menus and drink lists.  If good food is important to you, the research is well worth the effort. In the end, part of the decision will also be an emotional feeling, how you feel in the gut about a certain place.

For my first night in Toronto, I wanted a more casual restaurant, something close to my hotel. After a few hours traveling in the car, I just wanted a place to relax but I still wanted good food, especially if it were locally sourced.  So I decided on Origin, a tapas-style restaurant owned by Chef Claudio Aprile, who also owns Colborne Lane. The kitchen at Origin is run by Chef de Cuisine Steve Gonzalez, who has long worked with Aprile. It is a casual place, with a quirky and fun style, and was quite busy on a Sunday evening.

There are two main dining areas, one which includes a lengthy bar and the other which has an open kitchen. You can even sit in front of the open kitchen, watching the cooks prepare all of your dishes. That is where we sat, and it was enjoyable to watch all of the kitchen activity. In a small, private dining area, you'll see a large ceiling light, covered by hundreds of kaiju, Japanese monsters such as Godzilla and Mothra. Just a cool, funky light that enhances the vibe of this quirky restaurant.

The menu is eclectic, with plenty of Spanish and Asian influences, and consists of Sides & Snacks ($3-$9), Raw Bar ($9-$17), Mozzarella Bar ($16), Chilled ($9-$16) and Hot ($6-$27, with a single $79 entree). Many of their ingredients are locally sourced. In general, their small plates are meant to be shared, and I am a big fan of these type of places as it is a great way to sample a variety of dishes. There were plenty of items on the menu which appealed to me, so it took some time to decide on what I wanted that night.  They also have a full bar menu, including a number of local wines and beers.

We began with Smoked Cod Croquettes ($6) with Saffron Aioli, which resembled small donut holes. They had moist centers, with a strong smoky flavor and plenty of sweet cod. Very tasty, I could have easily popped a half-dozen more of them into my mouth.

Next up, was the Bufala Mozzarella ($16) with pear, rosemary oil, pinenuts and honey atop crostini. These flavors and textures worked very well together, from the creamy mozzarella to the sweet honey. The moist pear slices added both to the taste and mouthfeel of the dish. Another winner of a plate, and I expect the other mozzarella dishes would be equally as delicious.

A larger dish was the Chorizo ($19) with manchego rice, poached egg, salsa verde and dried black olive. This was a superb dish, another harmonious blend of flavors and textures. The meaty chorizo was savory with nice spices, though without much heat, and the manchego rice was more like a creamy risotto, enhanced by the gooey egg yolk. Two people can easily share this dish, though you might fight over who gets the last forkfuls of rice.

We also ordered a side of Spicy Spanish fries ($9) with chorizo and manchego, and the first time the dish came to our table, the chorizo was cold to the touch. I asked the cook about it, who immediately took the dish back, throwing it away, and prepared a new dish for us. It was a very good dish, with crispy fries and plenty of toppings.

I ended the meal with a Cream Soda Float, with vanilla soft serve. If you are used to U.S. cream soda, you might be surprised to learn that Canadian cream soda is often pink in color, and can have more of a red fruit taste. There was lots of ice cream in the glass, and I enjoyed the different flavor of the cream soda. And I'll admit I didn't know Canadian cream soda was different when I ordered it, but my dining companion did know that fact.

Overall, the service was very good, with the cooks sometimes serving us our food as we were sitting in front of the open kitchen. I very much enjoyed all of the food, which evidenced compelling blends of different tastes and textures. Though it is not inexpensive, you are getting high quality food so the prices are not outrageous. Plus, it has a fun vibe, definitely avoiding pretension. I would return and recommend that other visitors to Toronto check it out.

One of the restaurant walls has the above picture, which may cause you make a double take. Yes, this is a fun place.

Origin Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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