It’s been the talk about town for the last few months. Portland Variety on King Street West (corner of Portland) opened as a café last month, but all the neighborhood wanted was for them to finally serve us their highly anticipated evening tapas menu. Last week I was privy to a tasting, and while many were skeptic I was quite pleased and have even been back since.
So why a café to start? Perhaps due to owner Milton Nunes’ former day job as creator of Le Gourmand. To start off, Portland Variety offers its patrons a beautiful selection of treats made in-house daily. Open at 7am every weekday morning, their pastry offerings are delightful and downright sinful. If you were familiar with Le Gourmand you may have tried one of their famous chocolate chip cookies, and, if you didn’t, you can now at Portland Variety (and seriously, you must). Pair that with an espresso made with their rare Mod Bar espresso machine and that’s one of the best breakfasts you could have (minus the healthy part).
If you’re not a cookie kinda person, that’s okay as the offerings are not scarce and, like the name states, you have a variety to choose from. However, as of 3pm the sweets take the back stage and their pinxtos, tapas and cocktail menu take the front.
Upon entering the restaurant guests are greeted by smiles and suggestions of ordering wine and pinxtos – where before 3pm we would normally be served pastries. Lingering is not encouraged though, as this area is quite small and can get busy fast.
Once past the pinxtos area, guests enter a beautifully decorated space. It’s bistro style yet not overly cramped (as bistros can be) and again, more smiles from the great service team Portland Variety has put in place. I personally loved the colours and décor and the huge bar where clearly there is a top notch cocktail program. From behind the bar we watched as the mixologist smoked and dry-iced cocktails. The show was impressive, and after tasting some of these I may have become more of a cocktail girl after all. My favourite of the evening was the Smoking Gun with pecan-infused Tap 357 maple rye whiskey, maple syrup and bitters all served over an XL cube in a Maplewood smoked glass. The initial sip is so smoky, it feels like you’re drinking the cottage – but once settled what a delight.
Food was not underwhelming either. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I guess with them focusing on the café part in their first month of opening, I thought perhaps their dinner would not be as impressive. We started off with the house-made ricotta with honey, hazelnuts, and pears. Well that’s just a match made in heaven, so really you can’t go wrong. Following that we tried the chilled seafood platter, the shrimp piri piri with chili garlic oil, the grilled octopus and the confit baby eggplant. The stunners in this lineup were the shrimp and octopus – both perfectly cooked and very flavourful. Then came the piece de resistance: the 22oz Canadian AAA porcini rubbed ribeye served with cassava frites and caramelized onions. The flavours were spot on, the cassava frites were outstanding, and the steak was excellent. My only complaint was the steak was slightly grainy, but that went overlooked once the onions were added.
The desserts? Well, like their pastries, they were all perfection. The dark chocolate praline mousse is not one to be missed; if you like Ferrero Rocher this one’s for you. But hey, who am I to tell you what to order? I suggest trying Portland Variety for yourself and letting us know what you think in the comments below…