Craig Hard­ing’s pop­u­lar Dun­das West spot gets a swank sec­ond storey com­plete with rooftop pa­tio

NOW Magazine - - FOOD - [email protected] now­toronto. com | @ na­tal­ia­man­zocco Story & pho­tos by NA­TALIA MAN­ZOCCO

Casa La Palma ( 849 Dun­das West, at Eu­clid) is the brand- new sec­ond- floor restau­rant and bar above La Palma. The name means “house,” which chef Craig Hard­ing and de­signer Alexan­dra Hutchi­son take to a log­i­cal ex­ten­sion with a swank, loungey in­te­rior fea­tur­ing mod­u­lar so­fas, an in­ti­mate din­ing room and art­ful- yet- snacky small plates.

“We wanted it to feel a bit res­i­den­tial,” says Hutchi­son, adding she and

the rest of the team were in­spired by the co­zi­ness and com­mu­nal­ity of spa­ces like Soho House. “We wanted to cre­ate a space where peo­ple felt like they be­longed.”

The plan, ac­cord­ing to Hutchi­son and exec chef Ju­lian D’Ip­polito, was al­ways to ex­tend La Palma to the sec­ond floor; back when the spot opened last sum­mer, they were al­ready teas­ing what will, this spring, be­come Dun­das West’s only rooftop pa­tio.

What they weren’t nec­es­sar­ily

count­ing on was La Palma’s ru­n­away suc­cess – or the in­stant de­mand for event book­ings. “Be­fore we even opened down­stairs, there were emails com­ing through,” D’Ip­polito re­calls. “We were like — what are we get­ting our­selves into?”

That clashed with their de­sire to keep La Palma as a ca­sual neigh­bour­hood joint: “It’s a big de­ci­sion to close down when peo­ple are re­ly­ing on you to be open on a Tues­day night when they feel like spaghetti,” Hutchi­son says.

So Hutchi­son de­signed Casa with those par­ties in mind, cre­at­ing dis­tinct spa­ces within the white- oak­swathed room. At the cen­tre, there’s a “liv­ing room” with a fire fea­ture and low- slung couches done up in a dark flo­ral print. To­ward the back, there’s a pri­vate din­ing area, sec­tioned off with

mas­sive cus­tom- made doors that can ac­com­mo­date par­ties or even over­flow din­ing from La Palma. The bar, mean­while, is lined with mod lamps ( de­signed with lo­cal light­ing firm Anony) that din­ers can hud­dle around for an in­ti­mate glow. Even the pa­tio is set to fea­ture a mini pri­vate din­ing room, which could dou­ble as a raw bar or DJ booth.

At first, the plan was for Casa to dou­ble up on La Palma’s menu – but that quickly proved, D’Ip­polito said, to be a lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare. In­stead, Casa has its own kitchen, which serves a light, largely pescatar­ian menu made up largely of new items. Some of the best- re­ceived dishes so far, D’Ip­polito adds, have been the ve­gan and veg­e­tar­ian items, in­clud­ing deep- fried del­i­cata squash rings and pea falafel bites. There are no big mains and many dishes don’t even need sil­ver­ware – per­fect for ca­sual snack­ing on the so­fas.

So far, din­ers seem to be go­ing with that lived- in, res­i­den­tial feel­ing. Hutchi­son said she was thrilled when a friend’s five- year- old took one look at the couches, im­me­di­ately kicked off her shoes and did a bel­lyflop.

“We want peo­ple to re­ally en­joy it as a hos­pi­tal­ity space, in the way they would en­joy en­ter­tain­ing at home,” Hutchi­son says – even if that means putting your feet up or ac­ci­den­tally knock­ing over your wine. “There are so many great restau­rants in this city, and so many beau­ti­ful rooms. We thought this strip could use some­thing loungey and homey, and some­thing our guests could put their own kind of mark on.”

Casa La Palma’s beef tartare ( clock­wise from top), pea falafel, lob­ster rolls, tem­pura squash, sword­fish carpac­cio and ( cen­tre) roasted cele­riac.

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