Up­town’s hot new 400-seat taque­ria

Plus, a new ex­press Ital­ian restau­rant in Rich­mond Hill, a celebrity chef eyes Toronto and more

Richmond Hill Post - - Counter Culture -

“We’re not a Mex­i­can restau­rant,” says Otta Zapo­tocky, co-owner of Wil­low­dale’s newly opened Estrella Taque­ria. “We’re a bour­bon, tequila and taco restau­rant.”

Those fa­mil­iar with Zapo­tocky’s other restau­rant, L’Av­enue — an up­scale bistro on Bayview — may be sur­prised that the Czech Repub­lic–born som­me­lier is open­ing an on-trend taque­ria. But Estrella’s menu re­veals hints of cross-pol­li­na­tion be­tween Zapo­tocky’s two eater­ies.

The menu jux­ta­poses clas­sic Mex­i­can tacos, such as chicken tinga and al pas­tor, with French­in­flu­enced dishes, such as duck con­fit tacos and a de­con­structed taco plate with grilled bavette steak.

L’Av­enue and Estrella share more than an owner. Zapo­tocky brought L’Av­enue’s chef, Jeremy Dyer, north of the 401 to cre­ate the French­in­flected Mex­i­can menu.

“Even if I opened an In­dian restau­rant, I’d still get him to be my chef,” Zapo­tocky says.

Zapo­tocky — who made his name man­ag­ing Nota Bene and L’Unità — wasn’t ac­tively seek­ing to open a sec­ond restau­rant, but when long-time L’Av­enue cus­tomer Chuck Markowitz ap­proached him to open a taque­ria, he was in­trigued.

Af­ter leav­ing real es­tate law, Markowitz de­cided he wanted to pur­sue his pas­sion for food. In or­der to reel Zapo­tocky in as a busi­ness part­ner, Markowitz brought the es­tab­lished restau­ra­teur down to his favourite spot in Chicago: Big Star. The pair made mul­ti­ple trips to the restau­rant, try­ing ev­ery­thing on the menu and soak­ing in the at­mos­phere.

When the field trips came to an end, Zapo­tocky was sold: they’d open a taque­ria in­spired by the Wicker Park restau­rant. (Thus the name Estrella, which is Span­ish for “star.”)

The two­some took over Smokey Joe’s Cafe in late Au­gust, and by Septem­ber, they had gut­ted the place. The split-level space seats nearly 300 in­side, and the mez­za­nine opens onto a 3,000square-foot, 130-seat pa­tio with a firepit, a full-ser­vice bar and a large screen for sum­mer movie screen­ings.

Estrella Taque­ria, 4899 Yonge St., 416-222-1500


That’s Ital­ian Ris­torante, which opened in Wood­bridge in 2008, is ex­pand­ing to Rich­mond Hill. Coowner Joe Lom­bardo tells us that the new place will be called That’s Ital­ian Ex­press, and it will seat around 25 peo­ple, with take­out and de­liv­ery com­pris­ing about half of the restau­rant’s du­ties.

The orig­i­nal restau­rant is known for its stone-baked piz­zas and other clas­sic Ital­ian dishes, and the new lo­ca­tion will serve a menu that’s mostly the same, in­clud­ing items such as grilled veg­gie pizza ($17) with boc­concini, roasted red pep­pers, grilled eg­g­plant, grilled zuc­chini, basil and ex­tra virgin olive oil. A pasta pesca­tore ($20) sees lin­guini served with clams, mus­sels, tiger shrimp and tomato sauce.

The restau­rant’s other owner, Mario Lom­bardo, is a vet­eran restau­ra­teur, hav­ing opened Regina Pizze­ria on Col­lege Street over 30

years ago (he sold it to another fam­ily mem­ber few years ago).

At press time, That’s Ital­ian Ex­press was sched­uled to open by Nov. 1.

That’s Ital­ian Ex­press, 10447 Yonge St., 416-482-5426


Corinna Mozo and Vic­tor Coelho — the hus­band-and-wife team be­hind Oss­ing­ton stal­wart Delux — have opened a por­tal to ’50s Cuba on Roncy called La Cubana.

The 30-seat room, pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied by the Blue Plate, was given a makeover by Mozo’s brother, Pablo Mozo. The renos were in­spired by a lunch counter run by the Mo­zos’ grand­fa­ther back in Cuba. Fu­ture plans in­clude a take­out win­dow at the front.

Al­though Delux serves a din­ing dou­ble bill (Cuban lunch, French din­ner), La Cubana is, as the name sug­gests, fo­cused solely on Cuban fare. The menu is a mix of Delux sta­ples — conch frit­uras ($7) and mo­lasses-roasted pork shoul­der ($15) — and new in­no­va­tions like the guava bar­be­cue short ribs ($15) and cod cro­que­tas ($6).

La Cubana serves brunch, lunch and din­ner, but the menu is con­ducive to sit­ting down for a taste of Ha­vana at any hour.

La Cubana, 392 Ron­ces­valles Ave., 416-538-7500


Over the past 17 years, the Fifth Inc. slowly has been an­nex­ing a red­brick in the heart of clubland.

The build­ing houses the Fifth Grill & Ter­race, the Fifth So­cial Club and Cabin Five, and now the em­pire has ex­panded to in­clude the build­ing’s lower level, where a café (the Fifth Café) and a Bri­tishin­spired pub (the Fifth Pub House) have been set up by owner Oliver Ged­des. Both venues of­fi­cially opened last week.

At the pub, a col­lec­tion of tar­tan bar stools, pas­toral-printed ban­quettes and an­tique knick­knacks (plane pro­pel­lers, a wooden man­nequin, wood-carved lamps) of­fers a dis­tinctly Cana­dian spin on the Bri­tish pub.

Chef Brad Liver­gant (Café Be­long, Ver­i­tas) has de­signed an ex­pan­sive menu of haute pub grub, in­clud­ing wings, na­chos and burg­ers (made from house-ground strip loin, ten­der­loin and brisket).

Mean­while, the café is dot­ted with wooden, mid-cen­tury ar­ti­facts and is more Park­dale than Rich­mond Street.

The Fifth Pub House & Café, 225 Rich­mond St. W., 416-979-0390


It’s a good time for pub lovers in the 905, with two well-known bars set to open new lo­ca­tions in the area. The first is St. Louis Bar and Grill, which is open­ing at 1383 16th Ave. in Rich­mond Hill, and the sec­ond is Fionn MacCool’s, open­ing at 6110 High­way 7 in Vaughan.

The Pickle Bar­rel at Yonge and Eglin­ton is cur­rently in the midst of a $3 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion (com­plete with a 120-inch tele­vi­sion). The mid­town restau­rant will re­open at the end of Novem­ber with a re­vamped menu — with new fare such as quinoa bowls and fresh takes on deli sand­wiches.

Montreal celebrity chef Chuck Hughes (who de­feated Bobby Flay on Iron Chef Amer­ica a cou­ple of years ago) is eye­ing a lo­ca­tion in Bald­win Vil­lage for a po­ten­tial Toronto restau­rant. Fin­gers crossed.

Pop­u­lar east end restau­rant Rakia Bar is ex­pand­ing to the An­nex. Owner Du­san Varga has taken over the space pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied by Hr­vati Bar, at 690 Eu­clid Ave., where he in­tends to of­fer a menu sim­i­lar to the one found at the orig­i­nal Rakia, but with a few items from Hr­vati Bar, in­clud­ing the fa­mous Balkan ham­burger.

Bar­be­rian’s Steak House is open­ing a down­scale sis­ter venue, which will be called TLP (Three Lit­tle Pigs). It will of­fer drinks, sand­wiches and snacks, and it is sched­uled to open be­fore Christ­mas in a lo­ca­tion near the ven­er­a­ble steak house.

Camerini Ris­torante has closed its doors af­ter around 30 years in busi­ness. The Ital­ian restau­rant, lo­cated at 709 Mount Pleas­ant Rd., was a beloved neigh­bour­hood favourite.

Con­trib­u­tors: Caro­line Ak­sich, Kather­ine Cameron, Gizelle Lau, Jon Sufrin, Igor Yu

Clock­wise from top: Estrella Taque­ria own­ers Otta Zapo­tocky and Chuck Markowitz, a Cuban sand­wich from La Cubana, a deca­dent pasta dish from That’s Ital­ian Ex­press, and the Fifth Pub’s kale salad

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