230 Commerce Valley Dr. E., Unit 2
$55 Dinner for two
Being of the superficial persuasion, I was quick to cast premature judgment on Markham’s new Spanish restaurant Tapagria. Here is a place with a bad name, I thought; a place that is lamely tagging along with Toronto’s Spanish food trend. Here is a place that has put a lot of effort into appearing downtown-esque, with its wood, exposed brick and Edison bulbs; a place, I thought, that would probably be a styleover-substance affair.
Like most superficial judgments, mine were wrong.
That’s because chef Richard Andino is doing very good things at Tapagria. He has been cooking in high-end restaurants in Toronto for decades, including the storied North 44, where he was executive chef for around eight years. He lists Mark McEwan and Massimo Capra as mentors.
This is a place where paella is made to order; where oysters are shucked properly, even on buck-a-shuck night ( Tuesdays); where whole legs of ham are on display and where good smells waft from the open kitchen.
Jamon-wrapped dates are a tiny appetizer, but a lot of work goes into them. Andino smokes pork belly in-house and wraps it around medjool dates stuffed with aged Manchego cheese and pickled serrano peppers. The flavours are huge: smoky, salty, savoury and sweet.
Foie gras on toast sees duck liver pâté scented with roasted shallots, garlic and oregano, then, on top, diced mango to counteract the richness. Salt cod croquettes are crispy, salty and not at all fishy. Addictive, too. Skip the patatas bravas: they’re dry and hard, surrounded by a pool of watery tomato sauce.
Octopus, served whole or cut in half, is reminiscent of Bar Isabel’s, but it lacks the flavours that you get from a bold char and a proper seasoning. It needs both.
Paella de mariscos, though, is great and beautiful, blanketed with baroque swirls of cabbage cress. It’s set in a hot pan with clams, lobster, peas, al dente rice and whole, head-on shrimp. (It bothers me when restaurants don’t serve flavour-packed whole shrimp for fear of offending the clientele.)
Tapagria lists churros on the menu, but serves an awkward churro-eclair hybrid instead. It’s patently inferior to a well-made traditional churro.
Despite these setbacks, this restaurant gives me hope. Maybe there is a suburban market for competent cooking in a fashionable setting. We’ll see, though, whether Tapagria lasts. If it doesn’t, it would be a shame.