TAPAGRIA

Richmond Hill Post - - Food - — Jon Sufrin

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.

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