Restaurant Review: Casa Paco – An obvious addition to Toronto’s Next Michelin Guide
|Address||50 Clinton Street, Unit C|
|Dinner for two with wine||$220|
Toronto has several new restaurant openings each week, and the majority of them disappear into the city’s mediocre culinary landscape, much like a pat of butter melts into a lump of mashed potatoes. However, after my recent dining experience at Casa Paco, I am convinced that the city’s culinary landscape is reaching beyond mediocrity and evolving to new heights.
Situated in Little Italy, a stone’s throw from the iconic Cafe Diplomatico, this new restaurant is helmed by a four-person team, including chef/owner Rob Bragagnolo (Labora, Marben) as well as Caroline Chinery, Tommy Conrad and Ailbhe McMahon. It’s no surprise that every member of the team has extensive experience in the hospitality industry after an impeccable dinner one recent evening.
A feeling of warmth radiates upon entrance. Casa Paco has dim lighting, plenty of wood furniture, greenery and decorative objects, and an intimate layout that maximizes every square foot without feeling cramped. Three distinct areas make up the 28-seat restaurant: a dining area on the left, a bar on the right as well as a partially open kitchen tucked beside the bar that can be seen from nearly every seat in the house.
My guest and I are greeted by McMahon, who ushers us to our table with a prime view of Clinton Street. Talk about wearing multiple hats—she’s our sever, too. I later learn that all four owners are the restaurant’s only staff as well. They do it all. After a matter of minutes, my guest and I both feel as if we’ve been whisked away to somewhere other than Toronto, but we can’t put an exact finger on it. That’s all part of the magic that is about to ensue.
Cocktails—both alcoholic and zero-proof—are cleverly named (Summer Chalet, Ex-Pat) and the Old World dominates the wine list. There are ample wines by the glass or bottle, but it’s not impossible to decide. We opt for a couple glasses.
Bragagnolo’s menu is date-stamped and his experience in both Spanish and Italian cuisines is evident from a brief glance. His ethos highlights the simplicity of ingredients with meticulous attention to detail. There’s a melt-in-your-mouth house-made tomato bread and olives, which can be enjoyed solo or paired with a variety of tapas such as boquerones or serrano ham. There are herbaceous salads, decadent pastas and mouthwatering proteins—all of which are designed for sharing and kiss the wood-fired grill at some point during their preparation. On Sundays, there’s a set paella menu with seafood, beef and vegetarian options.
Casa Paco’s kitchen produces dishes that are, for the most part, astounding—both for the quality of ingredients and for the unpredictable twists Bragagnolo gives them. One that still dominates my thoughts is the bruléed chicken liver paté ($21) with seasonal crudité and grilled house bread. It’s essentially what it sounds like—a creamy pate that’s disguised as a crème brulée. The glass-like torched topping cracks like a sheet of ice when hit and reveals a silky paté. It’s a study in contrasts—the decadent spread dissolves on your tongue while the chewy bread requires commitment from your jaw. Bottom line: it’s orgasmic. It’s the type of dish that’s worth throwing your fists up for the last bite. The only criticism I have is that there simply isn’t enough bread, but McMahon gladly agrees to top ours up and reappears with a generous stack of triangular slices.
The definition of spring is the house green salad ($16), chock full of flavours and textures from the addition of feta, sweet peas, sunflower seeds and a lemon vinaigrette. We also each enjoy a shucked-to-order Mahone Bay scallop ($16 each), which is rustically presented in its shell alongside the roe. It’s cooked over live coals, lending to its smoky flavour and is elevated with a saffron butter and some edible flowers.
From the wood-fired grill, we try the octopus, which has been given an unexpected turn with the addition of vanilla, but not in an off-putting way. The tender tentacle sits on a smear of fragrant salsa verde. It’s then topped with toasted pine nuts and sliced tomatoes and showered with fresh olive oil. The cook is perfect, and I could tell that Braganologo dipped the tentacles in hot water before cooking to help hold the shape.
Respect for Italian tradition is maintained with the gnocchi ($27), which is remarkably pillowy. It’s tossed in a straightforward duck ragu that lacks depth of flavour, but is, nevertheless, enjoyable.
We finish with an arresting Basque cheesecake accented with bitter coffee and the exotic flavour of cardamom. Perhaps more Middle Eastern than Italian-Spanish? Yes, but it is a fine dessert. And the portion is so large we can’t possibly finish.
Throughout our meal, the rhythm of service is perfectly timed and we never feel rushed. I appreciate the attention to detail in every aspect—from the ambiance to the guest experience and, of course, the food. I predict a vibrant future for Casa Paco, and I sincerely hope that it lands a spot in the 2023 Toronto Michelin Guide.
Mme M. xoxo
La rubrique de Madame Marie
1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
2 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
3 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
4 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
5 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.