Carmen (@carmensayz), which opened in the spring earlier this year, is one of the new additions to the Toronto tapas scene.
The restaurant is located on Queen St. (between Shaw and Crawford) and is brought to you by Chef Luis Valenzuela and Veronica Carmen Laudes, the team behind Torito Tapas Bar in Kensington Market.
Upon entering the restaurant, I was surprised by how spacious it is. Carmen has two spaces – the main dining room and a lower bar/lounge area. Plenty of seating!
The space is beautifully decorated, using an eclectic mix of modern elements.
Carmen’s tapas menu is divided into “Tapas Tradicionales” (traditional) and “Tapas de Vanguardia” (modern). There were four of us so we were able to make a nice dent in the menu.
The first dish to arrive was the Sardinas en latadas – in-house canned sardines, roasted tomatoes & olive oil ($7). I loved its playful presentation – served in a sardine tin. The small tin was packed full of delicious, melt-in-your-mouth sardines. While I quite enjoyed this dish, one of my friends commented that the sardines were quite fishy, so take note if you’re sensitive to this.
We thought we should add a bit of green to our meal and ordered the Ensalada de Col Rizada con Queso Salado – kale, ricotta salata, pine nuts & crispy poached peewee egg ($10). The salad consisted of ingredients that I really enjoy and I liked the addition of raisins for a bit of sweetness. However, there was something missing. It probably could’ve used a bit more seasoning.
Shortly after the kale salad, the Alcachofas Fritas – fried artichokes, Maldon salt & aioli ($9) arrived. Total redemption! The artichokes were lightly fried and were juicy on the inside. With a bit of aioli, this dish was perfection. If you’re only going to order one dish from Carmen, this has got to be it!
Up next was the Patatas Bravas – roasted potatoes, brava sauce & aioli ($7). The dish consisted of small bite-sized potatoes which were perfectly crisp and covered in two creamy sauces. It’s just too bad the dish was oversalted…they were really, really salty!
Having heard great things about the Pimientos de Padron con Salsa de Tomate – Shisito peppers & tomato sauce ($10), I had to give it a try. Surprisingly, I didn’t find the peppers to be very spicy. These addictive peppers would make for a great snack!
Mike is a big fan of octopus so we decided to try one of their octopus dishes and decided on the Pulpo a la Gallega – octopus, steamed potato & smoked paprika ($10) which arrived in the same tin as our sardines. The octopus was tender and the small potatoes were well cooked. It wasn’t a bad dish but it wasn’t memorable at all. I can’t help but compare this to the amazing octopus/potato dish we had at Patria…
We also ordered the Gambas al Ajillo al “Estilo Carmen” – grilled shrimp, garlic & chili ($12) which consisted of four plump shrimp. It was a simple dish but sometimes simplicity is the way to go. The shrimp were grilled perfectly and topped with a bit of salt, garlic and chili. Squeeze a touch of lemon over them and you’ve got one delicious bite!
The last tapas to arrive was the Morcilla y Garbanzos – blood sausage, chickpea sofrito, apple & fried egg ($10). The star of the dish was definitely the blood sausage. It was incredibly moist and the flavours were spot on. It left me wanting more! I wasn’t a big fan of the chickpea sofrito but it’s because I’m not a big fan of chickpeas in general.
You can’t come to a Spanish restaurant without trying their paella! Carmen has several variations to choose from: Paella del Carmen (seafood, chorizo, chicken), Paella de Montaña (rabbit, snails, artichokes), Paella Atlántica (lobster, saffron, roasted tomatoes) and Paella “Antoni Gaudí” (quinoa and “vegetable mosaic”). If you’re going to order one, make sure you do it shortly after being seated since it takes 45 minutes to an hour to prepare.
We decided on the Paella del Carmen – shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops, chorizo, chicken & saffron ($40). I was disappointed to see that the price for this paella had increased quite a bit since I first read about Carmen which opened up in the spring. I had heard it was only $30 and more recently read that it was $35 so I was surprised to see it now priced at $40.
The paella comes in a 30cm pan and is meant to feed two. With all the other tapas dishes we ordered, the paella was just enough to fill the four of us up. Carmen’s paella was a little heavier and greasier than I expected but flavour-wise it was quite enjoyable. There were plenty of toppings and the components were well cooked. One thing I found that was missing from this paella was the crispy bits at the bottom. Even after leaving it in the pan for a few minutes, we didn’t find a trace of crispiness.
While there were some dishes that we really enjoyed (like the fried artichokes), we all agreed that the meal wasn’t particularly memorable. Don’t get me wrong, it was a solid meal but having eaten at Patria recently, I couldn’t help but compare it to the stellar meal I had there. If I’ve got a craving for Spanish tapas, I think you know where you’ll find me!
At a glance:
• A Spanish tapas restaurant opened by the same owners as Torito Tapas Bar in Kensington Market
• Located on Queen West, between Shaw and Crawford
• A menu of traditional and modern tapas as well as several paella options (which take 45 minutes to an hour to prepare)
• Casual, spacious – plenty of seating
• Open every day for dinner; takes reservations
• A solid meal but my preference is Patria when it comes to Spanish tapas
Ratings (out of 5):
• Food: 3 stars
• Service: 4 stars
• Atmosphere: 4 stars