Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Xococava / Cava

Cava restaurant, Toronto
1560 Yonge Street

What a meal of many courses this was! Arriving early, I thought I would start out the dual experience of Cava restaurant and Xococava chocolatière (joint owned and operated, as you can tell by shared items on the dessert menu, and matching trends throughout) with some coffee. I had an hour to spend before our reservation. The two venues are side by side, located in a pedestrian cul-de-sac just off the sidewalk at 1560 Yonge. Xococava itself is built around the bar, with bright woods and bright lights. I got the feeling that the space used to be a sushi shop. There was that same sense of modernity and simplicity. One wall was painted with the menu, a grid with information on the variety of truffles, treats, coffees and ice-creams. There were so many things to choose from to take home! This is definitely a great spot to get a gift for that friend with a sweet tooth.

I went right for the most decadent espresso based drink available, called a Con Café there, but more commonly recognized as a Mocha (5.75).

Now I know a thing or two about espresso, having served my time at the bar of a cafe much nicer and more critical than Starbucks. Xoco served the thick home-made chocolate sauce that had my mouth watering when I saw it in a large bowl, with masses of steamed milk. Despite the price of their espresso drinks, this is a single shot place. Unfortunately the drink was very, very milky, with neither the espresso or the rich chocolate making a statement. I feel like a place that specializes in chocolate should make their cocoa drinks taste more....chocolatey! I was disappointed.

To get a better idea of the flavour of the espresso, I took a single shot. I thought it was overpriced at over 2$ for a single. It had a very strong, citrus flavour. Being more familiar with the intelligentsia and stumptown roasts common around the downtown core, tasting something so clear and acidic was a big leap for me. It’s good espresso.

Me and my Truffle
Then, there were the truffles. At two dollars a pop they aren’t cheap. They are certainly worth it! I tried three kinds:

Chorizo (milk chocolate): This one was easy to like. Though I was hoping for little bits of chorizo in the ganache, it was all blended to the same creamy texture throughout. Meat and chocolate seems to be a theme at Xococava, as they also sport an award-winning maple bacon ice cream. The truffle was not overpoweringly salty, and the meat added an interesting smokiness.

Black Olive (white chocolate): After ordering I was told people either love of hate this truffle. I fall into the latter category. When ordering I had expected this to be a dark-chocolate truffle, a combination which makes more sense to me. It was white chocolate, which I’m not fond of. The olive inside was not a tapenade, but a jelly. It was as excessively salty as the white chocolate was excessively sweet, and for me it was just too overpowering.

Szechwan Peppercorn (milk chocolate): The winner of the three! Spicy, but not hot, and a huge punch of black pepper flavour calmed down with the creaminess of ganache. This truffle did have little bits of peppercorn for texture, I was ecstatic to taste. I would order this over and over, it was so good.

Other things I sampled:

-Creme Brulé ice cream: Bang-on flavour, but not as dense as I like ice cream to be. Very airy.

-Earl Grey chocolate: Amazing. Again, there was a hint of salt. The tea was left as crunchy leaves in the dark chocolate, so there was a delightful crispness inside.

-Almond and Hazelnut Dragées: Crunchy nuts with a crunchy, chocolate dusted coating. I think these would be dangerous to have as a coffee table snack.

-Florentine: An Italian dessert appears on this Catalan-inspired menu! The Florentine was small and thin, and was like eating a flake pastry pie crust with butterscotch and almond slivers on top. It was very buttery and satisfying.

Next door at Cava, the decor is completely different, and the fine dining begins. The staff is very friendly, and I’m sure it’s not just because one of my guests is a previous member of Xoco. They seat us, hang our jackets, and are very friendly. The lighting is moody and low. From the ceiling hang white rectangles, diffusing the light that glows from inlaid lights. On the walls are fine art prints of contemporary photography by Robert Sprachman, and design by 3rd Uncle. Chefs Christopher McDonald and Doug Penfold put their extensive experience to work together to create an ever-changing and unique menu of small dishes perfect for sharing. There’s even an option to have them cook something just for you! This time though, we stick to the menu. Unintentionally, we wound up with a nearly completely vegetarian selection at a restaurant known for home-crafted meat. Should have had the cava charcuteria (16.50) too, I suspect!

Papas Fritas
Papas Fritas – 6.95
The papas fritas came wrapped in a paper cone, which was attached to a stand inserted directly into the tabletop. It was impressive, but later in the meal we found that the stand got in the way, and couldn’t be moved. The fritas themselves were thick-cut, and very light and fluffy. They didn’t have too strong a flavour. Fries, by any other name. The hint of rosemary on them was the only thing to really set them apart, enjoyable as they were. The sauce that went with the fries was really great, adding a more complex smokiness of chipotle to the salty fritas.

A new take on an old favourite
Bruschetta of Edamame, grilled green onions, Moroccan olives and Sicilian tomatoes – 9.00
The bread used for this bruschetta was amazing. It had a chewy crust, was dense without being difficult to eat. The way it was cooked left lightly blackened tidbits along the crust, and they added a taste of char that went surprisingly well with the edamame paste. The edamame had the consistency of a thick hummus, and added a soft, mellow flavour. If anything, it added body to the dish, while the thick-sliced grilled tomato and parmesan shone for their bold flavours. The olives were just a light and pleasant accent, not leaving too strong an impression. Mixed into the generous topping on the hearty bread were full roasted chive leafs, which added colour and a punch of onion flavour. We were all very impressed with the dish, and it split nicely, making a great, salty appetizer.

Sweet and Savory!
Cauliflower and kabocha squash tagine with medjool dates and Spanish saffron – 9.50
A tagine, for those not in the know, is an African dish that is essentially a kind of casserole. The word refers to both the food and the dish it’s cooked in. Our tagine arrived piping hot, covered in a flaky topping which we never did identify. The crumbly texture probably saved the cauliflower from being too soft. It was delicate and had just enough flavourful oil to moisten it. The dates must have been macerated into the mix, because we didn’t taste any large pieces, but their flavour was throughout. The dish was pleasantly sweet, the chunks of squash also adding its own unique flavour. To refresh all that vegetable creaminess and sweetness were crisp leaves of parsley, dispersed generously in and atop the heaps of vegetable.

Look, it's corn! No...it's a tamal!
Fresh corn tamal with wild mushrooms and pasilla chile-wild plum sauce – 8.50
Beautifully presented, the corn tamal arrived looking just like a husk of fresh corn on the plate. It was served wrapped in cooked corn husk, bound with thread at one end. Beautiful. A thick layer of white corn meal was heavy and dense with moisture, the texture crumbly and pleasant. Breaking that outer layer revealed heaps of mushroom and corn kernels. The whole combination had a earthy flavour,. It was so soft and palatable that chewing was almost unnecessary. Unfortunately the sauce that came with it did not meet our expectations. Having never had a pasilla chile before, I wasn’t expecting a bitter flavour. In my experience things made with chile are usually hot with a taste of vinegar. This was very different. Even mixed with wild plum, the sauce tasted dry and strange, it’s bitterness standing out far too much.
Adelle and Lexie, back for round two!
Xococava on Urbanspoon

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