In my last review of Paralia, my new fave Toronto Greek restaurant, located on the city’s east-end waterfront, I focused on the splendid Mezzelicious menu (available Thursday to Saturday and bargain-priced $8 to $10).
This time, I’m focusing on non-mezzelicious appetizers and mains turned out by Oscar Kerem Akbalik, who has taken Paralia’s kitchen to another level.
His Greek dips are Toronto’s best. To taramasalata, he adds smoked salmon and caramelized shallots that bring great depth of flavour to a typically one-note, salty disappointment. Chunky feta dip carries the welcome heat of house-smoked chili paste. To garlicky tzatziki, Oscar adds fennel; the texture is rich and super-smooth. Eggplant dip is given crunch and nuttiness with pinenuts and sweetness from shallots. (Substitute soft and smoky grilled olive bread for the pita bread.) Delicate dumplings are the best spinach-filled phyllo pastry I’ve had anywhere.
As for mains, moist rabbit luxuriates in a stew of red wine jus, pearl onions, smoked eggplant and feta puree. Three sizeable lamb chops are grilled perfectly medium-rare until they’re juicy and smoky (and their roasted lemon potatoes are sensational). Squid ink gives al dente linguine an earthy, deep-sea flavour complemented by lobster and thick, sweet tomato sauce. Moist goat meat, mixed with rice and herbs, makes a superb filling for grape leaves luxuriating in an herbed sour-yogurt sauce. Oscar grills sea bream until it’s smoky and delicate, and stuffs red snapper with herbs and lemon slices, covering it in a salt crust and baking it.
Complementing any main is a side of fluffy rice, tossed with tender sauteed spinach and perfumed with herbs, that I could eat five times a week.
At dessert, Oscar has improved the feta cheesecake, making it creamier, smoother and tangier than ever; upgraded the baklava so that the phyllo is more tender and lighter than before (and also less sweet); and introduced a molten chocolate dessert that’s like eating a liquid dark-chocolate brownie.
Group dining options include the open-concept Cove, which seats 150, and an upstairs Moroccan-themed lounge that hosts 60 to 80 people, seated and 100, standing.
The entire restaurant is available for buyout – combined, the dining room plus Cove seat 350 (600, including the outdoor patio).
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 25 years and, during that time, has critiqued almost 1,000 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.