If you’re looking for a taste of Spain, look no further than Carmen; chef Luis Valenzuela has created a little Spanish oasis in Toronto’s Queen West. There are tapas a plenty, paella to fill your boots and a number of hand-crafted cocktails that are sure to keep you satiated throughout the evening. There is also an excellent selection of wine and beer but if you want a real ‘taste of Spain’ you should try the sangria.
Once you have your drink in hand, it’s time to pick your paella. It takes about 45 minutes to prepare, so the sooner you order the better. Once you’ve ordered, there will be plenty of time to figure out the rest.
However it’s the Paella de Montaña that really tickles my fancy. I didn’t know how much I loved snails or rabbit until I tried this for the first time. The rabbit is full of flavour; it’s tender, sweet and pairs brilliantly with the artichokes and the smoky snails. The tempranillo wine brings it all together creating the ultimate fiesta of flavour. Trust me, it’s incredible.
The menu does change often, so if you’re a regular (like me) you will have the opportunity to try the newest paella creations as they hit the menu. There was a lobster paella that I still dream about to this day… but each new paella tends to have the same effect on me.
Once you’ve decided on your paella, you can browse the menu for tapas. My rule of thumb is always ‘the hungrier you are, the more you can order’ which just makes sense. Right?
One of my favourites is the Tomate Verde Frito with feta, roasted red peppers and corn chutney. These fried green tomatoes are so good – Idgie Threadgoode would be proud.
They are the best for sharing too; this towering pile of tomatoes can be disassembled easily so that each person gets an equal serving of tomato & toppings. They were designed with sharing in mind.
I also cannot get enough of the Jicama con Aguacate – paper thin slices of jicama, filled with creamy avocado puree and topped with fresh pico de gallo. Fresh isn’t even a strong enough word for this one. It’s like fresh glacier fed water and sunshine all wrapped up in the crispiest crunch of fresh you’ve ever had. I can’t even explain it. You just need to have it, and order more than one. You’ll need it.
The Pimientos de Padrón con Salsa de Tomate are not always available, but when they are – it’s a must have item. A whole heap of shishito peppers are grilled until tender, and then topped with a rich tomato sauce. The best part is that some are fiery hot, and some are just sweet – so it turns into a bit of a game. It’s a fiery version of Russian Roulette, without the dire consequences.
I could write about everything else on the menu and why it’s so incredible – but for the sake of simplicity I have listed my absolute favourites.
Now aside from the food Carmen also has an incredible atmosphere. The space is open, comforting and sleek. There are cozy nooks for two or large tables for big parties and because most of the dishes are meant to be shared, the more people you bring the more dishes you can order.
The bar is also an excellent spot to perch yourself, either on your own or with others, to sample the Spanish-centric wine and cócteles list. To go with your drink, tapas are always encouraged, so make it a drink and eat pairing.
So go, eat paella and enjoy!