Casa Madera has opened with a bang in Toronto’s King West neighbourhood and Torontonicity was invited for a media preview dinner before its official opening on April 5, 2022. All I can say is: Oh, what a night!
The restaurant, which features a Mexican-Mediterranean inspired cuisine, is adjacent to 1 Hotel Toronto and is the first Casa Madera in Canada from Los-Angeles-based Noble 33. Casa Madera hits high notes on its exceptional menu, ambiance and live music: the experience is the whole enchilada – not that there was an enchilada to be seen on this coastal Mexican menu.
When we arrived on Wednesday at 6 p.m., the house lights were up and the resto was already half full. We were seated at a corner booth in the front section, which my party of three all agreed was the best booth in the restaurant. We had a vantage point that allowed us to check out the bar area, the other diners at the front, and we could also look outside on to Wellington Street.
Upon being seated, we were immediately provided with water and our drinks order was taken. My niece ordered a Mohojito, $25, while my mother ordered a Mayahuel, $25. The Mohojito was a delicious conconction of rum, rosemary muscovado, mint, lime, strawberry and angostura. The Mayahuel was made with mezcal, nopales, kiwi, lime, mint and fernet sidecar. For a dramatic flourish, the server lit the mint leaves of the Mohojito.
Whenever I see oysters on a menu, my excitement level ramps up so we ordered a half dozen for a Starter at Market Price (not sure what that was!) We also ordered the Diver Scallop, $19, to start. The oysters being served that evening were Lucky Lime and Raspberry Point, both from PEI. I know I am an anomaly, but I have been known to prefer West Coast oysters to East Coast, but the Lucky Lime oysters were firm, fresh and fleshy and not as salty as I usually find East Coast oysters to be. The Raspberry Point oysters were divine – again round and fleshy, and a little saltier than the Lucky Limes.
The Diver Scallop (just one scallop, but a large one) was served on a bed of Mexican tabbouleh with jalapeno garlic oil and serrano cilantro butter. The scallop was tender and so full of flavour while the tabbouleh, which can be boring to the palate, came alive with its spicy dressing. Absolute deliciousness!
Another starter we ordered was Whipped Aubergine with charred cascabel oil and oven baked pita, 22. I sometimes take a pass on eggplant dips because they tend to be bland – not this one! The smoky flavour from the charred oil really elevated the flavour of the eggplant.
We ordered two different tacos: Wild Mushroom with Caribbean jerk marinade, cilantro, pineapple, red onion, avocado crema and vegan cotija, $20 and Tiger Shrimp with avocado tomatillo salsa and jalapeno cabbage, 24. Each dish comes with two medium-sized tacos. I loved the Tiger Shrimp taco – the spicy tomato flavour gelled perfectly with the shrimp and the cabbage provided the necessary crunchy texture. My niece really enjoyed the mushroom tacos, especially the combination of sweet and hot ingredients!
While we were waiting for our next dish, we took in our gorgeous surroundings. The room is decorated in soothing neutrals including grey leather booths, a grey ceramic tile floor and a plethora of plants, both hanging from the ceiling and wisely, providing a visual barrier between the tables and the entrance. Although the restaurant is modern and spacious, it is full of warmth! There is also a good amount of comfortable space between booths and tables.
And the music…a cellist played Middle Eastern riffs to a soundtrack of Latin rhythms. A drummer later joined in to amp up the salsa beat. The thermometer outside may have read “COLD”, but the musicians did their best to ramp up the heat inside.
Aji Panca Tuna with avocado, cucumber and black sesame, $35, was an artistic and culinary revelation. As instructed by my niece, we rolled up a slice of avocado and cucumber in a piece of tuna and popped it into our mouths. The tuna was fresh, soft and juicy and its partnership with the crunchy cucumber and creamy avocado was a gastronomic success!
I was impressed by the selection of grilled vegetables in the A La Plancha salad, $24. It was tossed balsamic vinaigrette and crispy garlic. The Beet & Jicama Salad with citrus supreme, candied walnuts and whipped goat cheese, $24, was another winning salad. Jicama is a root vegetable that looks like a potato, but tastes more like an apple. The acidity in the Jicama and the beets was beautifully complemented by the mild whipped cheese.
We selected the Wagyu Beef top cap with red wine jus and triple infernal salt, $120, for one of our entrées. This beef was so tender and when you bit into it, there was a release of buttery essence as a result of the delicate flecks of marbling in the beef. The red wine jus punched up the flavours in the beef.
I’m so glad we chose the Dover Sole with caper brown butter sauce, chili de arbol and lemon brulee, $75, for the second of our entrées. The sole, a sweet, mild-tasting fish, benefited greatly from the rich brown butter accompaniment and this fish simply melted in my mouth. For sides, we ordered a plate of broccolini, which was deftly charred.
We were so full, but so we decided to order just one dessert and split it. At this point in the evening, the restaurant was packed and our server became extremely busy. I think we waited at least 30 minutes before she returned to take our dessert order and then it took another 25 minutes for the dessert to arrive.
The Blanca y Limon was the collective choice: it is a lemon cake with strawberry sauce, fresh strawberry & mint relish, lemon coulis and strawberry ice cream, $28. Our server showed us how to eat this dessert: Take your fork and tap on the hard white chocolate topping to reveal the lemon-strawberry interior. You can’t find a better combination than lemon and strawberry – tart and sweet – and this certainly was the case here. The cake was more of a cookie texture, which soaked up the gooey sauce. If you don’t get your fill of white chocolate from the topping, you can eat the white chocolate bowl the dessert is served in!
Casa Madera is a very welcome addition to King West. The five-star menu, warm ambiance and intoxicating live music create a transformational and uplifting experience – something we all need desperately at this time!
550 Wellington Street West
You may also be interested in reading, “Baldini Restaurant on Queen Street East in Leslieville“.