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Playa Cabana, where Raul Rivers serves up some puzzling food, is exactly the kind of hard-to-find spot that attracts celebs. Photo by Steven Davey.
PLAYA CABANA 111 Dupont, at Davenport, 416-929-3911, playacabana.ca Rating: NN
Past the velvet rope and the row of recycling bins, up a badly carpeted flight of stairs, in through a door that sticks and an anonymous dining room, down some more stairs with the washrooms to the left, and along a narrow hallway, and then... patio paradise! Little wonder Hollywood A-listers like Jake Gyllenhaal hang out in Playa Cabana's (111 Dupont, at Davenport, 416-929-3911, playacabana.ca, rating: NN) secluded backyard. No one will ever find them!
Forgoing the $42 margarita made with Gran Patron Platinum tequila for a $9 no-name mojito, we're soon laying waste to a bowl of appropriately lumpy guacamole and a basket of crispy-thin house-made tortilla chips ($8). A pair of Dungeness crab cakes strewn with the occasional kernel of corn ($9) that taste like fishy falafel arrive over-fried in a pool of muted chipotle sauce, while corn on the cob ($10 for two) rubbed with lime and dusted with chili powder lacks the sublime depth of flavour found in those served at La Carnita on College. And they're three bucks more to boot.
Talking of trendy tacos, Playa's come three to a plate and range from blandly battered whitefish ($13) to deliciously braised 'n' shredded beef short ribs. Those topped with local slow-braised lamb and the occasional chickpea (both $14) come inexplicably sided with a large steaming bowl of leftover braising liquid. If we hadn't unknowingly upgraded the plate to include yellow Rice-a-Roni-style rice and what the kitchen refers to as "re-seared pinto beans" for an additional two bucks, we wouldn't have known what to do with it. Much like Playa Cabana.