Inside Casa La Palma, a second-floor snack bar

La Palma's party-ready upstairs sibling has a look and menu all its own — plus an incoming rooftop patio


Casa La Palma (849 Dundas West, at Euclid) is the brand-new second-floor restaurant and bar above La Palma.

The name means “house,” which chef Craig Harding and designer Alexandra Hutchison take to a logical extension with a swank, loungey interior featuring modular sofas, an intimate dining room and artful-yet-snacky small plates.

“We wanted it to feel a bit residential,” says Hutchison, adding she and the rest of the team were inspired by the coziness and communality of spaces like Soho House. “We wanted to create a space where people felt like they belonged.”

The plan, according to Hutchison and exec chef Julian D’Ippolito, was always to extend La Palma to the second floor back when the spot opened last summer, they were already teasing what will, this spring, become Dundas West’s only rooftop patio. 

What they weren’t necessarily counting on was La Palma’s runaway success – or the instant demand for event bookings. “Before we even opened downstairs, there were emails coming through,” D’Ippolito recalls. “We were like — what are we getting ourselves into?”

That clashed with their desire to keep La Palma as a casual neighbourhood joint: “It’s a big decision to close down when people are relying on you to be open on a Tuesday night when they feel like spaghetti,” Hutchison says.

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Natalia Manzocco

So Hutchison designed Casa with those parties in mind, creating distinct spaces within the white-oak-swathed room. At the centre, there’s a “living room” with a fire feature and low-slung couches done up in a dark floral print. Toward the back, there’s a private dining area, sectioned off with massive custom-made doors that can accommodate parties or even overflow dining from La Palma. The bar, meanwhile, is lined with mod lamps (designed with local firm Anony) that diners can huddle around for an intimate glow. Even the patio is set to feature a mini private dining room, which could double as a raw bar or DJ booth.

At first, the plan was for Casa to double up on La Palma’s menu – but that quickly proved, D’Ippolito said, to be a logistical nightmare. Instead, Casa has its own kitchen, which serves a light, largely pescatarian menu made up largely of new items. Some of the best-received dishes so far, D’Ippolito adds, have been the vegan and vegetarian items, including deep-fried delicata squash rings and pea falafel bites.

There are no big mains, and many dishes don’t even need silverware – perfect for casual snacking on the sofas. Even the lobster sliders began as party food D’Ippolito and Harding made them for a Tennis Canada event when a cancelled demo left them with a whack of fresh lobsters. (D’Ippolito said the servers couldn’t go more than a couple feet without the plates getting cleared.)

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Raffi Tutundjian

The food menu is complemented by a wine list designed to encourage exploration and sampling. Sommelier Alexis Kronwald-DeBruyn created a broad by-the-glass menu that includes three-ounce pours, six different sparkling wines, and a classification system that includes headers like “crunchy-tart” or “velvety-rich”. Soon, she says, La Palma will adopt that same categorization system as well.

“I think wine lists can be a little intimidating for people — we don’t want anyone to feel intimidated up here,” Kronwald-DeBruyn says. “Wine’s supposed to be fun, and we want people to feel at home.”

So far, diners seem to be going with the lived-in, residential feeling. Hutchison said she was thrilled when a friend’s five-year-old took one look at the couches, immediately kicked off her shoes and did a bellyflop.

“We want people to really enjoy it as a hospitality space, in the way they would enjoy entertaining at home,” Hutchison says – even if that means putting your feet up or accidentally knocking over your wine. “There are so many great restaurants in this city, and so many beautiful rooms. We thought this strip could use something loungey and homey, and something our guests could put their own kind of mark on.”

Here’s a closer look at the menu.

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Natalia Manzocco

Green pea falafel with ras el hangout and pickled onions ($8).

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Natalia Manzocco

Beef tartare with truffle aioli, preserved egg yolk, chives and rosemary crostini ($16).

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Natalia Manzocco

Tempura delicata squash with aged vinegar and fried sage leaves ($11).

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Natalia Manzocco

The “Chairman’s Lounge” lobster sliders with espelette aioli on brioche buns ($22).

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Natalia Manzocco

The shrimp cocktail with classic cocktail sauce ($14).

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Natalia Manzocco

Whole roasted celeriac with horseradish crema ($9).

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Natalia Manzocco

The patio’s not done yet — but here’s a peek at the view looking eastward.

nataliam@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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