La Palma is pure California cool

Campagnolo's sister spot does the most luxurious takeout in town


Think of La Palma (849 Dundas West, lapalma.ca) the latest casual spot by Campagnolo owners (and spouses) Craig Harding and Alexandra Hutchison, as Venice by way of Venice Beach.

The menu is all northern Italy, with a lighter twist, but the pastel-doused dining room and laid-back format are pure California.

Their original spot – located, conveniently, just across the street – has been a date-night favourite on DuWest since opening. But to cater to a more spontaneous slice of the dining public, Harding devised a menu of gourmet ready-made Italian eats that work just as well in the beachy dining room as they would on a picnic blanket at Trinity Bellwoods.

“We’ve been at Campagnolo for about seven years now, and on the weekend, there’s a constant procession of picnickers and bikes heading to the park,” Hutchison says, as she gives me the grand tour of the former Caffe Brasiliano space a few days before opening.

For extra inspiration, the couple booked a trip to California. “We noticed Venice Beach and Trinity Bellwoods kind of have a similar vibe,” Hutchison says. “On a weekend, it’s all bikinis and Frisbees, right? We’re playing off that.”

The space, designed with an impresssive nose for detail by Hutchison, is “a nod to old Hollywood and art deco without being too literal,” she explains. 

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Natalia Manzocco

A striking mural that incorporates swaths of watery aqua, squiggles of “millennial pink” and slashes of black – a nod to Venice Beach’s tradition of street art – wraps around the space. And artistic touches are everywhere, from the custom tables (created by Hutchison to recall the work of one of her favourite artists, Constantin Brâncusi) to the sconces manufactured by a husband-and-wife team in Florida and the specially-commissioned nudes hanging in the bathrooms.

But the thing that’s meant to strike you right away when you walk into the space is the takeout counter that separates the dining room from the open kitchen. There, Harding’s team loads the glass cases with the most gorgeously-plated prepared eats this side of Pusateri’s: cast-iron pans of roasted ratatouille, enamel French ovens of Italian sausage or rotisserie cauliflower with miso and grapes. To the left, there’s a wide range of housemade Italian pastries like biscotti, zeppole and tarts.

“A lot of our food is not only meant to be grabbed and served to go, but enjoyed in the restaurant,” Harding explains, “We can make a small plate of this for the dining room, but it’s also very easy to pack this up.”

Should you want to stick around, there’s a list of classic-ish cocktails that range from sour to spirit-forward.

Here’s a closer look at a few of Harding’s dishes:

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Natalia Manzocco

“Led Zeppole” piped with pistachio cream and topped with peaches.

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Natalia Manzocco

Chocolate-filled eclairs topped with coconut.

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Natalia Manzocco

Green and white asparagus with crispy prosciutto and sauce gribiche ($10 per portion). Harding describes this amalgam of influences as an analogue for the restaurant’s style of food – “a French sauce, with the Italian crispy prosciutto and the local green asparagus.”

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Natalia Manzocco

Mackerel escabeche with caramelized scallions, lemon zest and chiles ($10 per portion). Harding’s a la carte menu is designed to let diners mix and match their choice of veggies and protein.

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Natalia Manzocco

Hundred-layer lasagna ($16) is based on Harding’s nonna’s recipe. “We rest it overnight and then fry it in the olive oil to get that nice crust on the edge. I think the crusty edge piece is everyone’s favourite – so now, everyone gets a crusty lasagna piece.”

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Natalia Manzocco

Harding plates a serving of lasagna.

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One of the more spirit-forward drink options is the Astra ($12), featuring Hendricks gin, manzanilla sherry, St. Germain, grapefruit oil and star anise in an Ouzo-rinsed glass.

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Natalia Manzocco

The house cocktail is a La Palma ($12), featuring montenegro, aperol, orange, lime, egg whites, fresh mint and housemade bitters.

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The fetching striped uniform shirts were designed by none other than Kimberly Newport-Mimran of Pink Tartan the restaurant’s management say they might eventually make them available for sale.

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Natalia Manzocco

Recognize these stools? Hutchison saved them from Caffe Brasiliano and had them re-dipped in bronze.

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Natalia Manzocco

They didn’t miss a single detail here – right down to the monogrammed plates.

nataliam@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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