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PATRIA (478 King West, at Brant, 416-367-0505, patriatoronto.com) Complete dinners for $60 per person (brunches $30), including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner nightly 5:30 pm to close. Brunch Sunday from 11:30 am. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
Between them, Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji are responsible for some of the sexiest and most successful meat markets in town, swanky resto-lounges with names like Blowfish, Cube and Nyood. But until Khabouth launched La Société in the Colonnade three years ago, food was rarely a priority.
That all changed last summer when the two club kings teamed up for Weslodge. For a spot geared to the lucrative King West bottle-service crowd, executive chef Stuart Cameron's comfort food carte proved far more accomplished than it needed to be. Their latest collaboration is even better.
Like virtually every new joint worth its kosher sea salt, Patria bills itself as a tapas bar, the difference being that Patria actually serves the small snack-sized plates best shared over drinks in Barcelona, not just Buffalo chicken wings on a beer coaster.
The cavernous 100-seat room is bound to impress, with its cathedral ceiling, Calderesque chandelier and dramatic staircase leading to the second-floor washrooms, meaning everyone in the joint gets his or her moment in the spotlight at least once a night.
Over a round of Spanish Manhattans - 2 ounces of Bulleit bourbon, Spanish sherry nectar and angostura bitters on the rocks ($17) - we start with tissue-thin slices of outrageously streaky 24-month-old Serrano ham ($11) and a sizable wedge of veiny Valdeón blue cheese paired with tart quince jelly and grilled house-baked sourdough ($9). Tapas in Toronto don't come any more authentic than a trio of crisply coated Manchego croquettes finished with creamy aioli and a scattering of scallion ($8).
A generous stack of gorgeously blistered padrón peppers ($6), somewhat less incendiary than jalapeños, still pack considerable punch, while Manchego-stuffed dates and relatively mild guindilla peppers wrapped in fatty Iberico bacon ($9) could double as dessert. And though you'll swear there's pork in there somewhere, chef's vegetarian chickpea stew laced with spinach ($7) gets most of its considerable crunch from toasted migas breadcrumbs.
Technically a large plate, a salad of shaved fennel, radish and red lollo rosso lettuce dressed with a shower of shredded Manchego and artichoke chips ($13) will feed a table of four. But don't bother fighting over marvellously rare and terrifically tender slices of blood-red Iberico pork flank slowly cooked sous-vide over piquant piquillo pepper jam ($28). Order the whole damned thing for yourself!
Cameron's desserts (all $6) range from trad, like house-made churros with caramel sauce, to rad, like his take on ice cream sandwiches made with soft coffee-flavoured semifreddo and nutty brittle dolloped with cinnamon cream and a clever black olive marmalade. More, please.
Back in the cold light of day for Sunday brunch, we begin with double Supracafe espressos topped with milky foam (cafe coladito con leche, $4.50) and sponge-cake muffins layered with buttery olive-oil pudding ($4). An exceptionally fluffy potato frittata globbed with garlicky romesco sauce (tortilla de patatas, $5) makes the perfect counterpoint to a rustic casserole of braised cannellini beans, aged tomato and the kitchen's own chorizo ($8).
In the don't-miss category, both chef's spectacular octopus terrine splashed with aioli and romesco on house-baked flatbread (montadito de pulpa, $7) and his wood-fired Spanish-style pizzas dressed with white anchovies, spicy piquillo peppers and more Manchego ($12) deserve a permanent place on the dinner menu.
"That's what Charles and Hanif keep telling me," sighs Cameron.