A sister for Czehoski, Coca turns an old brick building into three stylish but casual storeys. Upstairs, red flocked wallpaper and a gas fire add coziness to a small dining room; the main floor offers booths, a long, candlelit bar and an unstructured menu of inventive tapas. (The top floor is reserved for private dining.)
Coca is named for the Catalan flatbread that’s like thin, floury pizza dough, here topped with mahon cheese, moist duck confit and fresh pear or six other combinations. Truffle-scented salt cod croquettes are ethereally light. Charcuterie includes hand-cut Serrano ham and lean, cedar-pressed horse cecina (cured tenderloin). Fresh, organically farmed Irish cod appears as a salty tartare, paired with pickled baby peaches and sea urchin foam, and again as a main course, cooked sous-vide with almond oil and served with spinach velouté. Plump pillows of vinegared mackerel are scorched to add delicious caramelization, but the kitchen’s love of big, pungent flavours takes a step too far by crumbling cabrales cheese over tender venison short ribs from La Ferme. Desserts explore Spain’s custardy canon, ranging in quality from delectably gooey vanilla crema catalan to a bland, leaden chocolate bread pudding. Charming, confident servers rightly recommend the sherries that lead off an eclectic, food-friendly wine list. Tapas $5-$15.
By now, Czehoski owner, Brad Denton knows exactly what hip Toronto diners want: gorgeous locales filled with blue-jeaned babes who like a bit of a scene with their dining. With Coca, a gratifying gift basket of a resto-bar, he amps-up the formula, resulting in a generally pleasing, though thoroughly unsurprising spot.
After firmly establishing Czehoski’s Queen West cred, Denton and company hope to expand their success with their latest venture. Housed in Blue Algave’s former building, just down the street from home base, Coca is already generating buzz amongst industry folks.
Narrow and bright, the Spanish-influenced tapas and wine bar is complimented by brick along the west wall and hardwood floors throughout. Cushioned high-backs and high tables occupy the front portion of the bar area while the main counter – a wildly sought-after area – runs down the center of the room, keeping everyone at a comfortable, crotch-free eye level. The lighting – track lighting in the front and hanging lights over the booths – is a good fit for both clandestine, arty diners and business types wanting to woo a potential client.
At Coca, you can soak up the social scene and the high hipster-quotient over some comfortable fare, but if it’s culinary improvisation and big boy plates that you’re after, go someplace else; Coca specializes in small-bite, Spanish tapas.
Nathan Iseberg, executive chef at Czehoski, is doing double duty, taking the helm at Coca with Kevin Korslick as the chef de cuisine. Confident about Coca’s culinary zeitgeist, wine steward and house manager, Christopher Wilton effuses, “Nathan and Kevin are really committed to locally sourced and organically grown food and the majority of the food is prepared in-house. Nathan not only butchers the animal but is dedicated to incorporating different parts of the animal to the menu as well.”
The house specialties are the Cocas ($10.00): Catalan flatbread with Mahon cheese served with a variety of toppings. A standout on the limited, though generally well-executed menu is the crispy-skinned Duck Confit, served with roasted pears. Also good is a rustic but salty Serrano ham served with white anchovy and eggplant.
Rounding out the menu, the Raciones ($14) – individual casseroles – are a little closer to a meal than a snack. Of these a bright spot is the Roast Quail, which manages to work in harmony with its fig, bread-thyme stuffing and citrus pepper sauce to create an excellent plate. Another tasty option is the Wild White Prawns with apropos flavours of garlic, espelette and a heavy dose of olive oil.
For those who worry that the tapas dishes won’t satisfy their hunger, Coca has a second floor that will cater to dining and a third floor for private parties. Wilton is also working with wine agents to set up cork-dork-enticing winemaker’s dinners and wine tastings.
Wilton’s mandate is to bring his extensive knowledge of wine to Coca, but he also has an ulterior motive: he’s intent on shattering Sherry’s stuffed-shirt image. “Good Sherry should be treated like a white wine,” says Wilton. “It goes bad in a couple of days and it should be dry. A lot of crème Sherrys have artificial sweeteners and a good Sherry can stand up to salted cod, olives and strong blue cheeses.” Coca serves 25 different wines by the glass and 60 by the bottle. Wine glasses are served in three formats: taster (2 oz.), half glass (4 oz.) and full glass (6 oz.).
Drawing crowds of in-the-know foodies, Coca has quickly made a hip-eatery impression. Well on its way to the top of the dining heap, Coca will only get better come spring and the introduction of its charming second-floor patio. It seems that Denton and company have another successful venture on their hands.
There’s something otherworldly about Spain. Gaudi’s exotic architecture, the culture of Flamenco, with its hypnotic staccato heels and highly stylized hand movements — the suggestion of the mysterious exoticism of gypsies and Moorish influence of centuries past. It’s a country with a constant dialogue of cultures colliding in every area, especially the cuisine.
I love it when the interpretation of another country’s cuisine is reborn on the Toronto scene. Coca Tapas and Wine Bar on Queen West offers the unique duality similar to that of the Spanish dance. The precision of percussive feet and the fluid freedom of a dancer’s hands are transferred over to the decor, food and wine. Chefs Nathan Isberg and Kevin Korslick have fashioned a menu designed to highlight the old with the new in Spanish cuisine.
Coca’s second floor dining room is a juxtaposition of high, exposed ceilings, tall windows and modern marble table tops against exposed brick and the requisite retro-red velvet wallpaper of the 60s. There’s even a private loft level for intimate groups, but we’re going casual so we nestle in on the ground floor.
The long, narrow main floor room has a snazzy green tiled bar with lots of visual appeal. Funky orange retro seating puts you in front of a selection of food that will eventually end up on your plate. The olives at the bar glisten like gems in a jewelry store window. My guest and I are about to order two varieties on the menu when our waiter suggests the ‘market’ selection ($5) which is a little of each. So much variety and interpretation of such a simple thing. The fennel/black pepper or the honey/sherry vinegar marinades top the list for me, but they are all worthy. Also on order, house-made Catalan style bread ($3) for ‘mopping’ up. We nibble on olives, sip sherry and dither over the menu.
The selection of tapas is seductive. For a treat, the ceviche of foie gras with fino sherry ($5) is a melting must, in its tiny-bite perfection. I like the simplicity of the cured meats. They can be ordered by three or six varieties to a plate ($12 or $21). We order a trio: mild chorizo, Serrano ham and the intriguing clove cured duck breast. They arrive in little mountains on the plate, along with glasses of Spanish rosada and a fragrant Torrontes wine. We can order mains but the tapas menu wins out, so we move on to cherry peppers stuffed with Mahon cheese ($5), a salty-hot dance cooled by the off-dry vino. The truffled salt-cod croquettes ($7) are ethereal and contrast the funky Spanish take on Buffalo-style wings. In this case, organic wings with a Cabrales dipping sauce, ($7) a type of Spanish blue cheese. Delicious.
…see toronto.com for full review