Address: 783 Queen St. West
Lunch: Mon. to Fri., 11:30 a.m. - noon
Dinner Sat. & Sun., 5 p.m. - midnight
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip $75
**** (out of 5)
Tapas is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and if you’d never been to Spain and had the real thing, you’d assume it had everything to do with portion size and nothing to do with sausages or cheese. With inspiration left over after launching Czehoski, chef Nathan Isberg and owner Brad Denton looked a bit further west down Queen and opened Coca late last year, with a menu that wouldn’t look out of place in any Spanish bar from Sitges to Torremolinos.
Since not even a chef can be in two places at the same time, Isberg gave the job of running the kitchen at Coca, and the title of chef de cuisine, to Kevin Korslick, who had worked with him in the kitchen at Czehoski since it opened.
Born in Mississauga and raised in Oakville, Korslick says he’s learned more from working in kitchens than any formal schooling, and that Isberg and David Haman, Isberg’s co-chef at the opening of Czehoski, have been his teachers. When Isberg put him in charge of the kitchen at Coca, his first major challenge was simple supply and demand — and the fact that Toronto suppliers weren’t used to anyone demanding as much Mahon cheese and blood sausage as Isberg’s very Spanish menu required.
Korslick says that he was losing sleep trying to keep the kitchen supplied. “We just wanted the stuff so fast that after three weeks they were cleaned out, so it was one of those things where I was calling every supplier and going into cheese shops. It got that every day I was able to find a half wheel here and a half wheel there and bring it in.”
Like a lot of restaurants, Coca has been making its own olives and charcuterie — the aged meats and sausages that make up the backbone of its dishes. “There’s the cod, the duck, the horse and the olives, some of these things take a month or so to prepare. It was hard in the beginning to get our levels timed right — we used to run out of a few things. You drop the ball when you’re so busy — you don’t know that you’re going to go through 24 duck breasts in a week and we had no more curing. We’ve managed to figure out what we’re selling, and now that we’re going we have tons of it. The longer it cures, the richer the flavours get.”
I was actually surprised at how Spanish Isberg’s plates tasted, from the spiced, cured olives to the stuffed peppers to the chorizo sausage. Korslick says that, thanks to restaurants like Jamie Kennedy’s Wine Bar, there’s a core of diners in the city who know how to order tapas and make an evening out of building a meal out of the small plates. Context, of course, is everything, and Coca has admirably stuck to the very strict, but rewarding, limitations of tapas.