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Don Appetit! Estia’s Inspired Mediterranean Plates


Don Douloff, Food WriterIn April 2017, Toronto-based hospitality company ICONINK opened Estia restaurant in the Yorkville-area space previously occupied by NAO Steakhouse (also operated by ICONINK).

The split-level space is sophisticated and impressive, especially the main dining room’s high-ceilinged front area that’s outfitted with a huge, custom-made glass chandelier, marble-topped bar and curved, red-leather banquettes. Throughout the softly lit rooms, the colour scheme runs to blue and green tones played against aubergine, complementing an installation of line drawings mounted on a feature wall. The dining room provides a glimpse into the busy kitchen, and the second-floor mezzanine overlooks the bar.

Overseen by executive chef Ben Heaton, who made his name at The Grove and other top Toronto kitchens like One and Colborne Lane, Estia’s menu jet-hops across the Mediterranean, touching down in Spain, Southern Italy and Greece. In the Mediterranean tradition of making everything from scratch, the kitchen crafts Estia’s cheese, bread and cured meats onsite. Plates demonstrate a kitchen brimming with creativity backed up by first-rate technique brought to bear on top-notch ingredients.

Eggplant with feta and mint gremolata.

Tiny roasted eggplants, cradling crumbled feta, mint gremolata and date syrup, receive a quick, last-minute broiling that warms and softens the toppings. The dish is a marvel of harmony: salty cheese, sweet syrup, fragrantly herbal mint and pillow-soft eggplant.

Similarly clever, house-made halloumi cheese, pan-seared until it’s melt-in-the-mouth, is partnered with roasted grapes, warm truffle honey and toasted walnuts. It’s nutty/sweet/funky/toasty — a match made in culinary heaven.

Charcoal-grilled lamb cutlets.

Main courses are equally strong. An uncommonly large half-chicken, crisp of skin and moist of flesh, wears a thick and velvety combo of feta blended with preserved tomato relish. Grilled over charcoal until their meat is nicely charred and carries a deep mineral tang, lamb cutlets are boosted by rich, mint-dusted tzatziki. There’s a brilliant, upscale take on moussaka, here reconfigured with a ragu of truffled Wagyu beef, silken mashed potatoes, eggplant and, the genius touch, a top layer of earthy chanterelle mushrooms.

The best of this stellar group of mains, however, is ultra-fresh sea bream flown in from Greece. Mild, supremely moist and delicate, and garnished simply with olive oil and salt, this is one of the finest fish dishes I’ve eaten, anywhere.

Sides include gigantes (large lima beans) bathed in thick tomato sauce sparked with chili and cubes of pancetta; and meltingly tender roasted red peppers whose sweetness is amplified by tiny raisins and sherry vinegar.

Loukomades drizzled with Greek honey.

Do leave room for the inventive house-made desserts. They include loukamades, tiny, pillowy balls of expertly fried dough drizzled with Greek honey and garnished with crushed walnuts and roasted-walnut ice cream; kataifi tart, a delicate nest of shredded phyllo filled with a not-too-sweet mix of spiced, honey-sweetened walnuts, almonds and pistachios, and jazzed with cinnamon cream; and creamy Meyer lemon curd partnered with roasted rhubarb and rhubarb sorbet.

Also terrific were two sorbets, one made with tbrightly citric Meyer lemon, and the other made with the resin of the mastic tree, found in Greece. The mastic lends the sorbet a refreshing pine- and cedar-like flavour.

Estia’s private and group menus offer a family-style dining experience that features fish and seafood brought in daily, as well as house-made cheeses, breads and cured meats. For large groups, menus can be fully customized.

Estia’s semi-private dining and event space.

The 4,032-sq.-ft., two-level space offers a first-floor dining room seating 50; a 1,500-sq.-ft. patio seating 60; and a spacious semi-private mezzanine dining room and event space seating 70.

— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,500 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.