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Don Appetit! Madrina Elevates the Tapas Experience


Don Douloff, Food WriterMadrina’s inventive and refined modern tapas raise the bar on Spanish cuisine in Toronto.

The restaurant launched in late June in Toronto’s Distillery District, in the high-ceilinged space formerly occupied by Tappo. Assorted shades of red and orange — for example, terracotta tiles and mahogany arches — punctuated with contrasting graphics and geometric floors energize an airy 2,800-square-foot room that breezily channels Barcelona.

Madrina’s dining room.

Helming the kitchen is Catalan-born chef Ramon Simarro, whose impressive pedigree includes stints in Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain and France. At Madrina, Simarro employs seasonal local products alongside authentic ingredients from Spain to reinterpret classic Iberian small plates in a modern mode.

A stunning example is the patatas bravas, typically a Spanish version of home fries topped with spicy sauce. Simarro takes the dish way upscale: Here, it’s a rectangular ‘cake’ constructed in a millefeuille style with razor-thin, vertical layers of potato, crunchy outside, pillowy inside. Dabs of Sriracha brava sauce, and wasabi aioli, add subtle spiciness.

Oysters with avocado gazpacho.

Ultra-fresh Kusshi oysters, from B.C., cradle avocado gazpacho and pickled apple. The cool gazpacho’s herbal notes, and the apple’s quiet sweetness, harmonize marvellously with the briny oysters.

Thyme-kissed lime-soy dressing, and garlic chips’ pungent perfume, animate translucent, melt-in-the-mouth slices of raw sea bream.

Millefeuille-style patatas bravas.

In tribute to Spain’s modernist master, Ferran Adria, chef Simarro offers El Bulli Olives, tiny, quivering spheres fashioned from green olive juice that, somehow, taste more like an olive than an olive.

Thickened almond-garlic cream’s rich, fragrant notes provide brilliant counterpoint to slices of yellowfin tuna. Large ‘cannelloni,’ fashioned from slices of buttery avocado, are wrapped around sweet crab and jazzed with salmon roe.

The kitchen does traditional tapas very well, too, as evidenced by the ham croquettes (shatteringly crisp exterior and creamy interior) and tiny, open-faced sandwich built on sweet piquillo pepper, custard-textured roasted eggplant and anchovy.

Seared duck egg with potato foam.

A sizeable bowl is lined with poached and seared duck egg covered in a deep layer of rich, pudding-like potato foam garnished with chorizo breadcrumbs. We plunge our spoons through the foam, dig up a bit of slightly runny egg, and inhale. It’s an inspired and deeply satisfying series of mouthfuls.

Another marvelous mouthful: black-sesame macaron dusted with cocoa powder and sandwiched around foie gras terrine and quince cream. It’s a brilliantly balance of sweet and savoury — a perfect segue to dessert.

Breadcrumb- and carbon-coated rice pudding croquettes.

Those desserts offer up silky crema Catalan (similar to crème caramel); Manchego cheesecake counterpointed with raspberry crumble and raspberry sorbet; and, my favourite, creamy, cinnamon-scented rice-pudding croquettes sheathed in breadcrumbs and carbon. Looking like jet-black golf balls, the made-to-order croquettes send smiles around our table.

Madrina does accept group bookings, and the restaurant is still fine-tuning the maximum group size the space can accommodate. Early and later into nightly service, Madrina also accepts reservations for groups of up to 10 people.

— 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.