I have come back to beer after a decades-long hiatus. I won’t go into the details of my abstinence and resolute resistance to beer, but as many of you know, too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
My conversion happened at Leña Restaurante, a downtown Spanish restaurant. I came in with a friend for lunch and opened the menu to a fabulous array of Spanish-styled dishes, each one more enticing than the one before. I could close my eyes, point anywhere on the menu and dine well. In a clever coup between bar-person and chef, a special dish was crafted specifically for the culinary journey to pair with Estrella Damm beer (Carne Apache Tostada of oyster aioli, green olives and crispy tortilla paired with Estrella Damm pint draught.) Estrella Damm is a Lager, and has been brewed in Barcelona since 1876. In a special promotion until May 31, twenty-five Toronto restaurants are offering special fixed-price menus to enjoy, paired with Estrella Damm beer.
Our server places two tall glasses of the golden brew on our table. Okay, I will be a good sport and take the challenge. One sip, and then another. Actually, this beer really does taste fantastic, and yes, it does pair well with Beef Tartare, also an item I usually refrain from eating. Leña’s version, with oyster mayonnaise, green olives and a cute little quail egg perched in the center, is a delectable surprise. Albacore Tuna Tartare is made even more tasty with kohlrabi cream, salted almonds, and a crunch of red onion. A few more sips of Estrella Damm and I will have lunched well, and could go home happy.
Through the windows, I see impatient traffic, people intense in their thoughts, hurrying to get somewhere, and I sink deeper into my green leather corner banquet and wait for more deliciousness to come. There is a feeling of decadence enjoying a rare, late lunch on a chilly afternoon. Most days, I am the one hurrying to get somewhere.
I’m glad we ordered Sourdough Focaccia. It comes thickly-sliced and toasted, glissed with olive oil, and shares the platter with a mix of Spanish Olives and a tomato spread. Without prejudice, this is the best focaccia I’ve had in recent memory.
Crispy skin Steelhead Trout from B.C. rests on a clutch of al dente green beans, magically all equal in length, roasted potatoes and a generosity of rich tomato sauce. Equally appreciated by my friend who is on his second glass of Estrella Damm, is the Classic Aurora Chicken braised with lemon, egg and saffron. All the flavours of Spain are ready to be scooped up in a cloud of potato puree.
Desserts are a challenge. Who can decide between Milk Chocolate Tres Leches Cake and Churros with warm spiced chocolate sauce. We take another direction. Burnt Cheesecake (not really burned but caramelized) comes with lush blueberry compote flavoured with Earl Grey. And for the lightest of the light, Raspberry Sorbetto with raspberries and lemon verbena.
It is rare for me to discuss costs in my reviews unless there is something unusual that should be shared. In this case, considering the excellent quality and generous portions of each dish, the comfort of the room and attentive service, as well as Estrella Damm, the bill is moderate. Even though downtown is a maze of construction right now, it’s worth the drive to Yonge and Richmond.
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.