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Cava Vs. Torito

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My SO has suggested Spanish tapas as his choice for his 40th birthday dinner. Right now, we're planning on it being just the two of us, but I'm toying with the idea of inviting another couple to join us. We haven't yet been to either Cava or Torito, but which should I choose for a) food b) ambiance c) service? I am aware that the two restaurants are in different price points. For this particular evening, I won't consider price as a factor.

Based on what I've seen of the two restaurants' menus online, it would seem to me that Torito's menu is closer to what one would traditionally expect from (essentially) Spanish tapas, while Cava's menu takes more liberties with the concept and is quite playful. Can anyone comment on the two menus and the execution of dishes?

Are the dishes at each restaurant true to Spanish tapas, size-wise? Can we expect a $16.00 plate at Cava to be tapas-sized or will it be a more "small plates" size, meaning more substantial? For that matter, will a $7 plate at Torito be tea saucer-sized and really only a few bites on the plate? If 6 dishes are suggested at Cava, is that also true at Torito? I have a tendency to go nuts and order too much, subsequently stuffing myself silly. What is a realistic number of dishes to order for two that will give us lots of variety on the table, but not too much? We're not dessert eaters so the focus will be on great food and wines ... and of course, good company!

Thanks!

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  1. For dish size, etc, Torito's were smaller but I don't feel like the were less substantial.

    Cava: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlunar/s...
    Torito: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlunar/s...

    Menus are there too, but again - from 2007! I remember CharlesYu recently posting about Torito being good as well, so you may wish do dig that thread up. Not much on Cava, that I recall.

    ---
    http://www.foodpr0n.com/ -- food. is. love.

    1. I've only been to Torito, but it's one of my Toronto favourites. I think you'll find most dishes tapas-sized verus small-plate sized (to use your terminology)... not always tea saucer, but relatively small. Atmosphere is on the causal side, small and buzzy... warm and friendly. I think Cava is a bit more formal, but that's only gleaned peering through the window.

      As for the ordering dilemma... part of the fun with tapas is that you can just keep it coming. Instead of trying to order everything at once you can pick two or three dishes to start and then keep ordering at suitable intervals until you've had your fill. When we eat tapas we usually place orders 3-4 times (we are dessert eaters) during the course of the meal. Also, this lets you start with the lighter, more delicate dishes and then work your way up to the meatier or more substantial options. And we always keep the wine coming!

      Either way, please keep us posted on your dinner - and happy 40th to the SO!

      1. By Toronto's standard, IMHO, both places are pretty good, each having their own 'hit and miss' dishes.
        In general, I found Cava's meal to be at least 30% more than Torito's for the same amount of food. As for taste, personally, I prefer Torito's food. For example, I prefer Torito's Tongue and cheek over Cava's Braised beef cheeks. The former better textural play with the introduction of the ox tongue and more aromatic! I also prefer the better value ' no filler' crab cakes of Torito's over Cava's rather mediocre Salt cod cakes. However, Grilled sardines at Cava is better executed than in Torito's. After all, sardines had been McDonald's speciality all the way back to his Avalon days! Lastly, Torito's addictive Flan de Chocolat is pretty hard to beat! If not for the calories, I can easily eat two or three for dessert!

        4 Replies
        1. re: Charles Yu

          Thanks for the detailed responses! Sounds like Torito is the way to go. We can try Cava another time. I think I read in another thread that Torito has a downstairs room that's pretty cozy. That sounds perfect. I can't wait. We live in Windsor and it's pretty slim pickings for interesting ethnic food, beyond Vietnamese. The last couple of times we went for Spanish tapas in Toronto, we went to Casa Barcelona and Embrujo Flamenco. Both were okay, but neither really impressed me. I'm looking forward to the evening.

          1. re: 1sweetpea

            If it's a nice day, try to get on the patio (in the back). It's quite lovely.

            1. re: Ediblethoughts

              It won't be until late October. I'd guess that the patio will be long closed by then.

              1. re: 1sweetpea

                Maybe--but maybe not. I didn't look too closely but I have this vague recollection of some paraphernalia to keep diners warm out there. But I might be getting my patios mixed up. So you could check...

        2. I've been to both and I preferred Torito. As I recall the plates are about the same size at both, and all roughly consistent with what you'd get in Spain. I'm afraid I can't remember much else about them.

          1. Hi! I realize you have made your decision and am sure you'll enjoy yourself at Torito. I just wanted to add that the dishes at Cava are more in the small plates style and far more intricate and I believe superior to Torito. For a special occasion or not, you cannot beat the service and the amazing knowledge the servers possess at Cava..........the wine list also shines. Enjoy your night.......looking forward to hearing your review of Torito!

            1. I tried Cava tonight and ordered:

              PINCHOS OF PADRON PEPPERS, MANCHEGO AND WHITE BEANS
              HOPE FARMS HEIRLOOM BEAN SALAD
              EGGPLANT WITH QUESO FRESCO, HONEY AND TOMATILLO SAUCE
              WILD MUSHROOM & FRESH CORN TAMAL WITH AN ANCHO CHILE SAUCE
              CAULIFLOWER AND CHICKPEA TAGINE WITH MEDJOOL DATES AND SPANISH SAFFRON
              SALT COD CAKE WITH PIPERADE AND CHIPOTLE CREMA

              I didn't dislike any one dish and we found the eggplant quite fantastic. The cauliflower was quite nice but I found the beans rather unimpressive. The other dishes were some where in the middle. At Torito, I literally loved every dish. And, maybe it's what I ordered but I found the portion size much smaller at Cava (I found the portion size of the pinchos really aggravating!). I wasn't worried I would be hungry at the end of the meal at Torito; I was getting that feeling towards the end at Cava.

              As an aside, the service was great.

              I'd go back to Torito but not to Cava.

              8 Replies
              1. re: Ediblethoughts

                Thanks for the heads up, Ediblethoughts. I've given this a lot of thought, and though I'd really like to try Cava sometime with a few friends, I've definitely decided to take my group (probably 10 or 11 of us) to Torito. I'm planning to foot the bill for the food, but I'm hoping Torito will be cool with having our guests buy bottles of wine (and pay for them as they get ordered) for the table. It really sounds like it will be the right choice for grazing and sipping throughout the evening.

                1. re: 1sweetpea

                  I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with everyone else here. I ate at Torito a few weeks ago and I've eaten at Cava several times, though not recently. I went after reading Charles Yu's posting and I was disappointed. As I posted on the other thread, it was good but not spectacular. I think it was an off night because the tongue and cheek dish that Charles raved about was not very good at all. It was tender but had no flavour. I think we finally determined that they had left off the sauce, which apparently makes the dish. The rest of the dishes were good but not wow.
                  Cava is fancier and more expensive but I definitely preferred the food. Except the churros, which were so-so. And the restaurant was very loud. But some of the dishes were very memorable. I still remember a pistachio ice cream that was out of this world.
                  But if you're paying for 10+ people, Torito is probably the way to go.

                  1. re: chefhound

                    I think a lot has to do with which dishes you order. A person who is more "meatatarian" will have a different take (since different dishes) than a fishy veggie like me.

                2. re: Ediblethoughts

                  Can you give us a price Edible?

                  I am one of many who, having spent $70+ for food alone at Cava, have left hungry.

                  Doesn't seem right!

                  1. re: sumdumgoy

                    I didn't leave hungry but we spent $115 including the above and 2 desserts (one of which was meh--the donut thingy--and the other was good but not great--molten chocolate cake Ibera or something like that-----this is why I copy and paste menus) and two alcoholic beverages. I was with two people that have relatively small appetites (I ate the lion's share of most of the dishes). We spent about the same amount at Torito and we took home leftovers---and I was stuffed.

                    1. re: Ediblethoughts

                      Warning: this will be a lengthy and very detailed report.

                      Well, the night of our reservation finally arrived. I had arranged with Veronica (the owner) for the food bill to be handed to me at the end of the evening, while my guests would order bottles of wine and pay for those that they ordered. This was to be a 40th birthday celebration, so we were treating my boyfriend to the evening. I wanted the group to experience everything the tapas bar had to offer, so we decided to have essentially one of everything on the menu (with the exception of the soup and the almond cake for dessert). To that, we added a second quail, second order of sardines, second braised cheek and tongue, two extra orders of the special, which was frogs legs, and a second order of the churros. This was simply to allow everyone an opportunity to have some of every dish.

                      I must say that everything went incredibly smoothly. We received 2 or 3 dishes at a time and were able to place the empty plates on the bar behind us to make room for the next items. It was really exciting to have such a parade of dishes over the course of the 4 hours that we were there. Everyone had great fun, fabulous food and some really lovely wines. We played a little seat rotation throughout the evening, so that our guests could sit by the birthday boy and have a chance to chat with him or else mingle with the others.

                      Most dishes provided only a forkful for each diner, but that's all that one might really expect in an evening of tapas grazing with a few friends. It was a bit awkward cutting the five shrimps in half, or divvying an already puny quail, but everyone was game to just have half a shrimp or a nibble of quail. My boyfriend was joking with me when we got home that I should go into great detail on each dish in my chowhound recap of the event, as I am now an authority on the menu, having eaten my way through it. So, here goes:

                      Our first arrival was bread, cheese, olives, gherkins and pickled onions. It was unexciting, but an appropriate start. The next few dishes were brought to the table within moments. There was an orange salad with radishes, toasted pepitas, lettuce and a sherry vinaigrette. It was very pleasant, though not something I'd necessarily seek out on my next visit. The third dish was a bed of black lentils topped with beets and goat cheese, frisee and a red wine vinaigrette. I liked this dish very much. It was eye appealing, had great textures and was a great marriage of flavours. Fourth was a special salad of the day, which was mainly sunflower sprouts, which I adore. Next, we received an arugula salad with shaved manchego cheese, toasted almonds and a quince vinaigrette, the smoked trout dish with potato salad and avocado mayonnaise, the jamon serrano, and the fish ceviche, which was a mix of an unnamed white fish, corn, yam, cilantro and some crunchy corn "nuts". The smoked trout I could live without. Plenty of restaurants serve smoked trout, so for me, it wasn't special. I loved the serrano ham, though it was a bit difficult to handle the tissue thin slices and divide them into enough pieces that everyone could have a nibble. We managed, and everyone agreed that the taste was sweet and melted in our mouths. The arugula salad was yummy. I'm a big fan of arugula and manchego, so it was impossible not to make me happy with that combo. I loved the ceviche. I fell in love with it in Peru, and Torito delivered a lovely version. This was a generous portion. I can't wait to go back and split one only two or four ways (I'm very greedy when it comes to good food!). Next, the Spanish tortilla, pan-fried sardines with romano beans, fennel, mint and parsley salad, and the piquillo peppers stuffed with salted cod and tapenade sauce arrived. The tortilla is a pretty arrangement of four cubes. It was a little awkward to divide into nine portions, but we managed. It was very nicely done. I make my own at home often, though with far less oil and mine is very tasty, but with the extra oil and in a professional's hands, the end result was silky soft and very rich. The sardines were a good size. They were nicely cooked and the beans had a fabulous texture and colour. This dish I might forgo next time, but only because there were so many other favourites of the night. The kitchen was kind enough to divide the piquillo peppers into portions for us. I recall it being very tasty, but I'd like to have it another time with only a few others, so we could have more than one taste. I'm having trouble recalling details about this dish. Maybe the wine was starting to mellow me.

                      Veronica was amazing with her ability to free pour nine glasses from one bottle. It was a great opportunity to have a few sips with each round of dishes, then move on to another bottle, though I must say that her recommendation proved popular with our group. Of 7 bottles consumed, 5 were the one she recommended, which she referred to as Luna ($50). I should have written down the info from the label, but didn't. I have a cork, though. The wine list had been updated from what's on the website, so I can't be of much help in that department.

                      Back to the food! Next to arrive were the Andalusian chickpeas and spinach stew, crab croquettes with parsley aioli, and grilled king fish with Basquaise sauce. The chickpeas were delicious, but I didn't see a single leaf of spinach. It's possible that a small amount was included, but by the time the dish was passed to me it was just chickpeas and sauce. No biggie. It was very tasty. The crab croquettes were also very nice, but again, I'd have liked a more substantial portion. The two croquettes were pretty mangled after being cut into nine bite-sized bits. The king fish was a winner. I don't recall each ingredient, but I had a couple of bites and really enjoyed them. King fish is an oily, mackerel-like fish, so you must be a fan of those strong flavours or else this might not be for you. Next up were shrimps al ajillo. The downside of this dish was that there were only five shrimps and one piece of toasted baguette. The upside is that we split each shrimp in half and I was lucky to have the extra half. Not everyone took a bit of the bread, so a nice bite was left over for me, with a lovely pool of the ajillo ... yum! A fine example of simplicity being best sometimes was the next dish. Patatas bravas with chorizo. I've never tasted chorizo so tender and melt in your mouth. The oils released by the chorizo coloured the potatoes and rendered them nearly as tasty as the chorizo.

                      It's worth mentioning that in general, I'm not a red meat and poultry lover. I love my veggies, fish and seafood, but the red meat items were the stars of the evening, along with the daily special of frogs legs. The quail with pomegranate sauce and seeds, with a side of squash puree was a fantastic blend of tastes. The flatiron steak, which the kitchen cut into nine pieces, was cooked perfectly, as was the fried egg on top. As I said, I'm not a red meat lover, so I wouldn't rush to have this dish again. However, the braised beef cheek and tongue was sublime. It might have been my favourite dish of the night. Ours was served with lots of reduced red wine sauce. I drank the remaining sauce after everyone had their portion. We had two orders, so everyone had two bites of each. This dish was so packed with flavour and a juxtaposition of textures. My second favourite of the night was the lamb loaf, which was a substantial portion, with a sauce of currants, apricots, almonds and saffron. Wow! This dish rocked!

                      We ordered a tripe stew, knowing full well that more than half of our party would balk and avoid even trying it. Despite being a pho and dim sum lover, I do not care for tripe. I find the texture unappealing and the bile-like flavour not one I enjoy. That said, I was interested to try honeycomb tripe in the hopes that it was soft and well stewed and sauced. Indeed it was! There was plenty of tripe for four people, so I had a few bites. There were also chickpeas in the dish, which were yummy as well. Thankfully, the tripe had been stewed to nearly fall apart consistency and the sauce was delish. I'd eat it again if my party ordered it. The frogs legs had a very light dusting of flour and were not very greasy. They were tender, rich and tasty -- much better than chicken!

                      We were quite full from the parade of tapas that graced out table, but, it being a birthday celebration, we agreed to a chocolate flan (with one birthday candle), a plate of Blue Benedictin cheese with toasts, figs, nuts and fruit, churros with a decadent dulce de leche/cajeta sauce, a cheese plate (cantal, aged manchego and more Blue Benedictin). The cheeses were good, but probably not necessary as nobody really had much appetite at this point. The chocolate flan was nice, but I wouldn't have it again. The churros were really good. They came hot from the fryer but without a hint of excess oiliness.

                      The most interesting portion of the evening for me, after the delicious food and wine, was an opportunity to meet the chef, Luis. Veronica mentioned that they would be on BT making tamales on November 2 and we promised to watch. Luis was awesome. He is so proud of what he does. He emerged from the kitchen carrying a bucket with an octopus that he'd been preparing for Monday evening's special (so be sure to head there on Monday if you want some of this tapa!). With great passion he explained how he was preparing the octopus. As an avid chef, I was fascinated. He also let us in on the secrets of imparting such rich flavour to his braised cheek and tongue dish. Then, we got to talking about his sunflower sprouts. I confessed that I am an amateur sprouter myself and he promptly dove into the kitchen and returned with a tray of sprouts. He shared some tips for sprouting with me and invited me to return sometime to sprout with him. I won't turn him down. He also invited the five of us (that remained at this point) to return on a slower night of the week for a special evening of tapas that he would prepare exclusively for us. We were ecstatic and plan to return in about a month for this event. We parted with a hug and a kiss on the cheek and I was positively aglow. It really was a perfect evening from start to finish. I thank Veronica and Luis heartily for providing the venue and seamless service and treats. They've made some new friends and avid fans. I can't wait for my next visit! With the customized menu, it's sure to be an extra special one.

                      1. re: 1sweetpea

                        I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have the same general taste in food (veg & seafood---but with an incongroups medium rare steak thrown in every 5 or 6 months or so to fill a yen) so many of the dishes other CHers raved about (and your faves of the evening) are stuff I'd never order. Which is obviously kind of a pity since they do get the raves...

                        I think that I'd have lost my mind if I'd only been able to have small bites of some of those dishes! It's great that you and your friends had such a good time sharing though.

                        1. re: Ediblethoughts

                          Ooh! I forgot one dish that I really enjoyed. The merguez sausage was delicious. The only disappointment was that the accompaniment was simply chopped tomatoes and cucumbers. Not that it was bad, mind you, just a little uninspired.

                          I was a little sad not to have a second bite of many of the dishes, but with so many in total, I needed to pace myself. I look forward to returning and focusing on my favourite dishes of the evening. There were many, though, so I'll have to round up a few friends. Otherwise, I'll be making a real pig of myself.