Casa La Palma
Toronto, ON M6J 1V5
Casa La Palma is a 1,400 square foot lounge perched on top of its sister restaurant, Dundas West favourite La Palma. It's a physical extension of the downstairs, but there's a notable difference: its inspiration is not free-wheeling Venice Beach, but stylish Palm Springs.
It's co-owned by the same team as La Palma — culinary director Craig Harding, designer Alexandra Hutchison, and Mercatto's Jack and Domenic Scarangella and Steve Christian. The new space enabled the team to do things outside of the original resto's wheelhouse. It's open well after La Palma closes for the night, and there's a 28-seat dining room with sliding doors to accommodate private bookings.
Casa La Palma's chic blond wood-and-black look, designed by Hutchison, is inspired by the mid-century modern interiors of Palm Springs. The herd of low-slung couches in the main space can be rearranged into different seating configurations. With a gas fireplace and a well-stocked bar, it feels as intimate and casual as hanging out in your friend's den.
Harding and La Palma executive chef Julian D'Ippolito have put together a menu of cheeses, salumi, and small plates, all designed for sharing. The focus is on seasonal ingredients, with flavour combos pulled from Italian and Mediterranean cooking. "The roots are Italian, but we can go outside that box," D'Ippolito explains. "We have fun with it. If it's tasty and it makes sense, we go for it."
The slider-sized lobster rolls are three bites of light, creamy lobster and buttery toasted brioche. They're the hors d'oeuvre you chase around the room at a party. A stack of delicata squash tempura, drizzled with sweet apple vinegar and topped with crispy sage leaves, can be taken apart like a crispy game of Jenga. Celery is an unassuming entry on the menu, but paired with kicky togarashi (Japanese red pepper powder) and generous shavings of pecorino toscano, it's a surprise sleeper hit.
The cocktail menu punches up fruity classics with sophisticated twists and punny names, like the Ko-Daiq Moment, a boozy banana daiquiri with a hit of absinthe. The Mulo Rosa is a sunset pink Moscow mule with flavours (pomegranate, prickly pear) that complement the Californian inspiration.
The main focus here is wine, and the four-page list is broken down into evocative categories. You can choose between "crunchy and tart" or "velvety and rich" reds, while whites are "steely and bright" or "herbaceous and floral". If you're still unsure, there are at least four sommeliers on staff to point you in the right direction.
Though Casa La Palma has only just opened, there are still big plans afoot. Next spring, they'll open a rooftop patio, the first overlooking this stretch of Dundas West. If you're curious, you can go up for a nip while you wait for your table downstairs — and return once you're done.
By Madeleine Lee
Published: December 18, 2018