Not so in Toronto, where tapas bars have morphed away from Spanish snacks and drinks to full meals of every genre, at high-end prices. Problem is, you've got to eat a lot of little dishes to come up with the equivalent of a meal.
When Boom Shiva opened on the West Queen West strip last summer, they were the hit of the season -- finally, a bar with exclusively vegetarian food. Local critics sang the praises of the crusty old bar revamped into a fun and funky space with live music, tasty cocktails and a knowledgeable beer menu.
The menu at the time was big on sandwiches and salad, with the tapas serving as a nice accompaniment to heartier fare. The restaurant was opening late (6:30pm for dinner) and mostly catered to a club-going crowd who would later head down the street to events at the Gladstone or the Drake.
When we arrived on a cold, January night, the wind blew us into an empty restaurant, and no other warm bodies joined us to fill the drafty space. The menu had been reduced to just the tapas selection with a soup and salad special to accompany it.
Had it been the middle of summer, a cold beer and some lovely cool food would have been absolutely perfect. With a windchill of -10 Celsius, little bits of cold, albeit yummy, snacks didn't really work.
The food itself was delicious; the "coconut curry chickpea extravaganza" was a flavourful salad concoction. Rice paper rolls filled with cold veggies and served with a tamarind dip were also tasty. By the time the zucchini and white bean puree timbales arrived, we were chilled to the bone and were thankful for the fact that these, at least, were heated, although sadly not hot.
Polenta studded with vegetables was also just warm, but had a beautiful consistency and was perfectly complimented by the tomatillo salsa. The hi-light of the meal was the dish of roasted squash spears garnished with a basil, three-fruit sauce. At $7.50, it was the only dish that we felt to be worth the price. Finishing the meal was a quintet of Medjeool dates stuffed with cheese and heated just enough so that the cheese was beginning to melt.
Maybe it was the chill in the winter air, or the fact that in January, a hot meal at dinner should be a given in a Toronto restaurant, but we left feeling oddly out of sorts. After looking over the pilfered menu, we couldn't help but conclude that the biggest turn-off was the prices. The rice paper rolls, for instance, were tasty, but at $7, were close to double what you'd pay for something similar in a mid-range Thai joint. My inner cheapskate rails at paying more than ten bucks for an appetizer, even in a swank upscale place, so tapas dishes that run in the $7 or $8 range, where six or seven dishes are required to feed two people, really put me off.
Boom Shiva staff say they're working on a new "winter" menu, and hopefully the prices will be more in line with the quantity of food and the neighbourhood where they're located. Otherwise, they may find themselves with a cold, mostly empty restaurant on a permanent basis.
1180 Queen Street West
Open for dinner 6pm to midnight
Dinner for two with drinks, tax and tip, $80