Carmen Restaurant is a Cocina Española, which translates to Spanish Kitchen in English. All I know, is the true definition of Carmen on Queen Street West, is awesmazing. Not only is the space ambient and comfortable, but the service and food surpassed my every expectation. I figured that the meal would be a hit because it’s the same owner and chef as Torito Tapas bar, where I had an incredible experience a few months ago. Both of Chef Luis’ restaurants have an open kitchen, so you know they are proud of what they are doing, and the servers knew so much about the food, too, and they seemed really proud to serve it too.
The menu is tapas style with so many great options to choose from, and it’s such a fun way to eat because you can keep ordering more and more dishes and share the tastes with everyone at your table. They also had a section exclusively for paella on the menu, which I had never had before, and my mother ordered the quinoa “vegetable mosaic” one right away, since it takes 45 minutes to arrive. That may sound like a long time, especially if you are hungry, but because you enjoy all of the other small plates continuously in the time that you are waiting, it seems like no time at all. But, if you did have to wait, it’s absolutely worth the wait. It arrives in a very large, but shallow black pan, with a wooden paddle to serve it to everyone sharing (see picture below!), it was such a unique way to get your meal, and I love the presentation and creativity of it!
But, back to the small plates, they cannot be overlooked! My absolute favourite dish was the avocado puree formed in small jicama shells. I absolutely love jicama, it’s one of my favourite foods, thanks to Carol Belmonte and her jicama fries. These little star-shaped delicacies come on a rectangular platter with 4 per platter, we had them for our first dish, another order in the middle of our meal, and then a final platter as our “dessert”! I can only describe the flavour as creating a party in my mouth, with everyone invited! The Maldon Salt added a little crunch to the bites, and the parsley leaf on top was just the right tasty garnish. The next dish was pickled mussels with a crusty bread, and I ordered them because I was intrigued by them on the menu and I’m always up for trying something new. It was really cute how they were served in a tin can, as if they were bought in a store, but I know Luis made them, he is a very creative chef! My dad and I really enjoyed these, and I would recommend you to try them. We also enjoyed a few fried dishes, which is not something we usually eat. We had fried green tomatoes topped with feta cheese and a flavourful salsa, eggplant with a pomegranate molasses reduction (I licked it off the plate with my fingers!), and artichoke with aioli. I cannot express how incredible each one of these dishes were, but if I had to decide to order just one next time, it would probably be the artichoke, the burst of lemon combined with the fried artichoke was the perfect flavour balance and eating the dish actually made me smile the whole time I was eating it. Chef Luis also gave us a plate of grilled garlic scapes to enjoy, and although we eat garlic scapes from the market and even from our own garden at home, they taste nowhere as good as these did. They had the right amount of grill flavour bringing the flavour of scape right out, and a generous drizzle of oil to top it off. The deconstructed gazpacho salad was my sister and mom’s favourite dish and although I do not enjoy tomatoes, the dressing and kale from the salad were so good. My sister, who knows her “massaged” kale, was in heaven eating this dish with its bright red pepper dressing. While they were eating the salad, my dad and I devoured the hake (a white fish) over the brightest green pesto I have ever seen (see licked plate below).
Overall, I have to say, that if I was doing my list of Top 10 Restaurants in Toronto today, Carmen would most certainly be on the list. I can’t wait to go back and eat on the patio when it’s open in the back of the restaurant.