Tonight I went for dinner at Casa Barcelona in the Bloor and Royal York area with a dear former co-worker who just left my company at the end of January. It's a tapas restaurant with a gigantic menu (140 tapas, 50 mains) and the biggest wine list I've ever seen (1000 labels; inventory of 24,000 bottles). Before I left, I solicited some expert advice from Marcelo (who is Spanish and knows a lot about tapas as well as pretty much everything food related) and Darryl (who recently indulged in tapas in Spain and has a taste for good food that I trust completely). Some of their suggestions were calamari, salt cod, Serrano ham, sardines, croquettes, and dulce de leche (carmelized sweetened condensed milk).
When we got there, we were overwhelmed by the size of the menu. We could have faltered and gone with one of the pre-set combos, but we perservered. The waitress said that we should have 6-7 dishes between the two of us, so of course we settled on 8: My mother's chicken and sausage croquettes; Serrano Spanish Ham; Palmitos Salad (hearts of palm); Real Spanish Omelette; Chorizo sausage with onions, garlic, red wine, and figs; Piquillos Rellenos (roasted red peppers stuffed with Russian salad); Berejenas (eggplant with caramelized onions and honey); and Grilled calamari with aioli sauce.
In addition, we shared a 1/2 liter of sangria, which was the perfect size (2 glasses each) and was the best sangria I've ever had. There was absolutely no aftertaste unlike the swill of my student days at Carlos and Pepes in Montreal (I have so much to learn).
My mother's chicken and sausage croquettes
I loved these croquettes. They were crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside with a spicy, creamy sauce on top.
Serrano Spanish Ham
This was a very generous plate of thinly sliced Serrano ham. It's drier than prosciutto and not as salty. Very nice.
Palmitos Salad (hearts of palm)
I don't think I'd ever eaten hearts of palm before and they were lovely. Slightly vinegary with a creamy, tartar-like sauce on a bed of greens.
Real Spanish Omelette
This omelette was greaseless and full of nice ingredients (potatoes, ham, etc.), but was a little salty for my taste.
Chorizo sausage with onions, garlic, red wine, and figs
These tasted slightly gamey, but it was offset by the sweetness of the figs and sauteed onions.
Piquillos Rellenos just means 'stuffed pepper', so there are many kinds, but this one was filled with 'Russian salad' -- a creamy potato salad with peas and carrots. It sounds like a strange combination, but I loved it.
Berejenas (eggplant with caramelized onions and honey)
This was an excellent dish of sliced, breaded eggplant topped with sauteed onions. I'm not sure where they put the honey, but it was definitely there and lent a nice sweetness. The eggplant was cooked perfectly (not mushy or spongey).
Grilled calamari with aioli sauce
The calamari was expertly prepared and was not the least bit chewy. The accompanying aioli was smooth, creamy, and mild.
Crepes with dulce de leche
Even though we were stuffed, we shared an order of crepes with dulce de leche. The thin crepes were filled with the thick caramel, drizzled with chocolate, and topped with whipped cream. Definitely decadent, but the crepe was paper thin, so it's sort of light. It was a lovely ending to a great meal.
Our bill came to about $120 for the two of us including tax and tip, so it's not cheap, but the variety and quality is excellent. I'd say that you probably only need 6 dishes max for 2 people and you'll be more than satisfied.
I think the owner was helping wait tables and he was so sweet. He saw me taking pictures and said that we should blow them up and hang them on the wall so that people can order by pointing. I don't think the wall is big enough -- there are so many choices. Can't wait to go again to try some more.