Review: Portland Variety is a low-key surprise on clubby King West
Portland Variety ★★½
587 King St. W., 416-368-5151
This serene new tapas bar is a delightfully low-key surprise in the middle of the King West fracas. (Imagine the also-good Patria just up the street but without the ostentation and slavish devotion to Iberian purity.) Though you wouldn’t know it on first glance. The pristine white-on-gray room is decked out in neighbourhood-appropriate tufted leather banquettes and marble, and the servers sport hokey gingham shirts bound in old-timey suspenders, but beneath the trendy veneer is a refreshingly simple and down-to-earth Spanish(ish) menu. Those servers know every aspect of the Mediterranean cooking, and their recommendations help create a memorable, completely satisfying dinner of fresh seafood and peak-season veggies with punches of citrus, chili and fresh herbs. The striped bass crudo is dead-simple in a lemon-lime-orange cure with a sprinkle of baby cilantro leaves, bird’s eye chillis and diced mango (the tropical fruit is a welcome interloper), and followed nicely by an salad of warm, buttery oyster mushrooms, sweet pea shoots, arugula, manchego cheese and toasted pine nuts drizzled in sweet apple cider and yuzu dressing. The octopus is a textbook Iberian staple: lightly blackened tendrils coiled on deep smoked tomato–chorizo sauce with a roasted lemon alongside that rounds out the umami-acid-sweet trifecta. A riff on Portuguese churrasco brings a deboned Cornish hen, seared crisp on the outside and ultra-tender inside, and served with a tiny pitcher of whisky-infused piri piri that the owners should bottle and sell. Fryer-hot beignets, rolled in sugar, are pound-the-table good, especially when paired with a maplewood-smoked Old Fashioned that tastes like a not-too-sweet cabane à sucre treat.