Name: Casa Paco Contact: 50 Clinton Street, unit C, casapaco.ca, @casapaco_to Neighbourhood: Little Italy Previously: Boonsik Owners: Rob Bragagnolo, Caroline Chinery, Tommy Conrad, Ailbhe McMahon (Labora) Chef: Rob Bragagnolo (Labora, Carver, Marben) Accessibility: Not fully accessible
Before opening Casa Paco, its four co-owners worked together at Labora, a now-closed, similarly Mediterranean-inspired restaurant on King West owned by Bragagnolo and Chinery. After four years, the group wanted a break from the hustle and bustle of that strip, so they began searching for the relative peace of a smaller neighbourhood restaurant. “Little Italy has a lot of generational history, and we like that feeling,” says Bragagnolo. “This is a throwback to the restaurants of the past: just good old-fashioned hospitality and really delicious food and drink.”
Bragagnolo isn’t just referring to his new spot’s intimate feel. (It’s about a sixth of Labora’s size.) For a modern-day restaurant, Casa Paco has a relatively unusual ownership structure meant to model family-run restaurants of the past. The four equal-share co-owners are also Casa Paco’s only staff, with Bragagnolo and Chinery in the kitchen, Conrad heading up the bar and McMahon managing front of house. This kind of hospitality is about familiar faces and lasting relationships—no small feat in this day and age.
This is finessed Mediterranean cuisine with mostly Spanish and Italian influences. Bragagnolo’s cooking mantra is “simple, but not easy”; dishes are free of any obvious complication but showered with meticulous attention behind the scenes. A transcendent, unassuming-looking prawn dish tastes of sherry, charcoal and very good olive oil, finishing with the barest hint of spice. White anchovies, presented simply in a pool of lemon juice and olive oil, are of such high quality that it’s hard to believe Toronto is so far from the sea. Expect a seasonally updated menu with plenty of options fit for sharing. On Sundays, there’s a set paella menu with seafood, beef and vegetarian options.
A solid no- and low-ABV drinks program matches the depth and complexity you’d expect of a cocktail menu, peppered with house-made infusions and an uncannily convincing non-alcoholic (also house-made) aperitivo. But there are still plenty of cocktails spiked with gin, mezcal or bourbon. A focused wine list concentrates on European labels in the natural wine spectrum and is set to grow with the rotating menu.
There’s a spacious bar room attached to the dining room—a common setup for European bistros. A window-lined front wall lets in ample natural light, bringing warmth to the already cozy space. It’s all sunlight, wood, green accents and rounded corners. The booths are constructed from 150-year-old church pews, and the walls are lined with the team’s family photos and personal knick-knacks. Impressively, the team completed the renovations without hiring contractors, doubling down on their family-restaurant ethos.
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