What’s on the menu at Casa Paco, chef Rob Bragagnolo’s new Spanish restaurant and bar in Little Italy

What’s on the menu at Casa Paco, chef Rob Bragagnolo’s new Spanish restaurant and bar in Little Italy

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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.

Left to right, the restaurant’s co-owners and only staff: bar manager Tommy Conrad, front of house captain Ailbhe McMahon, and chefs Caroline Chinery and Rob Bragagnolo.
The food

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.

Casa Paco
Here we have a trio of appetizers. On the bottom left are sweet and spicy fire-roasted piquillo peppers ($11). Above them, bracingly fresh boquerones in lemon juice and olive oil ($7). And finally, as you would find in virtually every restaurant in Spain, pan con tomate ($9.50). Casa Paco makes its own light, airy bread, which stays uncannily crunchy under its grated tomato and olive oil blanket. It’s served with Spanish olives marinated in orange and rosemary. The bubblegum-pink drink is the Rossa ($12), similar to a non-alcoholic Aperol spritz, a mix of house-made aperitivo, orange, rosemary and soda Photo by Daniel Neuhaus


A scallop from Nova Scotia’s Mahone Bay, shucked to order and served with its rich, creamy roe. It comes to the table sizzling after a brush with saffron and herb butter ($11)


These are the gambas al ajillo—a traditional Spanish dish of prawns in garlic and olive oil. Here, the crustaceans are getting a healthy splash of sherry as they sizzle on the charcoal grill


And here they are again. They taste of sweet garlic, excellent olive oil and a hint of spice from dried red pepper ($18)


This dish is artichoke on artichoke: grilled artichoke on sunchoke purée with crispy sunchoke chips. Light, smoky and vegan ($9)


Pillowy gnocchi with a duck ragu traditional to northern Spain. Ontario duck is cooked down with warming spices like nutmeg and rosemary. It’s finished with parmesan and fennel fronds ($25)
A delectable menu mainstay, this is pasticcio di funghi—essentially lasagna made with crêpes instead of pasta dough. A ragu of porcini, cremini, king oyster and shiitake mushrooms is layered between the delicate sheets. On top, we have confit mushrooms with black truffle, and it’s all laced with porcini-infused béchamel ($28)


Typically, you’ll find short rib braised to the point of falling apart. But Casa Paco slow-cooks its Mennonite-sourced short rib for three days at a low temperature, which keeps it meltingly tender but with enough structure to cut like a steak. It’s finished with a high-heat stint on charcoal to infuse it with smoke and served with rosemary butter ($49)


Arroz negro, or black rice, gets its deep hue from squid ink and black trumpet mushroom. Laced with braised Fogo Island squid, it’s finished with charcoal-grilled octopus and cooked entirely over charcoal. This dish exemplifies mar y montaña (sea and earth), a common Spanish cooking trope of serving seafood with earthy elements. It’s effectively Spanish surf and turf ($32)


A full spread. On the bottom left, we have razor-thin strips of Jamón Serrano Gran Reserva ($6). It’s marbled to the nth degree—the phrase “melts in your mouth” has never been more appropriate


Whole trout, destined to be cured and smoked in-house on the charcoal grill


Chef Rob Bragagnolo


The drinks

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.

Left to right: Death in Exile, spiked with mint, brandy and absinthe ($17); Expat, a blend of rum, chartreuse, peach schnapps and lime ($15); and Lima, which combines pisco, St. Germain, lemon and Pernod ($16)
The space

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.