Roughly translated, petisco means tapas. Uh oh. Tapas/small plate/convenient-excuse-to-overcharge restaurants are opening in Toronto as often as a certain Teutonic country scored goals in a certain World Cup semi-final game. It’s not often that a new one promises a new twist on the concept, and actually delivers.
Cherry and I were invited to the media launch of Mata Petisco Bar, which purports to bring a South American style of small plates – driven by Brazilian flavours – to the western reaches of Parkdale. They actually manage to do it, and that’s because they’ve nailed down the one thing that ultimately matters the most: the ingredients. We thoroughly enjoyed navigating my way through the generous, seven-course tasting menu without having heard of, or being able to pronounce, a number of the ingredients. For instance, we had never heard of a malagueta pepper before, but I can tell you that it makes the single best spicy aioli I’ve ever had. Mata’s key ingredients – from the corvinha in the ceviche to the picanha cut of beef in the sliders – have clearly been chosen with thought and care in an effort to bring genuine Brazilian and South American flavours to their dishes. I could write forever about each of the seven dishes that were placed before us, but the highlights should be enough to get you on a streetcar/bike/pack mule to Queen and Roncesvalles.
The feast started with seafood. The lobster pastel on the amuse-bouche plate had an unctuous filling that was a great contrast to the crispy-fried shell, and the freshness of the lobster certainly came through. The corvinha ceviche really got things going – the fish was perfectly tender – not chewy or rubbery – and the cucumber added a necessary crunch to mirror the bite of the lime. The caipirinha that was served with the first courses was well balanced and an excellent complement to the bright flavours of the seafood.
The smoked chicken hearts were a good transition from sea to land. While they weren’t the stars of the show for me, I found that they were cleverly paired with an arugula salad – the peppery greens complemented the smoky meat. However, the cauliflower purée and ancho chilli oil did not pull their weight and added little to the dish. When the picanha sliders came out, a collective “wow” rose from our table as we got a whiff of the passing plates. This was followed up by another, louder “wow” when we tucked into them. The picanha, a relatively fatty cut of beef popular in Brazil, was smoked in-house and was grilled to, well, melt-in-your-mouth. The cachaça-caramelized onions were the perfect topping to cut the fattiness of the meat. However, the aioli was the best part of the slider for me – the malagueta peppers added heat without overpowering the palate. This balanced flavour came through in the sliders, and the whole package was complex and immensely satisfying.
The sliders were followed up by a barbecued octopus plate that reinforced how well the grill minders have mastered their art. I was convinced that the cephalopod was cooked on a charcoal grill – the smell and flavour was distinctly smoky. However, they only have a gas grill, which makes their ability to get so much flavour out of the grilling process all the more impressive. The octopus was tender and not at all chewy, and the char on the outside gave it a delightfully smoky flavour. However, I think that the fantastic malagueta aioli would have been a better pairing than the balsamic and raspberry reduction and heart of palm puree that rounded out the plate.
The crescendo of the meal came in the form of a so-called “poutine” – a term which has been bent, twisted and stretched beyond all recognition by the restauranteurs of this city. Unfortunately, “carbs, curds and gravy” doesn’t have quite the same ring, so we’ll have to suffer through more bastardization of the term “poutine” until a Torontonian wordsmith popularizes a different, home-grown expression. Terminological ranting aside, Mata’s “poutine” was a fitting tribute to the essence of the dish. The cheese curds were incredibly flavourful and creamy – so much so that they managed to stand up to the smokey, velvety beef cheek slathered in red wine demi, and to the generous heaping of scallions that cut through the rich meat and gravy. A rich and flavourful end to a well-executed meal.
Despite groaning under the weight of all the fantastic food we had eaten so far, we attacked the avocado crème brulée with gusto when it arrived. Cherry had some trepidation about whether she would enjoy it, given her general indifference towards avocado. However, the dessert won both of us over because the traditional texture and flavours of crème brulée were respected, and the avocado notes were subtle.
Mata’s media launch was a great success and, given how well the kitchen executed such a wide variety of dishes, I’m really excited to go back and try their brunch offerings and the other items on the menu.