Every once in a while you are thrilled to make a discovery of a hidden gem that is under the radar. It is kind of like finding a buried treasure, except this is one I want to share with everyone. El Tenedor at 909 Yonge Street, is just a few blocks north of Bloor, and is so unassuming, you may pass it daily without really seeing it. I’m here to tell you that you should drop by to indulge in dishes inspired by Barcelona and San Sebastián with Canadian terroir. There is food from Catalan and from the Basque regions of Spain. Even though Chef Ceaser is Venezuelan by birth, and an engineer by trade, he gave that all up for his love of food. Apprenticing with Albert Adria at Tickets in Barcelona, and working in San Sebastián he learned a new appreciation for the simple and perfect preparation, ingredients and flavour pairings that showcased the talents and creativity of food in this part of the world. Lucky for us he decided to open El Tenedor and has been at this cozy, quiet oasis for 2 1/2 years now.
There is a total of five tables, plus two outside in the summer and a couple of seats around the open kitchen. The kitchen is reminiscent of Chabrol on Yorkville, and by that I mean minuscule. So you wonder how the chef can manage to offer such a small but versatile menu, as well as a tasting menu. Yet the service is warm and welcoming. The food is creative and imaginative as well as delicious. The wine list is quite large and varied, and many items were served by the glass. Chef Ceaser opened a bottle especially for us when we only wanted a glass. He felt it would pair well with our selections.
This is a place for dining. The kitchen is small and you can’t rush things. We were placated with some toasted bread and some sinfully delicious duck fat. That was a seductive way to get the juices flowing. We began with a carpaccio of scallops, that was adorned with apples, garlic confit, almonds, and white wine. The chef was out of beets for his tomato salad, so he came up with a lovely rendition of this dish and topped it with the tastiest freshly made croutons. A standout dish was the fried artichokes with goat cheese and honey. The fish of the day was a choice of cod or haddock. We went with the poached cod, with a pea nage, and a caper brown butter sauce. But the highlight for me is the beef cheeks, cooked slowly over 22 hours, in a wine sauce. They are beyond tender and bursting with concentrated flavours. This is one dish I refuse to share next time.
Dessert was the chef’s take on a Basque cheesecake with his own twist. The food is based on seasonality, using local and organic produce. However, he assured me he will always have the beef cheeks on the menu due to popular demand.
Unfortunately, one drawback to eating in such a tiny dining room with an open kitchen is all the smells coming from the kitchen. It can get smokey. If you can get past this, you will be in for an enjoyable evening.
Fabric tablecloths, soft background music, gracious service, palate-pleasing food, and dishes and cutlery changed with each course – in my opinion, El Tenedor certainly checks a lot of boxes.