I have to give owners Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji props for changing up their restaurant. The concept and the decor of their new establishment, Estia, located at 90 Avenue Road in Toronto is completely new. Formerly it was Nao, an attractive steak house, but honestly it received mixed reviews, including from yours truly. This time, they got it right. One thing is for sure they are devoted to hospitality. Inspired by regions of Greece, Southern Italy and Spain, they are serving fresh local ingredients with a Mediterranean influence, sourced from local farmers and markets which is de rigueur nowadays. But the difference here is they prepare many dishes over charcoal or a wood burning oven.
The restaurant is chic, and sophisticated with a hip vibe. In the warm months you can’t top eating alfresco on one of Toronto’s finest patios, which I highly recommend. Inside, the interior is now softer looking with lighter colours and burgundy leather banquets, and table seating in the back or upstairs. The kitchen can be viewed through a window at the back of the restaurant.
We settled in with cocktails from their comprehensive craft cocktail list. A elderflower martini with Ketel One vodka, St. Germain, fresh lime juice and orange zest. I could taste the lime but not the elderflower. The cosmopolitan fared better as did a Hendricks gin and tonic. Most people skip the bread baskets nowadays but I recommend the house made bread plate which has a nice selection of wood oven breads baked in house and served with warm olives, crumbled feta, smoked eggplant and z’aatar olive oil. All the appetizers sound appealing and everything we tried was great, from the Halloumi cheese made in house with warm truffle honey, roasted grapes and toasted walnuts, to the grilled octopus, with ‘nduja, preserved lemon and romesca sauce. We also tried the clams steamed in white wine and fennel, served with delicious charred bread. There is a half a dozen selections of salads offered as well. We didn’t try the seafood linguini but our neighbours seemed to be enjoying theirs, which came with shrimp, clams, and mussels in a cherry tomato and basil sauce. The kitchen offers a selection of fish served half or whole, which is a fabulous idea. In fact, the salads, pastas, fish and meat selections come in half or whole. This is a perfect solution if dining à deux or in larger groups. We decided on a whole order of lamb chops, grilled over charcoal and served with tzaziki and mint. They are delicious but expensive at $90 for 7 pieces. There are also half a dozen sides. The wood oven potatoes are browned to a delightful crispiness and served in a lemon and salsa verde. We also had a side of braised cauliflower in a tomato chili sauce. We washed our meal down with a French rosé, which was perfect on a warm summer night.
For dessert we were impressed with a yogurt cake topped with sweet Ontario strawberries, a rhubarb cordial and a dollop of yogurt. We also had the fresh figs, with a yogurt sorbet in a orange blossom honey and sprinkled with pistachios.
The beverage list is quite extensive with a nice variety by the glass, and wines from Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Austria, Germany and New World choices. There is draught beer, large format and a huge selection of tequila, mezcal, bourbon, rye, vodkas, gin, rum and whiskey and appetitifs.
The chef de cuisine is Brent Maxwell, and along with direction from Executive Chef Ben Heaton, they have a winning formula on their hands. This seems to be Toronto’s new “it” restaurant of the moment. The emphasis is on fresh, simple, uncomplicated dishes, that are cooked well. And really, isn’t this just what people are looking for?