Every year Toronto opens the next “IT” restaurant and this year Vela is trying to establish itself as the latest contender.
Located in a historical building on 90 Portland near King Street West. It’s striking and sophisticated looking, without being kitsch. Cool without trying to be cool. A scene of 30 somethings, filling in the large handsome space, you get the picture.
Visually they get an A-plus. The restaurant is large, 4,000 square feet, and can seat up to 160 people divided between the comfy booths and dining tables, the seats at the bar, or by the open kitchen. There is also a large covered patio. The place is stunning, designed by the design team at Partisans. They’re also behind the design of Gusto 501 and my favourite, Bar Raval. The entrance is very dramatic, up some marble stairs, and swirled lighting, you enter into a large space with seafoam green, mint-colored leather banquettes, and tables of white Carrera marble. The seductive and creative lighting where the motif continues onto the custom plating is artistically extraordinary and a real focal point. The bars and open kitchen area are on the perimeter of the restaurant. The chairs in the main part of the dining room are dark grey velvet. There are plexiglass dividers between the booths and this is where I sat and would choose to sit again. The booths are comfortable and give you a great vantage point over the whole restaurant. Vela gets rather noisy as the night progressed and it was even difficult to hear the loud music. I think it is all because of the hard surfaces.
Our server Vanessa was lovely. She told us some of the “must orders” one being the sourdough bread with the mushroom butter. Another fabulous signature dish was the crispy maitake mushrooms with a ranch dressing. It was even a better rendition than the one at Upland restaurant in New York. I have a few pet peeves. The cocktails should be served before or while you are eating your appetizers, not after. Also, the use of small plates annoys me, especially when serving a main course. This is not a tapas bar.
The hamachi crudo was cut a little too thick and I couldn’t taste any chili and very little passion fruit. The Vela pasta with shrimp, nduja, tomato sauce, parmesan, and basil was also a little bland. The pan-seared scallops on a bed of corn purée, hazelnuts, and chanterelles was a better bet but was a whopping $50 for three scallops.
They offered a nice selection of salads, shrimp cocktail, prosciutto and melon, and a caviar sandwich ($75). From the entrees, you could also choose from branzino, roast chicken, artichoke cakes, grilled pork, and three steaks. The potatoes bravo with a garlic aioli and smoked paprika was a nice choice. There were three desserts on offer and we tried two. A brownie stack with salted caramel, candied pecans, and cocoa sorbet. It was great if you enjoy sweet and salty desserts. We also had the coconut buttercream cake, with lime curd and toasted coconut and it didn’t disappoint.
There was a HUGE cocktail list, they know their customers, as well as a nice selection of champagnes. The wine list was small and not very impressive to me. They also offer a few non-alcoholic drinks as well.
They are in good hands as the place is run by Amanda Bradley of Alo and Robin Goodfellow of Bar Raval. The chef is Jeffrey Lapointe of the SoHo House, Piano Piano, and Splendido.
I predict the restaurant will only grow in stature and be jammed packed. I hope the quality and consistency of the food will live up to the aesthetic of the restaurant. I hope this strong start will continue to have a long finish.