What sounds like a convenience store is actually an European-inspired café turned classy tapas bar on the King West strip dominated by stylish eateries and 600 square foot loft condos. Portland Variety is a seamless transition between serving coffee and delectable in-house pastries to whipping up exotic cocktails and shared plates for the evening crowd.
Portland Variety is led by Ralf Madi and Milton Nunes of Le Gourmand, which you may remember for it's amazing chocolate chip cookies. At the front you get a boutique food-shop feel with floor-to-ceiling windows lined around a grey and white room. Inside, you'll find marble counter tops and table tops with bare brick walls and oversized chalk boards.
I arrived here with a party of 6 on a Saturday night, not really knowing what to expect. Our charming server had a myriad of solid recommendations well suited to our preferences (not that we were picky eaters to begin with) and a few of us immediately set to ordering cocktails.
The Tequila Bong is a knockout, each time poured into a glass out of a bong through billows of smoke. An exciting combination of spicy, sweet yet smoky, it has milagro silver tequila, pineapple, fresh lemon, jalapeno-infused agave, and smoked with a hickory-mesquite blend. The Portland Daiquiri is a safe and dominantly sweet cocktail for those in the mood for a bit of 'girly' fun.
The menu at Portland Variety is a wild fusion of French, North African, Spanish and Greek cuisine with not-your-average tapas plates. Chef Jo Castrinos (formerly of Patria and Splendido) has conjured up an impressive repertoire this time around.
I dedicate this photo to one of my friends who our server happily dubbed as "Cheese Puffs" because funnily enough, all the cheese puffs ended up going straight to him. Yep, you know who you are, I know you're reading this. *waves*
The croquets are as crispy as hard taco shells with a soothing soft center that makes you melt inside. A classic Spanish staple, these are the perfect appetizer to start off a wonderful meal.
Another Spanish item off the menu is a large plate of jamon iberico with pan con tomate, one of the simplest and most wide-loved dishes from Cataluña. Here the dish was executed nicely.
The beef tenderloin carpaccio is certainly not one to be missed, for I loved the chef's rendition of this Italian classic. The celery salsa verde is refreshing and cool on each slice of raw beef, carefully laid with thin strips of Parmigiano cheese.
One of my favourites was the house smoked trout with field greens, egg, horseradish pudding, and sweet dijon dressing. The crisped banana strips are a delightful contrast to the trout, as if you're eating nachos with the most gourmet topping you can imagine.
The grilled octopus tentacles are oh-so-tender and juicy, even a dull knife can cut through it. Really makes you wonder how they grill it to perfection every time. This fabulous seafood option is flavoured with iberico chorizo, smoked tomato, olive oil, and grilled lemon. Another must-try in my books is the patatas bravas, tossed in spicy tomato and drizzled in aioli (below).
For the whiskey lovers, there's the Smoking Gun cocktail served over an XL cub in a maple wood smoked glass. Like an old fashioned taken to the next level, it's extremely fragrant with pecan-infused Tap 357 maple rye whiskey, bitters and maple syrup. And if you're up for a dessert cocktail, prepare to be surprised with the Rebel Cafe, a house-infused coffee tequila made with Milagros blanco tequila and seasonal coffee blends served as a shot.
A great meal can't go without a big slab of meat. The 22 oz AAA Porcini rubbed rib eye served with caramelized onions will appease the carnivores. It is tasty and juicy, but the particular cut we had actually paled in comparison to a rib eye from Cumbrae's.
For dessert, the fryer-hot custard filled beignets with chocolate dipping sauce are a winner - kind of reminiscent of Madrid's churros y chocolate if you ask me. The dark chocolate praline mousse is also spectacular and as smooth as velvet.
Whatever meal your heart desires, Portland Variety has it all; from breakfast and lunch to dinner and happy hour with mixology that will blow your socks away. It's definitely worth stepping further inside on a Friday or Saturday night. The prices aren't cheap, but standard for the King West area. I'd love to hop over there during the day time. Brunch, anyone?