Walking into Malena one feels welcomed by a warm and comfortable room, one that has a sophisticated rustic charm with upscale contemporary elements.
Glancing at the menu I was captivated by the ambitious course descriptions, a mouthwatering take on mediterranean cuisine. So, I began to graze. Beginning with Qualicum bay scallops crudo accompanied by paper thin slices of celery heart and fennel, dressed with chili orange vinaigrette, I tempered my initial cravings. The sweet tasting scallop went well with the raw fennel and fragrant orange vinaigette.
Sardines in scapece followed, a cevice style rendition of this fish, topped with julienned romaine, crispy pancetta and roasted garlic crema.
With the meal we enjoyed a Marchese Antinori 2004 Cervaro, Castello Della Sala which was slightly caramelized but had a very nice balance and tropical fruit taste.
Sensational sea urchin crostini with avocado crema, amaranth seedlings, a touch of lemon juice and black salt just amazed my eyes and palate! This was the taste of the sea on toast!! This course is certainly one of the great dishes of our city and better than any renditions that I have tried at the various New York restos offering this dish.
Next, lamb and date polpette (meatballs) came with a quite spicy preserved lemon and pimento pesto. The intense taste of the preserved lemon and the spicyness of each of the 2 sauces overwhelmed the very good flavour of the lamb. Further, the pimento pesto did nothing to enhance the flavour of the lamb. This was one of only two minor missteps made by the kitchen.
Smoked cod cheek cakes with horta (in Greece this would be wild bitter greens), shallots and lemon cream were fabulous, the flavours of fennel, the intense lemon cream, mild red onion and bitter greens setting off so well, the smokey halibut cheeks.
Fritto misto of shrimp, black cod and squid with a quite spicy red pepper conserva was our next course. The batter was not crispy enough and was a bit oily, the only other kitchen misstep.
Delicate bufala ricotta filled ravioli came with thinly shaved fennel, fennel fronds and orange brown butter. This dish impressed my partner and was very well prepared with a delicate, nicely al dente pasta and carefully selected ingredients.
Perfectly grilled porgy came with three condiments, a lovely intense lemon marmellata, mild cucumber tzatziki and an obtrusive olive tapenade.
At last, we were served a very light lemon phyllo tart with a wonderfully thin crispy shell, a side of lemon semifreddo, with candied lemon and a very light marshmallow meringue. This was a sensational dessert to finish the meal.
But of course, after some coaxing, we then had to try the crunchy Greek honey accented loukoumades (fried pastry) with Attiki honey (which I always bring back from Greece, one of my very favourite honeys), pistachios and a wonderful cinnamon crema for dipping the loukoumades....overkill but, another hit.
Get to this restaurant soon before the crowds find out about it......Malena will be a major Toronto hit!