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Posted by Dawn Becker / Listed on May 27, 2010 / review policy

Malena TorontoMalena, a new restaurant on the block of Avenue Road starring Sotto Sotto and L'Unita, makes a play at stealing the show with its Ionian seafood menu. Malena is co-owned by David Minicucci who also co-owns L'Unita, so the competition is in the family. The main event is the seafood so meatatarians can consider themselves duly warned.

It's hard to go wrong starting with Oysters on the Half Shell (market price) accompanied by lemon, agro dolce, which translates to a sweet and sour sauce, and "bomba", a fiery red pepper sauce. The oysters are listed as Rodney's finest and choice is based on availability (above Indian and Chef Creek). It's a treat to find Stone Crab Claws served with avgolemono and fresh dill. I'm not a fan of stone crab claws and I'm not converted here. Like the other stone crab claws I've had these are bland and the thick lemony sauce doesn't pack enough punch for me to overcome the price tag ($19 for one claw).

Malena TorontoThe Smoked Halibut Cheek Cakes arrive next. To me, the cheeks are the best part of the fish and they fall apart in delicate chunks, accompanied by a lemony cream sauce, shallots and horta, usually bitter greens, but just sliced romaine here. The cheek cakes disappear so quickly I want seconds.

Malena TorontoThe Wild Salmon Crudo ($12) is beautifully presented topped with a pistachio and radish slaw and spring ramp pesto. The ramps, also called wild leeks, are earthy but the pesto as a whole seems under-seasoned and adds little to the dish. The salmon slices, however, are redeeming and divinely tender. We then have the special, an appetizer portion of BC Spot Prawns ($14) that comes with three beautiful head-on specimens. The server suggests that I break the heads off and suck the juices. I need no encouragement. The flavour is sweet, nearing ambrosial. The just-cooked prawns are perfection and I'm ready for more.

Malena TorontoThe Ionian Seafood Soup ($16), a tomato-based broth with clams, mussels and shrimp topped with a slice of grilled ciabatta is heavenly. Sharing it with a friend, the soup shown above is my half portion and I'm smitten at first sip.

Malena TorontoI skip the fritto misto - my first time here, the batter was heavy - and move right on to the star attraction, an item from their daily fish selection. I choose a Halibut Filet with a side of Baby Zucchini ($30). The market fish is served with lemon marmellata, cucumber tzatziki and olive tapenade. The halibut is presented simply, an ideal showcase for this fresh filet that's fork tender and flakes beautifully.

Malena TorontoMy companion tries the Grilled Spiced Quails ($26) served with baby carrots and cubed pancetta, dotted with lemon vincotto, a wine reduction. I take one succulent bite after the next and think it isn't a bad idea after all to order quail at a seafood restaurant.

Malena TorontoTo top it off, I have the Sheep's Milk Moliterno ($8), unpasteurized truffle-infused cheese with warm walnut bread pudding and wildflower honey. It's a cheese and dessert course together. The cheese is dense and rich and before it sends me over the top, I decadently finish the scrumptious bread pudding.

Malena TorontoMy friend orders the Gelato & Sorbetto ($8) choosing a trio of dark chocolate with aged balsamic and fig, almond with banana and sesame brittle, and my favourite, blood orange with fennel marshmallow, a truly refreshing choice to end the evening. If you can handle the sticker shock, Malena provides an intimate setting with charming service for a memorable seafood experience.

Malena TorontoMalena

Tuesday and Wednesday - 5:30pm to 10:00pm
Thursday to Saturday - 5:30pm to 11:00pm
Sunday and Monday - closed



Darcy McGee / May 27, 2010 at 10:51 am
The words "seafood," "Toronto" and "best" have no business being used in the same sentence.

Get on a plane and go to Halifax or Vancouver.
shaw / May 27, 2010 at 11:00 am
The prohibitive cost of the food here is meant to keep the $2 Pabst seekers out.
Jamesmallon / May 27, 2010 at 02:59 pm
"The words 'seafood,' 'Toronto' and 'best' have no business being used in the same sentence." Yawn... Yeah, it all has to be flown in, or brought frozen, but there is good seafood, like Sushi Kaji, but you have to pay! What I don't get, is the huge number of daft Torontonians who risk salmonella and botulism at 'all you can eat' sushi. If there is one thing for which you should pay real money, it's raw flesh.
Darcy McGee replying to a comment from Jamesmallon / May 27, 2010 at 04:51 pm
I appreciate that you took my comment in the slight humorous vein it was meant.

> What I don't get, is the huge number of daft Torontonians who risk salmonella and
> botulism at 'all you can eat' sushi.

We have plenty of All You Can Eat sushi in Vancouver too, and I'm a bit dubious of its quality too. The astonishing thing is that the BASELINE for Sushi in Vancouver is so much higher than what a lot of people I know in Toronto consider "good" Sushi.

I don't eat Sushi in Toronto anymore. I can't.

I actually think the baseline for FOOD in Vancouver is slightly higher. It's a lot harder to find that magic $5 greasy spoon diner breakfast here, and I think Toronto has as much (or more) HIGH end dining thanks to a larger and richer population base, but Vancouver is a better food city.
jamesmallon / May 27, 2010 at 06:22 pm
Back on topic: Sushi Kaji is as good as what I ate in Tokyo, where I lived for 3y. My wife, who lived there for 26, agrees.
K. / May 27, 2010 at 07:58 pm
For substantially cheaper, and generally excellent, sea food in Toronto, check out most of the places in little Portugal.
saltspring / May 27, 2010 at 08:21 pm
"Lemony cream sauce" on halibut cheeks?? What a horrible way to kill the delicacy of fresh (sic), succulent fish.

Sushi Kaji is fine for those of deep pockets, but Vancouver smokes TO for freshness and originality. I can think of half a dozen places off the top of my pointed head in Vancouver that blow the gills off of anything Toronto has to offer. But that's just the nature of the culinary and customer demographic and, of course, the propinquity of quality marine life.

Better yet in TO - and far cheaper and maybe even more fun - is to buy your own and prepare it yourself. Diana's in Scarbox wholesales to the industry, and we are very lucky to shop at their retail facility. Swimming fish (Lord, how I miss Hong Kong) can be found in many tiny shops, but most reliably (though with very limited selection) at T and T stores.
jello2 / May 30, 2010 at 11:58 pm
got nothing on Joso's!
Eric / October 11, 2011 at 02:46 pm
joso's is unreal

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