At Quinta, a just-opened restaurant on Dundas West, chef Leor Zimerman is giving Iberian cuisine a kick in the pants.
As a bustling lunch service ended at Quinta, the just-opened Iberian restaurant appropriately located in Little Portugal, and the cooks began making ice cream and simmering chicken stock for dinner, chef Leor Zimerman sat at the bar. That July morning, exactly a week after the restaurant opened, two restaurant blogs published their takes on the place. The consensus was that Zimerman’s crispy pork belly with clams is his signature dish.
It’s not an unreasonable claim. “It’s a dish that shows what I’m going for: food from that region made from simple ingredients, and with my French training,” said Zimerman. “The traditional way of making it in the countryside is much more straightforward. I’m trying to add another level of complexity to the dish.”
Zimerman isn’t from the Portuguese countryside, but the 30-year-old chef can whip up a piri-piri sauce, no problem. Growing up, he spent his after-school hours at his parents’ Kensington Market luggage-and-clothing shop, which was frequented by Portuguese locals. His parents even picked up the language.
Zimerman was interested in cooking from a very young age. He’d watch his mom make dinner each night. When he was five, he got an Easy Bake Oven; when he was 10, his culinary experimentation resulted in a chocolate chip-–Alphagetti omelet.
During his last year in high school, feeling bored and wanting to drop out, his dad signed them both up for evening cooking classes at George Brown College. Zimerman later enrolled in the culinary program. “I would not have gone to cooking classes on my own,” he said. “It was 100 per cent my dad.”
After a stint gutting fish for four months at a restaurant on the eastern coast of Italy, Zimerman returned to Toronto and landed a job at Annex fine-dining restaurant Opus, thanks to his dad, who put in a good word with the owners. During his time cooking at Queen West’s Czehoski, he and his wife took a break to travel and ended up cooking for three months at a hotel in Portugal called Quinta do Barranco da Estrada.
Zimerman borrowed the name for his new restaurant, but his menu—displayed on chalkboards on the restaurant’s white walls—is his own interpretation of modern Portuguese fare. At brunch, for example, he serves prawns and grits. For dinner, there are just four starters ($6–$12) and four mains ($16–$18), so there’s no room for mediocrity.
The pork and clams is a winner and so is a succulent half Cornish hen that’s marinated for two days in a spicy homemade piri piri and served with rice and fried potatoes. The charcuterie board—pork terrine with currants and hazelnuts, duck confit, duck-liver mousse, and a chicken-gizzard salad—pairs well with a glass of shrub ($3), a centuries-old concoction of blueberries cooked in apple-cider vinegar. There are Ontario craft brews, a small list of VQA and Portuguese wines, and enough original cocktails to keep one happy at the bar. Zimerman may not have been born and bred in Lisbon, but he’s cooking what he knows brilliantly. We know who to thank for getting that ball rolling.
Quinta, 1282 Dundas St. W., #DNW 416-534-0407, quinta.ca