La Costa: a blast from the DTK past

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[I stumbled on this old piece, a Record restaurant review I wrote in 200x? … well I’m not exactly sure when.

What strikes me is how much I used to love restaurants at the corner of Ontario and Charles streets — it was once a churrasqueira
, rodizio Boa Nova, wasn’t it?

And when I think of today’s grey, damp and sombre weather — yuck — I wish there a piece of La Costa’s costa brava there now.]

I had imaged that La Costa Restaurant had potentially the greatest live ring-side seating as an advertisement for dining out in the city: a busy restaurant packed with its own patrons sitting along huge walls of windows dominating Charles and Ontario streets in downtown Kitchener.

Energy and openness are amplified by yellow awnings outside and the sunny warmth of bright colours which characterize the décor inside: tile floors, ochre, blue, and red accents, Latin music, exposed plaster, and faux paint treatments.

A chain of five restaurants in southern Ontario, La Costa is inspired by the sunny Mediterranean, including Spain and its wild costa brava coast. With about 200 seats, the place is often a festive, exciting, energized and fun restaurant — and the cuisine is for the most part usually quite good.

Hoping for such a dynamic experience, four of us visited one evening, but, sadly, we were virtually the only ones there. Having dined at La Costa several times before, it was a surprise to not be able to enjoy that energy.

I was also surprised that the few customers then present were not strategically seated along those large windows proclaiming, “La Costa is open, vibrant, and busy: come in and join us!”

But I guess that is why I am sitting on the receiving side of the menu.

A key aspect of that menu is that it offers small or large portions of the dish (priced accordingly), a smart option. There are 10 appetizers and five pastas: main courses include a sea bass, a lamb shank, and a veal chop. There are about eight desserts, all in the $5-$6 range.

Manager Tim Hudspeth notes that a new menu is about to launch in the next few weeks which will see the return of osso buco, a new lamb dish, rabbit, catfish, and the iconic and defining Spanish paella. An interior facelift is in the planning stages including a lounge area.

We shared several appetizers.

The mesclun greens ($6.99) were light and fresh. Mediterranean salad had chunks of feta, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and roasted red-pepper dressing. At $6.99 (large $9.99), it was a very large serving. I have eaten dishes recently, however, with which cooks seem to be underestimating the sharp power of the humble red onion and its Allium family: this salad was overwhelmed by it.

Scallops with Asian pear and wasabi aioli ($11.99 small) brought together Catalan and eastern fruit and heat. The firm but juicy and sweet Asian pear matched the scallops well. A good combination.

Stuffed chicken breast with a Chianti demi ($13.99 or 18.99) had a nice pairing of ricotta and spinach, but the demi-glace was understated: it needed more intensity. The 10 oz. New York strip, a pricey $29.99, was perfectly cooked and the fried leeks are unique, combining with the garlic mashed potatoes well. New Zealand lamb shank ($16.99 or $20.99) was succulent and delicious. An accompaniment of a rich ragout of wild mushrooms suited. The rout with pecan crust (special $22.99) was overwhelmed by the nuts.

Apple-cinnamon bread pudding and caramel crunch cake were good and generous portions; the espresso crème caramel certainly packed a wallop: the custard was just beyond creamy silken smoothness and the caramel was a touch overdone, giving it a slight burned flavour; however, the deep richness of the coffee was allowed it the agility to keep pace.

While providing a decent price range for 15 reds and whites (several available by the glass), the wine list lacks imagination. Many are what might be described as “classics,” if not conventions, and likely the ones that sell the best. I can’t fault them for this, but I might expect more creativity: it takes little thought to put a “yellow label” on a wine list. Include a few Iberian products: the tempranillo grape can produce some excellent wines, put on something from Rioja or Bairrada. I hope a new wine list will accompany the new menu.

La Costa does offer “Vintner’s Dinners” periodically where wines and foods are paired. This is a great idea: the next one is April 28—call the restaurant for details. They also have eight or so single malt scotches (I confess to missing the days of the cigar humidor).

Dinner for four was about $150 (without wine and before tax and gratuity). La Costa is usually an exciting experience and most of the dishes tonight were well prepared.

Dining out is a reciprocal affair: patrons need to feel they are part of a dynamic experience, and kitchens, in turn, are motivated by the energy of the front of the house. While this was an uncharacteristically quiet evening with some decidedly good food, I will return to La Costa and hope for the characteristic costa brava energy that really should be, I think, their signature dish.

La Costa
6 Charles Street West
(519) 744-7572

Open Monday – Thursday 11:30 am – 11:00 pm; Friday 11:30 am – 12:00 pm; Saturday 4:30 – 12:00 pm; Sunday 4:30 pm – 10:00 pm. Private dining area available. Wheelchair accessible.

Assessing food, atmosphere, service, and prices, Dining Out restaurant reviews are
based on anonymous and unannounced visits to the establishments. Restaurants do
not pay for any portion of the reviewer’s meal. Andrew Coppolino can be reached at

[Costa brava banner image/Gabriele Delhey via Wikimedia Commons]

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