The Soca Kitchen is a husband-and-wife venture with Daniela Manrique in the kitchen and her partner, Gustavo Belisario, working at front of house. Both are originally from Venezuela. They opened the restaurant on Holland in 2014.
Tapas fans expecting bread to come right away and at no cost will be disappointed. Bread must be ordered (and paid for) but will be appreciated — a chewy sourdough with a generous smear of flavourful tomato-and-garlic purée (called pan tomaca). It’s not baked in-house. With a casual shrug, Belisario explains that at Soca, they leave the bread to “the experts.”
Corn tortillas loaded up with shredded pork offer juicy mouthfuls, thanks to a spicy pineapple salsa and an orange marinade; a garnish of pink pickled onions and shredded lettuce adds a lovely acidic note, while cilantro crema lends colour and freshness. The stuffed piquillo peppers with almonds are a big hit. The garnet peppers are roasted to a sweet softness and stuffed with Quebec goat cheese. Candied slivers of almonds adorn the top.
Less successful are the lamb meatballs. They are a bit tough and dry although still tasty thanks to a crust of cinnamon and cumin. An egg is served on the side that is very runny, adding gooeyness.
But it’s the seafood where Soca shines. Grilled calamari are tender, lying on a bed of thick yogurt, almost a labneh, adorned with drops of a lime-infused oil. The squid are topped with a chimichurri and then covered with a mass of crispy onions.
Also delicious — and beautiful — is the ceviche. Tuna and shrimp arrive in a bowl with hominy, avocado, and a crispy wafer — the flavours soaking up the garlic in the lime-and-cucumber marinade.
Sourdough and pan tomaca make a reappearance, this time topped with pickled mussels. But the combo falls short: the mussels sink too easily into the soft bread and the flavours are too acidic when combined.
For dessert, we choose a caramelized mango, which is as you expect: slices of mango sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar glazed under the salamander. Fine, but not memorable.
The wine list is short, but a lovely Spanish Tempranillo is a good partner for the dishes.
The service is casual. On one visit, whether by coincidence or intention, every dish came out at the same time, crowding the table. At a second visit, the timing of dishes was on point. Inconsistencies aside, the adventuresome menu and welcoming atmosphere mean that there will be a third visit.
The Soca Kitchen
93 Holland Ave.
Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday and brunch on Sunday