Before there was Patria, Carmen or Bar Isabel, there was Cava, the Yonge Street restaurant responsible for acquainting Torontonians with boquerones, papas fritas and the simple joys of grilled seafood with citrus. Now, longtime owner and chef Chris McDonald is moving on. “When I opened Cava, I knew the city didn’t need another Italian restaurant,” he says. “So I thought Spanish. I never expected it would turn into this big trend.” Eight and a half years later, with tapas joints edging out taco shops in some Toronto neighbourhoods, McDonald realized it was time to switch things up. “I feel like my job is done with Spanish,” he says.
McDonald is leaving Cava in the hands of his former partner, Doug Penfold, who helped launch the restaurant back in 2006. (Before he signs off for good, he’ll be hosting a huge—and 100 per cent sold-out—send-off dinner to celebrate his nearly decade-long run.) After that, he’ll enjoy some well-deserved downtime, and maybe travel a bit. But after that, it’s entirely likely that Toronto will find itself with a new Chris McDonald joint on the map.
The details are still a little hazy, but McDonald will say this: “I like restaurants that change the landscape. And I like transporting people…that’s the theatre of running a restaurant.” In terms of cuisine, he’s pretty sure his next place won’t be Spanish or Italian. “I’m hoping to do something based on a European cuisine, but somewhere with a climate that’s similar to ours.” (When pressed, he offers up Eastern Europe as a possibility.) Despite the lack of concrete whens and wheres, we’re fairly confident Toronto won’t have too long to wait. “I can’t imagine spending all my time doing anything else,” says McDonald. “Restaurants are my blood.”