What's the vibe?
It's a deceptively large space, so let's start with the bar. Plenty of original features from the Hudson's Bay heritage building have been preserved; the overall design does a brilliant job combining old and new. With floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Yonge and Richmond, the room is equally suited to mid-morning coffees and long, cocktail-fuelled lunches. It's easy to picture the cast of Mad Men lounging against the peacock blue leather banquettes, quaffing champagne and oysters. Meanwhile in the upstairs dining room, the bustle dies away and the lighting grows a shade or two dimmer. Opt for one of the two booths tucked into opposing walls to add to the air of occasion. There's a downstairs area too, complete with a sleek bar and plum-coloured walls. Turn down the corridor to the powder rooms and you'll find the walls papered with same dark, vintage-style jungle scenes that line the menu. Talk about continuity...
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What to drink?
Leña boasts all-day service, so while cocktails always seem like a great answer (we won't judge), you might want to start with a coffee if you're visiting before noon. All the espresso-based options are made with a bespoke blend from the folks at Propeller—so you know it's gotta be good. There's also a creative little mocktail list in case you're driving or off the sauce. But the drinks are definitely a big selling point: try the grapefruit-forward Brisa de la Costa for something on the strong side, or the blueberry-infused Caipiroska if you're feeling a little fruitier. Wines by the glass hail from Spain and South America, the better to pair with the (largely) Latin-influenced cuisine.
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What to eat?
When in doubt, start with snacks. The small plates are all winners, but the fan-favourite salt cod fritters and the elegantly spiced patatas bravas deserve special recognition. If you're after a slightly larger appetizer, try the crab cazuela. (The cazuela is both the cooking and the serving vessel; it's filled with warm, meaty hunks of crab meat, garnished with a charred slice of lemon.) Mains are a tough choice, especially if you're a meat lover. The pollo doña aurora is so layered with flavours, it defies the old admonitions about ordering something as simple as chicken at an upscale restaurant. A plate of Alberta lamb chops earns its high price tag with its generous portion size and great accents like goat cheese cream and mint. The crisp skin on the pan-seared Arctic char is a thing of beauty; the fish is served on a bed of corn and fregola strewn with mussels and crab meat. A must-order for seafood lovers. Even if you're stuffed, there's room for churros. They're lighter than any fried dough pastry you've ever tasted, and served with warm Soma chocolate for dipping.
Dinner and drinks for two: around $170
176 Yonge Street; 416.507.3378; lenarestaurante.com