Eat This Minute: One hundred layers of delicious at La Palma

Chef Craig Harding’s new eatery marries artsy environs with modern Italian fare


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This dish is also known as the 100-hour lasagna

That DuWest life
When Caffe Brasiliano’s restaurateurs let Craig Harding know they were hanging up their chef hats, he had no plans to open a second eatery. Thanks to Campagnolo, the successful Italian trattoria Harding runs with his wife Alexandra Hutchison, he was quite content with life on the Dundas West strip. But with the suggestion of the “perfect space” across the street up for grabs, the wheels got a-churning. Enter: La Palma.

Venezia by way of Venice Beach
Inside, La Palma is all off-whites punctuated with hits of taupe, tan, washed-out turquoise and the pink of the season (ahem, Millennial). Garage windows open up the space to the street. 

“We were inspired by this trip we just took to Venice Beach,” Harding says. “Alex thought of this real synergy to the arts scene in Venice and the fresh fun focus of the restaurants there.”

What ensued is a stylish all-day spot that gives nod to the creative spirit that surrounds Trinity Bellwoods and its artsy affinity with the famed Cali ’hood.

“I just walk around Campagnolo eating bread and meat and cheese and all day,” says Harding, “and I just wanted to balance it out.” 

Using California’s loose interpretation of Italian food as a jumping-off point, chef created a fresh and light menu with veg, veg and more veg. That being said, he couldn’t help but add a mean lasagna to the menu.

That lasagna
“I grew up with an Italian grandmother who inspired a lot of my food,” says Harding. “I love sitting around the table celebrating and just enjoying a meal.” One of Harding’s nonna’s signature dishes is, but of course, a lasagna. 

Originally hailing from the north of the boot, Harding’s grandma ended up connecting with Italians from the south after relocating to Canada. 

“They made lasagna a lot in the style of southern Italy,” Harding says, noting that the south uses a red sauce while the north uses white sauce. With his nonna’s classic dish as a foundation, chef transformed it into a deep-dish, indulgent 100-layer lasagna. “What I’ve done is tried to combine the best of both worlds,” he says. 

Campagnolo’s recipe for spaghetti does double duty as La Palma’s sheets of pasta, boasting egg yolk and doppio zero flour for an incredibly rich dough. The sheets are rolled out and blanched, before around 30 are layered with both béchamel (white) and bolognese (red) sauces, the latter a combo of Ontario beef, pork and veal. 

The layering process takes about an hour, then it’s 45 minutes in the oven before the almost-lasagna is pressed in the fridge overnight. Finally, each piece is fried to order on its side in clarified butter and olive oil, crisping up the layers and giving everyone that corner piece with that toasty, cheesy edge.

“My wife calls it the 100-hour lasagna,” Harding says, “’cause it takes so long to make!”             

La Palma, 849 Dundas St. W., 416-368-4567

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Karolyne Ellacott is senior editor at Post City Magazines. She can oft be spotted at Toronto’s most nostalgic diners wearing glittery heels and pink faux fur. Follow all of her eclectic writing interests on Twitter @kellacott and Instagram @itismekar.

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