Just as a bird is limited by being in a cage, so too was Fatima Santos in running her former café.
“I was always thinking of having something bigger, with a decent kitchen,” she says of her days at Free Time Café, which she ran for five years.
With the grand opening of Fatima’s Café and Bistro in the Junction this past summer, Santos can finally spread her wings.
The chef moved to Canada from Portugal nine years ago, and since then she’s found a home and a following in the growing and much buzzed-about Junction neighbourhood.
“I love this area,” she says. “A lot of young couples are moving here.
“I’m seeing it change and it’s exciting.”
Business is going well, Santos says. Especially popular is the Sunday brunch, which sometimes features a live jazz trio.
“I think it’s a good combination: good food and good music.”
The menu at the new restaurant reflects the culture of Santos’s hometown of Porto, where chefs typically prepare Portuguese, Italian and French fare. Signature dishes include grilled sardines with roasted pepper, $13, and braised lamb shank at $16.
Daily lunch and dinner specials are always on the board — frequently several, tending toward things like codfish or Brazilian-style beef.
Indicators of Santos’s potential success with the new venture include a story about a recent customer who happened to be a chef himself.
“He came back in the next morning and asked me to show him how to make my lamb shank.”
The chef now serves Santos’s version of the dish at his restaurant in Los Angeles.
It seems that Santos’s food is already taking flight.
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