Back in October of 2013 Bar Isabel was named the best restaurant in Canada by enRoute magazine. It’s February 2014 and I am a firm believer this title was well deserved.
Bar Isabel is not your typical restaurant. The place is eclectic and alive, very alive. The music is mellow but the crowds are snappy and chatty. The food is brought to tables in waves in a tapas-style format with waiters moving through the restaurant in synchronized movements. Though the theme of the menu tends to lean towards Spanish, that is not to say ingredients from other countries don’t make it to your plate.
“We’re not a complete Spanish restaurant,” Chef Grant van Gameren admitted to Canada AM. ‘We don’t like to kind of contain ourselves, you know, so we take from French, a little bit of Italian and South American as well.’
The Patatas Bravas are a clear example of what Chef Grant describes. White potatoes that are pan-fried, sitting on a bed of tomato sauce, drizzled with a mayo-like home-made sauce and topped with green onions. A typical dish you will find in many bars in Spain but with an American twist.
There is also the Original Tongue on Brioche, my star dish of the night. A sandwich that you will eat anywhere, anytime, any day. It’s slices of deliciously marinated tongue, stock to the walls of a smooth and fluffy brioche bread with sweet mustard and topped with spicy mayo. A succulent delicacy.
For the veggie aficionados, the Arbol Chili Chickpeas with Snow Pea Leaves most always be the choice. Chickpeas are hard to get right, they tend to either be too dry, too hard or overcooked. At Bar Isabel, they are neither. These chickpeas are served with a simple oil drizzle, snow pea leaves and what tasted like canola seeds. Canola seeds tend to be tasteless and so the addition of these, in my mind, are purely there to add texture to the dish. Well done Chef, well done.
If pork is what’s in your mind, the Chorizo Verde might just hit the spot. An encapsulated, flavourful and tasty melange of pork is topped with Chimichurri sauce and sits on a bed of marinate escarole. So let’s break this down: the glorious piece of meat is covered in a sauce that is made with parsley, olive oil, oregano, garlic and white wine vinegar (Chimichurri). The same fantastic pork ensemble, also sits on top of endive leaves (escarole) that are marinated to great perfection in many spices and ingredients I can’t begin to describe. A nice touch on a traditional tapas dish by the Chef.
If sweets is what you are craving, then I dare you not to read the label and enjoy Bar Isabel’s Cinnamon Bun. It’s the most interesting dessert you’ll try. A very special concoction that features blood sausage cream (yep, you read right) and prune glaze as its main ingredients. This dessert needs no explanation, you just have to try it to believe delicious and decadence are possible here.
Until next time Foodies!
Venue: Bar Isabel
Specialty: Spanish-fusion tapas
Location: 797 College Street, Toronto, Ontario
Menu items: Cured Meats, Patatas bravas, Arbol Chili Chickpeas, Tongue on Brioche, Chorizo Verde, Cinnamon Bun & Salted Dark Chocolate Ensaimada