Named the best new restaurant in Canada 2013 by En Route magazine Bar as well as the best new restaurant in Toronto by Chris Nuttal-Smith of the Globe and Mail.
@ 797 College Street, Toronto
Tel: (416) 532-2222
Open everyday from 6:00pm to 2:00am
Corkage $25 per bottle
“Above the worn maple front door, a Spanish woman’s name scrawled in curvy, pink neon lettering – “Isabel” – beckons to the road-weary food pilgrim. You stumble into a deep, arched room that feels vaguely illicit. Servers sport suspenders and moustaches and high-and-tight haircuts. You begin to wonder if you’re the lead in the new Woody Allen time-warp film: Is this College Street circa 2013 or a Spanish tavern circa 1936?
Grant van Gameren, the charcuterie wizard who tutored Toronto’s current culinary vanguard at the Black Hoof (number two on this list in 2009), returned home from his own Old World food pilgrimage armed with inspiration: Marcona almonds, jamón ibérico, creamy Basque cakes. Bar Isabel looks and feels and tastes vaguely Castilian but does far more than ape a menu straight out of Madrid.
The mojama – slices of chewy, almost crusty cured tuna – is what you’d expect if jamón and gravlax had a baby. The whole-fish ceviche is a stunner: cubes of sea bream spiked with four kinds of citrus, lubricated with ripe avocado, topped with grass-thin fried leeks and served atop the bream’s fried carcass. Don’t be bashful about digging along the backbone for the last morsels.
As other waiters in town will tell you, “Always order at least one of Grant’s specials.” And so, sautéed mushrooms – morel, maitake, chanterelle and blue foot – arrive on a wooden plate, floating atop a gooey layer of duck yolk. Maybe every dish on earth would be better on a pond of duck egg.
You’re in good hands here: Grant convinced former Brockton General chef Guy Rawlings to move in front of the camera and play the role of jovial inn-keeper. “It’s like being the president,” says the omnipresent, curly-topped Rawlings. “You just need to shake hands and kiss babies.” When he arrives with your celery panna cotta, topped with a buckwheat crumble, it’s so good that you don’t know what to say.”
Source: En Route Magazine