Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bar Isabel

via Where to Eat Out
Bar Isabel
Where: 797 College Street
Toronto, ON
M6G 1C7
Price: $$$$ (We ordered the $65 tasting menu amongst 11 people + 2 bottles of wine..~$1000 meal)
Note: Reservations are highly recommended..They start booking for weekends at least 2 months in advance and weekdays at least 3 weeks in advance!!

My uncle who was stopping by from Taiwan used to work under Grant Van Gameren back when he was at Enoteca Sociale so we absolutely had to stop by GVG's Bar Isabel. We got the tasting menu which features their main dishes off the menu but served family style (ie. made to share amongst your group). The tasting menus come at different levels of prices ($45-$65) and are completely customizable depending on your preference.

The decor imitates that of a Spanish tavern. Wood panels and decorative (and artistically mismatched) floor tiles. Our reservation was for 6:30 and it was already very lively. Even when we left at 10pm, it was still quite loud!

Just a disclaimer, as we ordered the tasting menu our portions are not exact and are made to share between 5-6 people (We were given two plates for each course for each side of the table). Therefore, they are not an accurate depiction of the true size of the portions served. Further, prices shown are that off the menu.Also, I apologize for the dimly lit photos - the restaurant itself is quite dark!

Right off the bat, the service is impeccable. Our water was (nearly) always topped up. They asked for dietary restrictions and allergies and are fully accommodating when you state preferences for the tasting menu. When pouring the wine, they face the wine bottle and label towards each person they are pouring to and they know the menu inside and out. Believe it or not, these are little things but people pick up on them - and appreciate them!


Our dinner began with 18 oysters ($48) .. Unfortunately I couldn't catch what kind of oysters these were. Each oyster was exceptionally tasty and fresh and arrived on a bed of ice with horse radish and a housemade hot sauce

In true European fashion, we were hit with a flurry of dishes: a basket of warm, housemade bread with accompanying olives, olive oil, and cured meats and cheese. This is GVG's restaurant - of course there has to be cured meats and cheese!

While we were not paritcularly moved by the basic Manchego cheese ($7), the meats were the real treat for us. We were given two meats - one was a cured Lomo Iberico while the other was the prized Jamon Iberico, a type of cured ham made from black Iberian pigs that are fed an acorn diet for 75% of their life. We were informed that ours was fed acorns for three years! It is an experience in itself to eat. Such a delicious balance of lean pork marbled with fat that quickly dissolves in your mouth. There is a very distinct nuttiness from the acorn diet that is slightly sweet as well. Such a delicacy does not come cheap however.. A plate of Jamon Iberico costs $50 and up!

To follow with the bread, cured meats and cheese, we were given a dish of Boquerones with Jalapenos ($9) and Piquillo peppers with a basket of chips to eat with it. I didnt want the chips (I mean.. why waste stomach space?) but with this dish it is absolutely necessary. Everything added up and complimented each other so so well

The sword fish tiradito ($15) was a nice follow-up. Raw slices of sword fish were covered with an sorrel and olive sauce. A light sprinkle of fresh sweet peas, smoked olives and crispy jamon topped the dish.

The Whole Seabream Ceviche ($26) was a delight both visually and taste wise. The meat of the fish was used for the ceviche (fresh, well seasoned and great acidity!) while the exterior of the fish was flash fried which really makes it almost two dishes in one. It was the most visually appealing ceviche I have ever had and tasted amazing too! Slivers of fried leeks that hide cubes of tender, tangy meat that is mixed with creamy avocado chunks.

The Spicy Fried Squid ($8) was flavourful and slightly crispy. A splash of lemon from the provided wedge adds an extra zing to the dish but certainly not needed.

Lastly, the Patatas Bravas ($7) were a big surprise. I am always skeptical about ordering any rendition of a potato in upscale restaurants. I mean , how hard or complex can it really get? But these were phenomenal. A great dish to munch on. Patatas Bravas is a dish that consists of white potatoes then fried in oil and served warm with a spicy sauce (in this case, Bar Isabel's housemade hot sauce) and aioli.

Gooseneck barnacles ($32) served as a nice transition between the appetizers and mains (Sidenote: has anyone noticed how so many upscale restaurants have started to add gooseneck barnacles to their menu now?). They came in a puddle of lemon garlic butter and pieces of artichoke. I immediately regretted not saving my bread to soak it with the lemon garlic butter - yes it was that good! The gooseneck barnacles themselves were not what I expected. It's similar to a mussle but very very tiny. I'm not sure if I would order this again if I came..!

Seared foie gras ($28) was gingerly placed ontop of a morcilla blood sausage with a slab or apricot jam on the side. Now this just screams all sorts of "What? Does this even work" and I can assure you it does, it really really does. First off the blood sausage is unlike anything I've ever tasted - it was more creamy and mashed then a solid sausage. When paired with the soft foie gras and the sweet apricot jam, it's seriously  a bite of heaven.

Around the same time, our server also placed a plate with an 18 oz. Ribeye ($42) with a small dish of chimichurri. While this dish was good, Bar Isabel definitely is better at seafood than cooked meats. My dad's steak is still my favourite!

Finally, the moment I had been waiting for - Bar Isabel's famed octopus ($59 for a whole). The concept is deceptively simple but the execution was perfect. Tender, moist octopus that came with a huge kickass steak knife aggressively jabbed into the top and served over a bed of roasted dandelion greens and potatoes. The end of the tentacles are nice and crunchy and the dandelions were bitter but not overwhelmingly so. Loved it!


For dessert we had the Leche Frita & Salted Dulce de Leche ($7) - this was a delightful dessert - imagine a a crispy, moist small doughnut and when bit into, reveals a sweet salted dulce de leche filling.

We also got the famous Basque Cake with Sherry Cream ($8.50). Basque cake is a traditional dessert from the Basque region in Spain. It's a simple dessert with a rich, cookie-like crust and a creamy pastry cream. Bar Isabel topped there's off with a Sherry Cream. This was delicious albeit a really rich dessert, so I definitely recommend sharing if you order this.

All in all, it was truly an unforgettable experience. Their menu has something for everyone and was hugely enjoyed by everyone in my group (which ranged from ages 14 - 50+ !). The progression of the menu was flawless and the service was on point. Would return in a second :)!

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