Top Spanish Food Bar None!
Our dinner guests are 45 minutes late. That doesn’t include the built-in 15 minute “reservation lie” necessary when making plans with this couple. So technically they’re an hour late. Which in most restaurants might be problematic. But not at Bar Isabel. Pre-dinner noshes (aka tapas) are its specialty. So we put ourselves in the hands of our able waiter with the simple instructions to “bring us something to tide us over.” And did he ever. An order of bread ($4), olives ($5), Majerero - a hard goat milk cheese ($8) together with lime infused tortilla chips served with Boquerones (anchovies) Piquillo and Jalapeno peppers ($9) hit the spot. Consumed with some inspired cocktails (all of which I decided were ‘on them’ as punishment for tardiness) and the evening was off to a hot start.
Tapas, traditional Spanish small plates of bar food, is meant to be shared, so when we were finally all at the table the serious eating could begin. We ordered a lot. And we ate it all. The food is both interesting and extremely well executed. That Bar Isabel is so good is hardly a secret, but at $180 per couple, including two drinks each, tip and tax, it is actually exceptional value.
There is a famous scene in Barry Levinson’s Diner, where a trucker is mocked for ordering and eating everything on the left side of the menu - that’s sort of what we did. First came the double order of Chorizo Verde and Grilled Octopus skewers ($9 for 2pc), succulent and meaty, octopus is made for grilling - this is the perfect sized dish for someone who wants to try the delicacy. Next came the Patata Bravas ($7) fried potato chunks spiced with smoked paprika and doused in garlic aioli, together with Coca Flatbread ($14), a Spanish take on white pizza, which came with Caramelized Onions, Epoisses Cheese and Sobrassada.
Because this was a Tonic review, we had to get some vegetables. So we ordered all three offered on the menu. The Arbol Chile Chick Peas with Snow Pea Leaves ($6) read vaguely middle-eastern in tone. The Marinated Swiss Chard with Raisins and Anchovy ($6) was a cold Sicilian inspired dish. But the Charred Leeks, Wild Mushrooms and Fermented Peppers ($10) were my favourites - smoky and salty but soft and luxuriant.
We didn’t have room for dessert because we shared the Whole Sea Bream Ceviche ($26), cubed fish is lightly cooked by dousing it with citrus juice and then mixing it with an unexpected hit of avocado. The best dish of the evening. And we all shared a small Cumbrae Ribeye and Chimichurri ($42 for the regular 18 oz.). The chimichurri (a green sauce made from a mixture of herbs) perfectly cut through the rich meat. For those looking to sample Spanish inspired food at its best, I highly recommend Bar Isabel. 797 College (East of Ossington) Reservations taken. wwwbarisabel.com
Jamie Bussin is the Publisher of Tonic Magazine. The last time he regularly reviewed restaurants he ballooned up to 242 lbs. That’s not going to happen again.