Bar Isabel 416.532.2222 http://barisabel.com/ open 7 days a week 6pm-2am
After his split from Black Hoof, Grant van Gameren’s next venture is a lively Spanish tapas restaurant. Hazes of green and red dimly lit bulbs warm this European looking tavern along with a boisterous crowd and causal atmosphere. Yes it’s pricey and yes the service is novice at times but the food is really good.
A small platter from the kitchen arrives carrying milky almonds from Spain, firm but creamy Manchego cheese and a silky pork lonza. I love the wine list, mainly a smooth Tempranillo “Sara Soto” 2004 Cigales from Spain($75); its painful that so many beautiful wines are only available through consignment…
After ordering a bunch of items off the menu I asked my server to make sure that the kitchen did not send them out all at once, and guess what happened – everything came out at once. Bone marrow ($14) is rich, salty and has the texture of perfection served with charred sourdough. Chewy Pancetta quickly melts into a delightful acorn finish, contrasting nicely with a peppery-herb Iberico Salchicon. A side of crisp pickled vegetables soaked in a slightly-sweet astringent balance the cured meats and keeps the taste-buds happy.
Whole fish ceviche ($26): tender fish marinated with lime, spices and garlic is reunited with its fried counterpart layered in a visually delicious and flavourful dish. Original tongue on brioche ($14) can be easily called the best in the city. This dish is almost flawless – generous slices of tongue so juicy and tender with just a hint of gaminess held together by a buttery toasted brioche bun is a marvel of textural contrast. The only misstep on the menu is an under-seasoned- over-spiced horse tartare ($13), bitter from olive oil and a strange lingering aftertaste.
I must add the bartenders at Bar Isabel are spirit wise friendly and accommodating – so sit at the bar!