The intimate dining room at Bar Isabel (photo: Ian Lefebvre)
For most foodies, the title of Toronto’s most hotly anticipated 2013 restaurant opening was long ago bestowed on Bar Isabel. Why, you ask? It’s the brainchild of Grant van Gameren, whose virtuoso work with cured meats and offal at The Black Hoof marked him as one of the city’s most exciting young chefs. His reputation drew immediate crowds to his cozy new space; the spread of Mediterranean-inspired tapas dishes—executed by van Gameren and fellow Black Hoof alumnus Brandon Olsen—is what keeps those diners coming back. Among the meat- and seafood-focused menu’s must haves? Spanish blood sausage, salt-cod arancini, and if you’re with a group, the whole grilled octopus and potatoes. —Craig Moy
• Bar Isabel, 797 College St., 416-532-2222; barisabel.com
• Map and reviews
Dotted with smallish, neighbourhood restaurants that nonetheless draw diners from across the city—see The Black Hoof, Campagnolo and more—the Dundas West strip is now even more foodie friendly, courtesy of a top chef and his clan. Bent is the second Toronto outpost for experiencing the food of Asian-fusion master Susur Lee, offering a seafood-heavy carte of casual bites prepared with cosmopolitan flair. In keeping with the area’s inclusive vibe, the restaurant itself is run with confidence by the chef’s sons, Kai and Levi Bent-Lee; his wife, Brenda Bent-Lee, designed the nostalgia-tinged interior featuring subway tiles, church pews and a trio of antique pachinko machines. —Craig Moy
It’s hard to overstate the effect The Black Hoof has had on meat eating in this city. Since its late-2008 opening, the hipster hot spot specializing in high-end charcuterie and artisan cocktails has spawned numerous imitators. Such has been the formula’s success that its creators decided to replicate it for themselves in the Hoof Raw Bar, which does for seafood what its predecessor did—and continues to do—for meat. You can probably imagine what that means for the menu: heaps of shellfish, shareable offerings like squid salad or raw scallops, and a quartet of cured fish make for great bait; a finely honed list of wines and spirits helps ensure you’ll be well and truly hooked.
photo by Gizelle Lau
A word of warning: You’ll likely have to wait for a table at Grand Electric. Why? Aside from the fact that it has just 35 seats and doesn’t take reservations, the Parkdale hot spot is owned by two alumni of The Black Hoof, an incredibly popular charcuterie-and-cocktails den that’s become something of a finishing school for Toronto’s coolest young chefs. Now running his own kitchen, chef Colin Tooke doles out eclectic Mexican small plates such as a shrimp tostada, tuna ceviche and a daily selection of tacos. Ever-stuffed with young foodies, the room can get rather boisterous; if you find you’re in need of a social stimulant, the bar is happy to oblige with an impressive selection of premium bourbons.
photo by Emurray
It seems that winter has finally arrived in southern Ontario. To keep cozy, it’s wise to layer—a truism as applicable to cocktails as it is to sweaters and long johns. Go beyond the simple shaken-or-stirred and discover some of Toronto’s most flavourful artisan libations, guaranteed to give you a warming glow. (more…)