No. 10: Bar Isabel
This happening restaurant on the western end of the College Street strip has its bar up front, and a small, noisy nest of a dining room at the rear.
It looks like a well established and still fashionable European bistro. But then, with the dim lighting, dark wood and cramped clutter of the décor, the jazz piped loudly over the sound system, and the perpetual, spirited crowd, it serves up a taste of speakeasy, too. Which is as it should be. Because in a city where until very recently tracking down a decent meal after 10 pm was close to impossible, restaurateur Max Grimaldi and his business partner chef Grant van Gameren opened this place in 2014 with the promise of serving quality food until 2 am every night of the week. And they have kept it.
Chef van Gameren’s work here speaks loudly of his abiding love of Spain, its food culture and, in particular, its tapas. Excellent cocktails compliment such imported simple pleasures as Marcona almonds and properly sliced jamón ibérico de bellota. And the kitchen does a fine job on staples like patatas bravas, boquerones and jamón croquetas. From clams and oysters to snow crab and side stripe shrimp, the seafood here is treated with appropriate respect. Whole grilled octopus is a classic. Anything plated with the Spanish blood sausage morcilla (lately, chickpeas and shrimp) is to be recommended. Plenty of good Spanish wines are on offer—many by the glass.
A unique dining experience in a trendy space. – DALE MACKAY
Great inventive food and excellent bar scene. – JOHN VOGEL