No. 12: Bar Isabel
797 COLLEGE STREET, TORONTO, ONTARIO
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 decor, 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 p.m. was close to impossible, Bar Isabel hit the scene in 2014 with the promise of serving quality food until 2 a.m. every night of the week. A promise kept.
Chef Grant van Gameren’s work here speaks loudly of his abiding love of Spain, its food culture and, in particular, its tapas. Excellent cocktails complement such imported simple pleasures as Marcona almonds and properly sliced jamón ibérico de bellota. The kitchen does a fine job on staples like patatas bravas, boquerones and jamón croquetas—and it’s a small but genuine treat to have addictive, salty shishito peppers to snack on soon after sitting down. From clams and oysters to snow crab and side-striped shrimp, the seafood here is treated with appropriate respect. Whole grilled octopus is properly done. Anything plated with the Spanish blood sausage morcilla (lately, foie gras) is to be recommended. Plenty of good Spanish wines are on offer—many by the glass—and some quite astounding sherries.
Sunday to Thursday
6:00 PM until 12:00 AM
Friday and Saturday
6:00 PM until 2:00 AM
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MAT FABIJANIC