Ever since I first heard about the opening of Bar Isabel (797 College St.) I was dying to pay them a visit. After hearing they were named Canada’s Best New Restaurant by enRoute magazine, I knew I had to go! Their Spanish inspired cuisine expertly crafted by Grant van Gameren of The Black Hoof with the help of Michael Webster, Guy Rawlings, Brandon Olsen, and an amazing staff, looked too good to miss. I decided to try it out one Sunday night. Thankfully, I had no work Monday because those cocktails did quite the number on me (in the best possible way). The place was buzzing when we arrived to a very well-decorated, dimly lit dining room with a beautiful wooden bar. When they asked if it was okay for us to sit at said bar, I was extremely excited as this is one of my favourite places to be when eating at a restaurant. I love to engage bartenders/servers in conversation and the bar is the perfect spot! It didn’t hurt that the bartenders were nice to look at too. Below you will find an account of a truly memorable dining experience about a place that left my taste buds satisfied, and my mind made up that their number one ranking is well deserved. I highly encourage everyone to go to Bar Isabel to experience a truly inspired and unique feast!
What I drank:
Wish I wrote this one down but did not: Definitely started the night off right because I can’t remember what it’s called!
You Screwed Me Over (Choose Yer Own Adventure) [$15]: I told bartender Josh Lindley (one of my favourites in the city)I liked vodka, a little spice, and to make it boozy, and he delivered! This very strong and unique take on a screwdriver had the perfect balance of sweet and spicy, and enough booze to make me order even more food to keep me from falling off my bar stool
Boozy Coffee (Another choose yer own adventure) [$15]: I knew with dessert I wanted coffee, but why not throw some alcohol in with it. This mixture of their delicious espresso with chocolate bitters and some sort of delicious liquor I can’t recall, left me all warm and fuzzy. It was the perfect complement to dessert, and an amazing way to end the meal.
What we ate:
Salumi plate ($16): A delicious mix of cured meats that started the meal on such a high note. I still take the advice of my chef friend Mike to let the meat sit on your tongue to bring out the fat and flavour. Everything was delicious and you cannot go wrong with some great pickled veg on the side. van Gameren is known for his charcuterie and this plate did not disappoint!
Roast bone marrow ($11): Anytime I see bone marrow on a menu, I must order it. I cannot be denied my meat butter! This was one of the best I have had in the city. The toasted and buttered sourdough bread was a magnificent vessel for the luscious, velvety, and succulent marrow. Topped with some chimichurri and a pinch of salt, each bite was heavenly.
1/2 Grilled Octopus ($34): Grilled to absolute perfection, this octopus was tender and so flavourful. The potatoes and dandelion greens provided bursts of garlic with just a hint of bitterness to balance out the smoky octopus. I made sure to fight and win the last tentacle of course. Absolutely a must order!
Stewed gizzards and pork ($14): This may sound strange but it was strangely incredible. The mix of melt in your mouth gizzards, pork, tomato sauce, poached egg, and smoky cheese created a dish with textures and flavours I have never experienced before. This gorgeous messy bowl was the perfect end to the savoury portion of the meal.
Cinnamon bun with blood sausage pastry cream and prune glaze ($7): Another odd sounding but drool worthy dish. This cinnamon bun topped with blood sausage pastry cream and a prune glaze was one of the best desserts I have ever had hands down. We asked the waiter what he recommended for dessert and he came back with, “If this at all sounds appetizing to you, it will be the best decision you have ever made.” I kid you not, I licked the bowl clean. Everything about this dish was just right in the most delicious sort of way. It was like a cinnabon on highly sophisticated and gourmet steroids.
The Golden Rule: This won’t be the cheapest dinner you ever had in the city, but I can guarantee it will be one of the most memorable. There was so much more I wanted to order but because of budget and my ever expanding stomach, I had to hold back. I highly recommend reservations and going with a larger group so you can order many dishes to share! If something sounds slightly strange to you, order it; I promise you won’t regret it. I also recommend sitting at the bar. I was able to get amazing and insightful recommendations on both food and drink, and learn a bit more about why Bar Isabel is among Canada’s elite restaurants.
The Golden Scale: 10 out of 10!
To celebrate the two year anniversary of the Toronto Underground Market and their one year, Hot Bunzz created a special TUM Alum Collection of Bunzz in collaboration with other amazing TUM Alum; Rock Lobster, Fidel Gastro’s, and La Carnita. I had the pleasure of attending a preview event to get the “First Bite,” of these delicious collaborationzz. TUM’s two year anniversary event will be tomorrow and these delicious bunzz will be available for anyone attending, I highly recommend you try all of them, to get a taste of some of the amazing dishes that have come about with the help of TUM. They all began as pop-ups, and have graduated to serving their tasty and unique food from permanent homes. Mark and Mitchell of Hot Bunnz really exemplify the heart, soul, and passion of these food vendors that got their start at TUM. I had the pleasure of watching them grow into the business they are today, and couldn’t be happier that they are celebrating their one year anniversary! They are a great example for other pop-ups just starting out at TUM, that with a little hard work and support, the possibilities are endless. I made my way over to Urban Bistro (21 St. Clair West) last week, where Hot Bunnz has set up shop, excited to get my hands on some hot bunnz.
Mark making those bunnz!
The Spiced Sailor Bun in collaboration with Rock Lobster: Stuffed with lobster and lobster on top! You can’t go wrong with an abundance of lobster. This bun was rich and creamy filled with lobster, pears poached in Sailor Jerry’s rum, mixed with cheddar and topped with even more lobster and a lemon garlic aioli. This bun had a great combination of flavours, reminding me of the signature Rock Lobster roll (if the bun turned mutant and decided to grow and roll itself around the lobster meat). It was delicious and not to be missed for any lobster lover!
The Molé Rojo in collaboration with La Carnita: This bun was classic La Carnita stuffed with braised, pulled chicken in molé rojo sauce, topped with Mexican crema, queso anejo, and a grilled pineapple salsa. If tacos, came in bun form, this would be the perfect one! The chicken was flavourful and tender, and the sweetness of the pineapple salsa along with the slight saltiness of the cheese was a winning combination!
The B.L.T.O in collaboration with Fidel Gastro’s: This was a huge hit for me! The bun was filled with crispy fried pork belly in a Clamato roux, and topped with fresh tomato, lettuce, parm, and a caramalized onion aioli. It was messy, and delicious. The pork belly was melt in your mouth and the flavours hit so many levels of awesome. All other B.L.T’s should be jealous. I give a huge Olé for this bun!
Don’t miss your chance to grab some amazing bunnz (the Hot Bunnz kind, or the other if you’re feeling flirty) at TUM tomorrow. This is your chance to try some of the great TUM Alum signature dishes stuffed inside the delicious buns of Hot Bunnz, so don’t miss out. Happy One Year Anniversary guys!
When I heard that AwesTRUCK would be back for another year with 50 trucks, both new to the street and the veterans we’ve come to know and love, I knew attending this event would be a no brainer. This is the second time around for the event, which honours the best and brightest of Ontario food trucks. I quickly bought my early bird ticket ($25), which allowed early entry an hour before general admission ($10) and counted down the days until my food truck dreams would come true. Unfortunately mother nature had other plans this past Saturday at Fort York deciding that rain would be in the forecast all day. I decided this would not stop me from heading to this wonderful event, so I put on my rain gear and headed out for some incredible food truck eats.
After reviewing the list of trucks posted earlier by the amazing organizers Food Truck Eats et al (Suresh Doss, Frank Kocis, and the rest of the amazing crew), I decided I wanted to stick to trucks that don’t normally come to Toronto. Ontario has a wealth of amazing trucks representing various cities, and I was excited to see what was in store. Car2Go was the title sponsor, which might have come in handy rather than the painfully slow street car I took, and there were many great drinks available as well (Samuel Adams, Kensington Brewing Co, and more), which definitely eased the pain of the slow commute. When I arrived, the rain was coming down hard, but that did not damper my spirit or my appetite. I surveyed the scene and was in awe of the vast amount of trucks and cuisines available.
I decided my first stop would be El Gastronomo Vagabundo from St. Catharines, last year’s Road Warriors and one of my favourite trucks. They were one of the first trucks in Ontario, and helped to spearhead the street food movement. They don’t come around here much, so I knew I needed remind myself just how good their food is. I settled on their grilled octopus dish with fried new potatoes, chipotle gastrique, salsa verde and paprika ($10). The octopus was done beautifully, and I’m not sure what they did to those potatoes, but they were incredible. I ended up going back again later for a second one! I hope you guys come back to Toronto again soon so everyone can get a taste of your amazing food.
Another truck I had on my list was The Dirty South from Hamilton. I follow their social media, and generally drool every time I see a picture of their Dirty Southern Love sandwich ($9). If sandwiching fried chicken and bacon with waffles is wrong, I don’t ever want to be right. The sandwich was a mini tower of chicken, waffles, and maple bacon. This was going to be no easy feat to eat, while juggling my massive umbrella, however I managed to scarf it down pretty quickly. The chicken had great flavour, the bacon was crispy with a maple flavour that added the perfect hit of sweetness, the arugula added a nice peppery bite, and the waffles were soft and fluffy. It all worked so well together, and I managed to make it through with minimal sauce on my face. This is the ultimate brunch sandwich, that I could see myself eating many times in the future. Dirty South is another truck I hope to see more of! Congrats on the many nominations!
After the monstrosity of my Dirty Southern Love, I figured I needed a lighter bite next. Gourmet Gringos have always been one of my favourite trucks in Toronto. Terry, Christian, and the crew make incredible food! I noticed they had some menu items I have never seen before, and was excited to get a taste. I love ceviche, and after seeing they had one, I knew that was the perfect light snack for me. The ceviche ($6) had tuna, watermelon, and avocado piled high on a tostada. The flavours were amazing and fresh. There was just the right amount of acidity from the tuna, sweetness from the watermelon, and creaminess from the avocado. The tostada was a great vessel for this dish. Congrats on the People’s Choice win guys!
I figured I should try at least one more dish before I picked a few desserts, and after winning awards for Best Concept and Best Menu Item I knew Luchador Gourmet Streatery from Waterloo was where i was headed. I decided to try the Korean Zombie ($7), which consisted of tofu, kimchi, cucumber, and jack cheese in a naan bread taco. I was very intrigued by naan as the taco. I also loved their luchador masks and the Mexican-Asian fusion concept. When I bit in, there was a flavour explosion. I loved the kimchi and tofu along with the bite of the cucumber, which all provided an array of great textures. The naan was such a creative substitute for a taco. This was reminded me of a South Asian grilled cheese taco – a combination of many of my favourite foods and ethnic cuisines! Congrats on both of your wins!
As for dessert, I had my eye on the Itty Bitty Pie Co. from St. Catharines. Their mini pies were just too cute to resist. I decided to go with the Coconut Cream and the Sweet Potato ($4 each). I only have one word for these pies – OMG! They were absolutely delicious! The sweet potato was creamy and topped with toasted marshmallows for the perfect fall treat. The coconut cream was soooooo good. The combination of coconut cream and whipped cream was heavenly. The pie crust was perfectly flaky and buttery. I can’t wait to try more flavours!
I figured I would be nice and bring home a treat for my family. I knew Curbside Bliss was the perfect choice! I saw their caramel apple cupcake ($2.75) consisting of a vanilla cinnamon cake, apple pie filling, graham cracker bottom, and a buttercream frosting with caramel drizzle. Unfortunately, the cupcake looked and smelled too good, so I had to eat it myself. It was all in the name of saving my family from having to split it between them. It was so delicious! Eating an apple pie in cupcake form was the perfect ending to my eating adventure!
I wanted to give a big congrats to all the winners! It is amazing to see how far we have come in the street food movement and the amazing trucks and people that are so passionate about providing great food and service to us! There are so many unique ideas and cuisines that these hard-working individuals have created to help diversify food cultures throughout Ontario. It was wonderful to see everyone braving the rain to support these trucks and vendors. There are so many great trucks out for lunch and dinner every day, and I hope that you will all try them out to see what amazing street food is like! I am so happy to have been around to see many of these trucks blossom into what they are today, and I hope to continue to see even more trucks and street food freedom in the future!
People’s Choice: Gourmet Gringos
Best Menu Item: Pork steam bun tacos – Luchador Gourmet Streatery
Best New Food Truck: Frankie Fettucine
Best Graphics: Food Dudes
Best Concept; Luchador Gourmet Streatery
Best Pop-Up: Babi & Co
Road Warrior: Sid Friedman, Ontario Food Trucks Assocation
I think it’s about time I wrote about my amazing experience at The Black Hoof (928 Dundas Street West). Sometimes I get lazy and forget to post, but this restaurant deserves some love. I went on a Sunday evening with my best eating buddy Mike, to sample some of the delicious and curious meats that Jen Agg and team have created. We got seated at the bar, which I was very excited about, as it provided an amazing view of the open kitchen. Although the kitchen is small, the chefs work effortlessly in the narrow space to create each dish to perfection. I was just mesmerized watching them cook and plate, almost to the point where I forgot about the delicious food in front of me. I also love going out for dinner with a chef, as they can really add to the dining experience and food appreciation. Thanks again Mike.
Tea & Sympathy ($12): This was a delicious mix of earl grey infused gin, honey syrup, lemon cream sherry, and jasmin bitters. You could really sense the tea flavour, and all the elements worked beautifully together.
Charcuterie ($19): I wish I could remember everything on the plate specifically, but it was all oustanding! They are known for the charcuterie and this board was delicious. I loved watching them slice the meat and create such a beautiful dish right in front of me. I remember the mortadella being one of my favourites, but everything had its own unique flavour. Paired with their amazing bread, this is a must order. Kudos to Mike for telling me to let each piece sit on my tongue for a while to really bring out the flavour.
Pork Belly & Cappuccio ($15): My favourite part of the night was watching the chef cooking the pork belly. It was a beautiful sight watching it grow crispy in that frying pan. The pork belly had a great crunch on the outside with a smooth and creamy interior. The brussel sprout cappuccio was a great accompaniment to add some greens to the richness of the pork belly.
Tongue On Brioche ($14): I had heard amazing things about this dish and could not wait to try it. I was practically drooling when it arrived. This was insanely good! The tongue was so tender and flavourful reminding me of smoked meat. The brioche was soft and buttery, and the perfect bread for the massive amount of meat. The pickled celery and grainy mustard were nice touches, which I paired with any meat that spilled out of the sandwich to create delicious bites. I would not think twice about ordering this one again.
Bone Marrow (Market Price): I apologize for the dark photography as it was late by the time we got our bone marrow. At this point in the meal I was so stuffed so could only manage one bite. I had never tried bone marrow before, so I knew I had to have at least one. Mike described it as meat butter and he was spot on! The marrow on toast was so rich and delicious, I almost died and went to meat heaven (after the meal my heart was probably ready for it).
Overall, The Black Hoof is one place that everyone should visit in Toronto. The staff are friendly and extremely knowledgeable. The atmosphere is awesome. Can’t go wrong with some old school rap and hip hop. The food may sound strange to some, but everything is delicious no matter where it comes from on whatever animal it may be!
Follow owner Jen Agg on twitter @TheBlackHoof!
Magical old school stove!
Sizzling pork belly!
The Golden Rule: Make sure to order a nice selection of different dishes, but the charcuterie and tongue on brioche are a must! If you can, sit at the bar so you can sit back and enjoy the magic that goes on in the kitchen!
The Golden Scale: 9 out of 10!