Bar Isabel

Posted on December 30, 2013


After being prudent for the last few days about being out and about after that dreadful ice storm, I finally succumbed to cabin fever.  I just had to get out.  I found myself at Kensington market that afternoon.  After going through my usual rounds of favourite stores at  Kensington,  the idea of having a good dinner on one of the last days of the holidays was irresistible.  Checking Urbanspoon, there were actually a few in the Top 10 list that I haven’t yet tried.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For some reason, I hovered Bar Isabel’s page.  I have checked them once before and wished that they have tapas that I was familiar with.  Countless times, I have said that I have a love for Barcelona-style tapas and even if there was a surge of Spanish restaurants in Toronto, I was never completely pacified the way I was in Barcelona.    My EyeCandyTO partner, Abe Wornovitzky, once told me that I seem to be too picky when it  comes to Spanish cooking and I do admit to it.  I have once said that Barcelona is my second home and the comfort I seek  is vivid and particular.

One more time I visited Bar Isabel’s menu page to check out their dishes.  My heart skipped a beat when I saw that they have two new items that were top in my list to order in any Barcelona restaurant or tapas bar.  They actually have patatas bravas and squid ink pasta.  Seeing that owner/chef Grant van Gameren took a lot of inspiration from Barcelona, I prayed that his food was what I remember.

One problem with Bar Isabel was its popularity never wavered since it opened and the wait for a table could be a while.  Since the craving was bad that afternoon, I went when it opened at 6pm sharp. It helped that there was a good coffee shop right across it. I sat and killed the last 30 minutes before Bar Isabel’s opening at Los Cafetaleros nursing a smooth, thick-foamed mocha.  When I finally walked in Bar Isabel, I was surprised that there were already people who got there ahead of me.  I don’t think I have ever been to a restaurant that is already half full 10 minutes upon opening.  So if you care to make an impromptu meal at Bar Isabel like I did, you better be prompt.  The place was literally full by 6:30pm.

I took a seat by the bar and got myself patatas bravas and the squid ink pasta.  Just to complete the meal, I considered having the cocktail, The Mermaid (with gin) that the bartender recommended.  It was indeed a good start as the drink delivered in its citrusy taste.

Just like the drink, the patatas bravas did not disappoint.  It was the way I wanted it, just crisp-on-the-outside-soft-in-the-inside chunky kind topped with aioli to complete the dish.  It did have a small hint of something tomatoey but it did not overpower the dish.  This was how I remember patatas bravas to be and just for this, I would go back to Bar Isabel.

After a few minutes, the squid ink pasta finally came.  I was hoping it would resemble my favorite Fideua Negro that I could never get enough of in Barcelona.  Fideua is the pasta version of paella, served with a side of aioli.  I preferred the kind that was cooked with squid ink.  What was served to me was not quite what Fideua that I knew. What I had was more similar to the squid ink pasta of Italy, topped with cuttlefish.  No matter if it was not what I sought, it was a very delicious dish.  I initially thought to save the aioli that came with the patatas bravas but after the first taste of the pasta, I didn’t need it after all.  The dish was infused with enough garlic to give me the almost-fideua experience.  It wasn’t the dish that I wanted but I ate every morsel of it.  The taste more than made up for it being different from what I knew.

So I now jump at the bandwagon of people clustering constantly at Bar Isabel.  I must say this was the nearest I was to Barcelona, standing in the streets of Toronto.  I would definitely be back to enjoy more of their food.

Bar Isabel on Urbanspoon
Los Cafetaleros on Urbanspoon