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Restaurants

Bar Isabel

Posted by Megan Leahy / Profiled on April 2, 2013 / review policy

Bar Isabel TorontoBar Isabel, former Black Hoof chef Grant van Gameren's latest outpost, recently opened near College and Ossington, and with it comes some very high expectations. Joined by General Manager and beer connoisseur Guy Rawlings (who consults for the likes of Bellwoods Brewery and Bar Volo), mixologist Michael Webster (Momofuku), and Splendido-refined sommelier Mik Piltz, the crew behind Bar Isabel has some serious pedigree in the Toronto restaurant game.

Bar IsabelThe 75-seat interior is reminiscent of a Marais bistro or Spanish tavern, inspired by van Gameren's time spent in Europe. With Absinthe on the menu you can almost picture Hemingway perched in the corner, the bar itself nestled in some dark alley off Las Ramblas. The desired "sexy" mood (as I'm told van Gameren demands) is achieved through red-glow ambient lighting and tunes that range from The Doors through classic soul. Wooden support arches provide intimacy to the room, but it is the tile floor — a beautiful encaustic mosaic — that truly defines the decor.

Bar IsabelThe long list of house and classic cocktails is dotted with concoctions around the $15 mark, and includes the sweet and light Old Flame (Rosebud infused gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, chartreuse flame) and the Isabel Fashioned (take on the old fashioned, with an extra roundness owing to house-made bacon sugar).

Bar IsabelNot wanting to be pigeonholed as the king of charcuterie, Van Gameren's menu is a diverse selection of Mediterranean standards. That said, diners would do well to start with the heaping plate of Spanish mixed meats ($16) complimented with cheeses like Montenebro ($7) and Manchego ($6).

Bar Isabel TorontoIn typical Spanish style, the menu features a host of tapas ideal for sharing. As a first course for the table try the Boquerones and Jalepeno ($9) and colourful plate of Mojama, Blood Orange & Marcona Almonds ($10). The more adventurous eaters might be more inclined to try the Raw Horse & Hot Sauce ($12).

Bar Isabel TorontoThe main fare includes both meat and seafood. The sweet & savoury, tender Fried Rabbit ($19) lived up to our server's description of "the best fried chicken I've ever had," and the side of hard-to-do-right eggplant was pitch perfect.

Bar Isabel TorontoSomething we didn't get to try - but plan to in the very near future - is the Whole Grilled Octopus & Potatoes ($49). For someone who's impartial to octopus, this handsome dish certainly sparked my curiosity, and rightfully turns heads. It's sure to be a huge hit on Instagram.

The only foreseeable complaint against the place is it will almost certainly have a lineup everyday of the week. Reservations can be made for half of the seating (worth noting: the space is ideal for large dinner parties). Bar Isabel is open everyday until 2 a.m., serving a late night menu that van Gameren scribbles daily.

Bar Isabel Toronto

Discussion

32 Comments

Jimmy / April 2, 2013 at 03:39 pm
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Jimmy likes it here. Two of his fave hoof chefs teaming up is somewhat of a dream team for Jimmy. He recommends on the tripe & chirozo dish, yum yum.

Service was terrible, but it just opened, so Jimmy can forgive it for now.

Good beer selection as well. Yayayyaa.
Vandy / April 2, 2013 at 03:48 pm
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Jimmy speaks the truth
hop / April 2, 2013 at 04:50 pm
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Does Grant still sell his charcuterie at retail outlets?
Rebecca / April 2, 2013 at 10:46 pm
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Came to Bar Isabel for dinner with a group of 5 and was completely impressed! 5 Stars for: Service, Atmosphere, and Food

We had the charcuterie, classically good. Whole fish ceviche, which on any other occasion I wouldn't enjoy, but this was so well prepared I almost ate the whole thing to myself. The steak was a perfect medium rare and just melted in my mouth.
For desert we had two options, a salted chocolate, and a cake with fresh cream. Chocolate was extremely rich, but good. The cake was AMAZING, we had to order an extra one because the first went so fast.

If I have to eat only one thing for the rest of my life, it would be that cake.... with the steak, and ceviche.
sounds good / April 3, 2013 at 09:21 am
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Everything here looks and sounds awesome - but one thing...a whole octopus and potatoes for $50!~?!? Octopus is really cheap, and potatoes are potatoes. Not the right price for me.
Jimmy / April 3, 2013 at 09:55 am
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Yeah, I don't really get the Octo pricing. But it's always been something that's expensive, no? Black Hoof it's around 20 bucks for the individual dish I seem to recall.
jeff g / April 3, 2013 at 09:47 pm
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wow this place is expensive, way more markup than the standard 200% most restaurants use. No way that octopus costs $16. Fed up with places serving peasant food at premium prices.
Grant / April 4, 2013 at 04:29 am
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Generally, I don't post online. Especially, not regarding my own restaurant.
But one thing is for sure, that octopus doesn't make us much money.

From my experience, many people have a perception of what something costs. Even myself at times. When in reality, it costs much more.

The octopus, for example.

Octopus costs 6.95-7.95 a lb.
The octopus we use range from 3.5-6 lbs.
(unfortunately, it is a pretty inconsistent product in regards to size, hence why we have switched to MP)

From there, we cook it and we then lose 50% of its weight. If anyone knows how to not shrink an octopus by 1/2, please let me know as I've been trying for years.

So really, your looking at a minimum of 14-16 dollars a lb cooked weight.
We hover around 800 grams(cooked weight) for $49 and 1200 grams for $65
We havn't even taken into consideration all the ingredients that go into cooking it. The main cost being 3-4 litters of white wine per batch. Even the cheap stuff costs 10 bucks a litter.

So just based on the cost of the octopus, not taking into account ingredients to make it taste yummy, you're looking at almost $30 - $45 dollars cost respectively.
So in fact, if I was to cost out everything at this percentage, I wouldn't be in business for long.

Generally, a restaurant's food cost runs 30%, making that 800 gram octopus $100 and the 1200 gram $150 in most restaurants.

I priced it cheap for people to enjoy. It's impressive to look at and hopefully more impressive to eat. If you don't see the value in it, don't buy it.

But one thing's for sure, that price is far from gouging. That plate, is also an 18inch diameter platter, perhaps you just think it looks very small.

If you'd ever like to spend a day in the kitchen and see whats involved in cooking "peasant" food, id gladly let you spend two hours a day poking beef tongues with a brining needle for a week straight and then cook them for 30 hours just to make a tongue sandwich.

Before I say goodnight, it's also important to note, that prices for offal have skyrocketed since they've become more popular. Good Sweetbreads, are priced at 12-17 dollars a lb. 5 years ago, they were 5.99 a lb.

I can get an aged ribeye for 7.99 a lb. So, im not sure where people are getting their percieved prices. Perhaps Costco or what their grandmother used to pay for them in the 50s, but times have a changed.

Anyways, just thought i'd shed some light.

I wish you the best of eating.

Grant
health / April 4, 2013 at 07:31 am
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I am interested and enthusiastic about what you really are writing about right here.
Jimmy / April 4, 2013 at 09:08 pm
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Thanks, Grant. That does shed light on the Octo pricing.

As for the rest of the food, I found it completely reasonably priced and incredibly delicious. Kudos. Will be back for more.
FoodAddict / April 6, 2013 at 01:36 pm
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Went last night - amazing food, drinks and service! Nice to see a west side Toronto spot open up with reasonable prices and wonderful scenery! Our waitress was extremely knowledge and on point with everything. Keep up the great work, Isabel!
v.m / April 10, 2013 at 10:46 pm
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This place looks great, however I tried to make a reservation and no one has called me back.
Fellow Chef / April 15, 2013 at 03:39 pm
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Bravo Grant for standing up to these online trolls!

We support you, love your food and your attitude.

Cant wait to make it back to Bar Isabel again and again.
Mousy replying to a comment from v.m / April 17, 2013 at 03:00 pm
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Hey v.m, I'd try again - I've had no trouble making a reservation (had a call right back and they're very professional), but I recall hearing that they'd had trouble with their phone/internet lines (this delayed them taking credit or debit initially).
david / April 18, 2013 at 04:31 pm
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sous vide octopus


FoodTroll / April 28, 2013 at 11:53 am
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I lived in New York for many years and think its hillarious how "foodies" in this village of Toronto consider Van Gameren some type of avant-garde, cutting edge food dude....go to any food city, including Montreal, and what he's doing is passe to say the least. Wow, charcutrie and offal in 2008, how revolutionary....so London 2004. The Black Hoof was do overrated it wasn't funny, yet Toronto Life said T.O. diners made a 'pilgrimage to it....pathetic. Bourdain's "The Layover" rightfully skewered and patronized this city's food scene recently and rightfully so, we don't even compare to Montreal 500km away. So stop putting this guy on a pedestal

Mainly though I wrote this because Grant's a pompous tool.....
Thomas / May 2, 2013 at 12:03 pm
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@FoodTroll - did we watch the same episode of the Layover? Did I miss the most subtle form of sarcasm ever? Bourdain loved Toronto and the food scene. Compare the Toronto episode with the Chicago episode and you will see how much better Toronto looks. I think you are the pompous fool.....
Shane / May 31, 2013 at 02:45 pm
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The menu here is horrifying. I went for a friend's birthday because it was the chosen restaurant. There is nothing here for a vegetarian or vegan to eat. It looks really nice inside and the service was great...but I will never go back or support a restaurant like this. Their website also shows a cartoon image of a chef and pig squaring off with knives...of course the pig has lost and is sliced into four pieces. Seriously?
marc / June 5, 2013 at 04:04 pm
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^ ^ ^

Seriously Shane, some people eat meat, and really enjoy it. Do you find it appropriate to make arrogant judgements on others based on their dietary choices?
Don MacPhee replying to a comment from Grant / June 10, 2013 at 02:36 pm
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Flewe into Toronto to have dinner with one of my son's who took me to ISABEL last Friday evening..it was fantastic and as far as I am concerned as one who has eaten in 3 star French restaurants, very reasonable..in fact I was quite surprised not to pay more. I do enjoy cooking and trying new recipes especially from the LCBO publication and I know ingredients for what seems like a simply dish can actually quickly add up...so take my hat off to some very creative cooking..it was hard to make a choice so I will be back for sure!!
Jimmy / July 12, 2013 at 01:05 am
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I like turtles
Lubin Martinez / July 31, 2013 at 12:08 pm
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I was there exactly a week ago and fell in love with the place. I love cheap food, make average money and like large-sized portion plates. Having said that, every penny I spent that night was more than worth it. If the prices are high, but the food is delicious, I'm willing to spend my money since it is more than deserved. Grant's vision of the restaurant immediately told its story as I walked through the door. The service was solid. Friendly and knowledgeable staff who are willing to make small talk every time they visit a table. Decor, lighting and ambiance is very romantic. It can get a little crowded, especially if you are seated at the sides of the restaurant.
But let's get to the food:
For starters we got the Salumi plate, with their daily choices of cured meats. I believe it was 16 dollars. All 4 meats melted like butter and had very unique flavors. Worth it for a starter.
Personally I would have preferred one more type of meat, instead of 4, but I was more than content.
We then got half the grilled octopus. I believe it was close to 35 dollars.
Octopus is one of my favorite kinds of seafood, and have grown up eating it my entire life as my hometown is by the sea.
They do it right. If they are consistent, then I recommend getting it. I have never had octopus this close to the perfect cooking point in my life. The octopus flavor leads the ride, and the seasonings and marinades just enhance it.

Our server recommended we stick around for the hand-written menu starting at 11:30. We did, and opted for a Medium-sized platter, I believe it was 69 dollars.
This by far was the highlight of our night.
For what this price you are getting way more than you are paying for, in taste and in portion. I'm surprised these platters make these guys any money.
I'm talking crab legs, chorizo verde, octopus, Brando's fried chicken (THE BEST), skewers, grilled asparagus, and many more things. Holy shit.
It was incredible.

Topped off by some cocktails by the soon-to-be-legendary Mike Webster, we got our money's worth.

Bar Isabel, Grant, Guy, Brandon, Mike, and everyone else involved:
Thank you.
edna / August 3, 2013 at 10:57 pm
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We live in the neighbourhood. Walking on College- at around 8 pm we went to the bar- asked the hostess if we could take two stools for a drink- she said it was at least an hour wait. We decided to pass- went across the street for dinner- came back an hour or so later- and went to the same girl- there were two empty stools at the bar- and asked her if we could take the seats. she said she would see what she could do- and then proceeded to seat two people at that very spot. Total disregard for us- I have never experienced such rude behaviour by a hostess. I don't care how trendy Isabel is right now- we won't be going back. Unfortunately the bartender we had a few weeks ago was terrific- he had such a great vibe and made us some fantastic cocktails- but if we can't get by the door, well, what's the deal!
hahaAwesome replying to a comment from FoodTroll / September 11, 2013 at 05:25 pm
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hahahaha, awesome. Well said! Get outta here, you and your $15 cocktails and $19 fried rabbit in that dingy space. Torontonians should be a little disappointed with themselves for shelling out obscene amounts of money to eat and drink with the so-called "foodies". Save your money and wait until this over hyped hipster-gone-chef restaurant scene gets saturated and prices for their deservedly good food and tasty beverages drop and become affordable. Let us go out and enjoy a hockey game and some fried chicken without giving up my first born already!
cindy / October 14, 2013 at 05:08 pm
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I wish every time someone used the word "foodie" that someone who considers themselves a "foodie" would die. This place is yummy.
Allison replying to a comment from Grant / December 17, 2013 at 03:44 pm
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All the food at Bar Isabel was perfect. I especially loved the octopus, it was absolutely delicious and was totally worth the cost. I'd love the recipe even more but I'm sure the steps involved in making it are way too complicated. I've been trying to recreate it at home without any luck. I guess I better go back the the restaurant. The only bad thing about Bar Isabel was the noise level.
MARCO replying to a comment from Grant / March 3, 2014 at 01:14 am
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Grant is right! All you foodies who think you know what it takes to prepare a dish like that, you can cook it for me and Ill tell you what I really think. If you can't afford it don't go out. But don't hate on the Chef because he's trying to make a reasonable living. Majority of you complainers would never make it in the kitchen. So respect the people who cook your food because you have no understanding what it takes to make it
Alberto / March 11, 2014 at 03:56 pm
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First of all, octopus costs what it costs because "helloo" this IS Canada. What food that is not even a good quality one isn't expensive in Canada?? Better not to talk about good wine... Same thing with Jamon Iberico and so on. Canada really has big restrictions when it comes to letting food in the country. The consecuences, the only kind of Jamon Iberico that restaurants and stores can sell are the ones that suppliers like Fermin Jamones (for instance) provide. Low quality jamones, people that know about Jamon Iberico knows it. For that bad-quality Jamon Iberico, Grant has to overcharge in order of making some profit. It is not Grant's fault, it all is because of Canada's food regulations. That's why I'm not going back to Bar Isabel, I am not paying $40 for cheap Jamon Iberico or for that octopus, caldereta... I better travel to Spain where I really get good food for cheap.
Lilly / March 13, 2014 at 11:26 am
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Getting Spanish people on board wouldn't kill anyone and would teach you hypsters how to execute the dishes and cut the Jamon Iberico properly. And I am talking about spanish chefs born and raised in Spain or at least some spanish servers that know how to pronounce the food they are serving! If Bar Isbel has this fusss run by pompous canadians that know nothing about Spain, imagine how this would be with a true artist cook from Spain.
Sara / March 13, 2014 at 12:51 pm
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I went to Bar Isabel with low expectations on what good Spanish food is all about and Bar Isabel met my expectations. I don't try to be mean or rude, but it is a little annoying to see how Grant Van Gameren is taking all of this glory when the only thing he has done is to reproduce some traditional Spanish recipes.

I was born and raised in Barcelona (Spain) and I've eaten calderetas, pulpo, ceviches, mejillones en escabeche, jamon and chorizo Ibérico, morcilla, montaditos, pa amb tomaquet and so on my whole life and Bar Isabel is not even close when it comes to quality, taste, creativity, innovation. The only quality good Bar Isabel offers is some of the cheeses and some of the wines (because they are Spanish). I was shocked when I saw a picture of Bar Isabel serving mejillones en escabeche in the can with some slices of bread... Really? Fortunately they realized how stupid that was (eventhough it tastes good) and took it off the menu, I think.

Again, I don't mean to be rude, but all of this hype around Bar ISabel only demonstrates how incredibly low the culinary level in North America is in general (and I've been to Montreal where it is still very very low compared to Europe). Bar Isabel wouldn't even be considered a good restaurant in Spain and no one would even know who Van Gameren is. Celebrity? Wizzard? He has copied traditional Spanish recipes that he saw in Spain on his 3 week trip and introduced Canadians to some unknown Spanish ingredients like "sobrasada", "morcilla", "boquerones en vinagre", "escabeche"... Perhaps changed or added one or two ingredients to make it a "little" different. Don't get me wrong, the dishes taste ok but they are nothing to be so proud of. Understand that, in my opinion, these "superstar" titles become pretty ridiculous, when you come from a country like Spain where real masterchefs like Ferran Adria, the Roca brothers, Arzak and so on (owners of the best restaurants in the world) execute amazing Spanish food.

Grant hasn't created anything himself that is completely new or special, he is not an innovator. I would say his food is pretty "amateur".

It is funny to read some of his interviews where he claims that Bar Isabel's dishes are "inspired" in Spanish recipes but that it isn't completely Spanish. You can't have 80% of the dishes on your menu that are a copy of Spanish dishes, using Spanish ingredients and maybe changing few of them and say that it is "inspired" in Spain. Making money out of Spanish traditional cuisine (which is smart because it is delicious) is good but pretending to get undeserved glory without admitting nothing really new is done? I can't help to find it offensive... (I am sorry, I can't stand Grant Van Gameren since I heard him talking on TV and I read some of his interviews. Perhaps he thinks he has discovered a new world?).

In a nutshell, I give Bar Isabel 2 stars because the ambiance is nice (it really looks like a traditional restaurant from el Born o el Raval in Barcelona) and because the service was pretty attentive and helpful.

Torontonians that call themselves "foodies" should wake up.
areyouserious replying to a comment from hahaAwesome / March 26, 2014 at 03:35 pm
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ya, lets go to a $200 a ticket hockey game to watch a bunch of losers...lose.
do us all a favour and keep eating your $4.99 McCain frozen pizzas.
Diego / July 14, 2014 at 07:05 pm
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to whom it may concern , i m from newcastle / uk i would like to send my cv , thanks

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