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Bar Isabel, Cava, Carmen, Patria, Toritos - $$$ aside, how do they compare, foodwise?!

Charles Yu Jul 15, 2013 01:26 PM

With the influx of Patria, Bar Isabel and Carmen during the past year. Toronto suddenly has a choice of decent Spanish tapas places!
Of the 5 places captioned above, money, service and ambiance aside, which one of them has the best and most consistent overall, food offering?!

  1. c
    Cup cake Dec 8, 2013 07:19 PM

    The Midfield Wine Bar on Dundas at Gladstone now has Chef Carlos Hernandez cooking tapas. We enjoyed the having dinner there where the wine is excellent and the atmosphere is casual. The only drawback is that it isn't set up as a restaurant so the service was a little laid back.

    1. Food Tourist Nov 27, 2013 08:03 PM

      I love Patria. Another stellar meal tonight.

      Out of curiosity, does anyone know if any of our "Spanish" restos are actually serving Catalan food, even if only part of the overall menu?

      2 Replies
      1. re: Food Tourist
        LemonLauren Nov 28, 2013 09:20 AM

        Isabel's stuff definitely has come Catalan notes.

        1. re: LemonLauren
          estufarian Nov 28, 2013 10:34 AM

          The appetizers at Bar Isabel are strongly Catalan influenced, but the remainder of the menu much less so.

      2. l
        LemonLauren Jul 17, 2013 06:33 AM

        Any more word on Carmen vs. Patria? I booked Patria for my summer-school-end celebration date but am open to changing (also have already been to Bar Isabel and LOVED)

        1 Reply
        1. re: LemonLauren
          akhorasanee Nov 28, 2013 10:51 AM

          NO comparison...Patria is much better.

        2. estufarian Jul 16, 2013 06:11 AM

          You specifically exempted service and ambiance, so I'd put Patria and Bar Isabel at the top.
          Selection is greater at Patria, but it's more of a bar scene at peak hours. Patria has a superb wine selection - Bar Isabel wine selection is poor. That was the main reason it's not on my regular rotation (food is excellent); I find it too expensive for a casual meal, but not what I'm looking for in a 'dining experience'. Stick to cocktails.

          Cava is wildly inconsistent (and their wine mark-ups always offend me). Their cold dishes were always better than the cooked ones (for me).

          I've only been to the original Torito - it never struck me as particularly spanish anyway. Certainly the food didn't inspire me to try the newr versions.

          10 Replies
          1. re: estufarian
            Charles Yu Jul 16, 2013 09:27 AM

            @ Estufarian:
            We'll be heading to Isabel tonight. Group of 5, none of them into wine, so should be fine with the poor wine selection. May be Sangria for all?
            With our 'group', we should have room to order the whole octopus and a bunch of roasted King Crab Legs?! In your opinion, any stand out dishes?

            1. re: Charles Yu
              estufarian Jul 16, 2013 09:36 AM

              My favourite was the tongue on brioche - but that's a holdover from the Hoof - not a Spanish dish.

              1. re: Charles Yu
                childofthestorm Jul 16, 2013 12:02 PM

                Bar Isabel has a very good beer list of rare finds, curated with help from Bar Volo, so beer is a great choice if any of your party enjoy the stuff. If the GM Guy Rawlings is there ask for him, he'll be able to tell you loads of the beers on offer.

                Standout dishes for sure octopus and crab legs, plus the morcilla (blood sausage), whole fish ceviche, fried chicken, chips and boquerones, chicken wing escabeche, stewed tripe and chorizo (can you tell I've eaten there a fair bit?).

                1. re: childofthestorm
                  Charles Yu Jul 16, 2013 01:51 PM

                  Thanks for the valuable info, childofthestorm!!
                  One final question before heading out - Any dishes need 'avoiding'??!!

                  1. re: childofthestorm
                    captainspacefood Dec 7, 2013 01:17 PM

                    You sound very well fed.

                  2. re: Charles Yu
                    JennaBean Jul 16, 2013 02:03 PM

                    If you have a sweet tooth do order the basque cake. Worth every gram of fat and sugar!!!

                    1. re: JennaBean
                      Charles Yu Jul 16, 2013 02:05 PM

                      With 'Foie Gras'??!! Ha!!!!

                      1. re: Charles Yu
                        JennaBean Jul 16, 2013 02:08 PM

                        Why not! I believe the kids say YOLO!

                      2. re: JennaBean
                        bytepusher Jul 16, 2013 07:22 PM

                        +1 reco for the Basque cake

                        1. re: bytepusher
                          Charles Yu Jul 16, 2013 09:44 PM

                          Thanks for the recs!
                          Totally agree!! Soooo good!!

                  3. KhaoSanRoad Jul 15, 2013 02:38 PM

                    your request to ignore price service ambience if a tough one as i really want those in my tapas experiences....

                    that being said i say patria for traditional as the other charles also knows quality and consistency. and you will pay for that.

                    for non traditional id say isabel as grant is firing on all cylinders right now.

                    i cant comment on cava as its been way too long.

                    as for torito and carmen. i love them both. but its about the complete experience they offer. they are the value / bang for buck choices over patria. or even over isabel with their different but excellent patios.

                    - khao san road

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: KhaoSanRoad
                      Charles Yu Jul 15, 2013 02:41 PM

                      Thanks KSR!! Have decided to give Isabel a try tomorrow!

                    2. j
                      JennaBean Jul 15, 2013 01:49 PM

                      For me it would be a tossup between Toritos (one of my ongoing favs) and Bar Isabel.

                      Well I think Cava is consistently good it would be my third place choice because I prefer my tapas in a more casual setting which comes into play for me.

                      1. KhaoSanRoad Jul 15, 2013 01:42 PM

                        not including kantors bero?
                        i know its not strictly spanish, but its of the influence.

                        - khao san road

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: KhaoSanRoad
                          Charles Yu Jul 15, 2013 02:20 PM

                          Chef Kantor's Bero looks very interesting!! Have you been, KSR??

                          1. re: Charles Yu
                            KhaoSanRoad Jul 15, 2013 02:23 PM

                            not yet. but i have had his food in the past and he definitely has some skill. and the plating in the to life shots looks beautiful.

                            - khao san road

                            1. re: Charles Yu
                              TorontoJo Jul 15, 2013 02:26 PM

                              I'm going next week, Charles. Will let you know how it goes.

                              1. re: TorontoJo
                                Charles Yu Jul 15, 2013 02:32 PM

                                Great!! I'm thinking as well! So, I might even bump into you?! Won't that be cool or what??!!

                            2. re: KhaoSanRoad
                              bytepusher Jul 15, 2013 06:14 PM

                              Frankly Bero qualifies as at least as Spanish as Bar Isabel, don't get me wrong, I loved the food at Bar Isabel but it's definitely jumping off from Spanish, rather than slavishly authentic, that's a good thing, authenticity is the least interesting criteria one can judge a restaurant by, I mean I guess it's OK if you can pull it off and stay tasty and interesting but that rarely happens.

                              1. re: bytepusher
                                KhaoSanRoad Jul 15, 2013 07:39 PM

                                fair enough.

                                my feeling is i think id find every isabel dish on a spanish menu in spain. tho thats just a feeling not a fact. but gnocchi is definitely not spanish is all.

                                no argument here. just a personal feeling.

                                - khao san road

                                1. re: KhaoSanRoad
                                  bytepusher Jul 16, 2013 11:57 AM

                                  I've never seen anything like the whole fish ceviche on a menu in Spain, that reads latin American to me, but it's possible it's from a region I don't know. I really got the feeling from the food I had there that is was Spain as a jumping off point with some applied creativity, all good.

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