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Jul 16, 2013 08:18 PM

Bar Isabel: An interesting 'Hit and Miss' experience!

After getting stuck in downtown traffic for almost half an hour, due to a fire near Liberty Village, we finally arrived at this relatively spanking new Spanish Tapas place, half an hour late! At 6.30, it was PACKED!!

Our order of 1 Cocktail, 2 Beers and over 10 different dishes were ' photographically memorized ' by our super friendly and knowledgeable waiter!

We had the following:

- Devilled Duck Eggs, Salt Cod, Morilla Blood Sausage, Hollandaise
- Chips, Boquerones (Anchovies), Piquilla, Jalapeno
- Sauteed Snow Pea Shoot, Chick Peas, Almonds
- Grilled Asparagus, Flax Seed, Marcone Almond, Mahon Sauce
- Roast Alaskan King Crab
- Whole Grilled Octopus
- Fried Chicken w/ Buttermilk Sauce
- Grilled Hanger Steak & Shashito Pepper
- Basque Cake & Sherry Cream
- Macerated Strawberries, Warm Lemon Curd, Walnut Crumble

Overall, the verdict on the meal is a curious one! We all found the 'Cheap' dishes a 'Hit'. All the expensive, House specialties, a disappointing 'Miss' and the best dish of the night a 'Dessert'!!

Here are a few detailed break down:

Both the Devilled eggs and Boquerone were a big success. The latter when eaten with the chips and chili peppers was a taste bomb with attractive textural interplay! ( Cheap dishes )

Both vegetable dishes were well prepared and nicely seasoned or sauced. The snow pea shoots, in particular, with its smokey 'wok-hay' flavor were perfectly cooked! ( Cheap dishes )

Roast Alaskan King Crab was delicious but the texture of the meat was surprisingly 'mushy'. A disappointment! ( Expensive dish )

Whole Grilled Octopus was surprisingly tender but the taste was bland and though looked charred, it lacked the smokey aroma and flavor usually associated with such an appearance! Another disappointment ( Expensive dish )

Grilled Hanger Steak was cold when arrived at our table. Meat was tougher than normal and lacked proper seasoning! Another forgettable dish ( Expensive dish )

The boneless, dark meat, Fried Chicken was greaseless, super crunchy and crispy skin, nicely seasoned and very moist interior.. One of the better fried chicken rendition in town. Unfortunately, one of the pieces was undercooked ( We saw pink. It could be due to the lighting effect, but we played safe by not eating it ). Our apologetic waiter was very kind by bringing it back to show Chef Grant and a freshly cooked piece was brought out later! Very professional service! Bravo!

The Basque Cake and Sherry Cream dessert was one of the best dessert I have eaten this year, world wide!! Simple and plain looking, however, the sweet crunchy almond dough perimeter which surrounded a soft moist interior was utterly delicious when eaten together with the amazing Sherry Cream sauce! Soooo goood!!

Comparing to my favorite Tapas place in town -Torito's, I found Torito's offering to be more refined, flavorful and consistent!
Comparing to other tapas place outside of Spain. If NYC's Michelin 1* Casa Mono is say a 10, Hong Kong's Ship 22 a 9, then Bar Isabel is only about a 7 in my book.

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    1. Great breakdown.

      No ceviche for you guys tonight?
      I am surprised you thought there wasn't enough char on the octopus - last 2 times we were there, the octopus was always the highlight.

      According to a friend who attended the 86d event at the drake on Monday (the "fried chicken battle"), Bar Isabel's version definitely triumphed. Glad to know you had the similar positive experience.

      One of my fav from them (other than the ceviche & octopus) is the grilled whiting. Very simple, very flavourful, always executed to perfection.

      I have never liked Torito. Unlike you, I find many of their offerings trite and inconsistent - but I guess we've all had our on and off nights.

      Hope you had a chance to sample their bar offerings - one of the best in town in my opinion.

      10 Replies
      1. re: happycamper

        Oh! There was quite a lot of 'char' on the octopus, but somehow, there's just not enough smokiness flavor??!! I had a similar grilled octopus in NYC's Babbo a while back.The char-broiled smokiness was very pronounce and attractive!

        The Whitings were not on the menu tonight nor was the Raw Horsemeat, which I really wanted to try!

        My daughter did not like Torito's the first time either, but found the second time 'amazing'! So...????? May be Real Madrid or Barcelona lost a soccer match and the chef was upset and in a bad mood?! Ha!!

        Wonder if I should try Carmen next? or go 'Modern Spanish' with Bero?!!

        1. re: Charles Yu

          Carmen's menu has a more "land" presence than the sea - their red wine drenched paellas were not my cup of tea for sure. (ps. some of my companions loved the rabbit + snail paella, but I didn't enjoy it). Saffron and seafood on my paella please - the southern Spain version is still the canon for me.

          The tapas at Carmen are more like amuse - light, small, and whimsical. But they are priced like tapas, so there you go.

          I will give Bero a try myself soon.

          1. re: happycamper

            So, looks like Patria is still the best??!!

        2. re: happycamper

          Just found out why Isabel's Fried Chicken is so good?! Apparently, its Chef de Cuisine - Brandon Olsen staged at both The French Laundry and Ad Hoc. Thomas Keller owned Ad Hoc's chef de Cuisine Katie apparently has an awesome fried chicken recipe!! So may be its a gift from her to spread the goodie all the way to Canada?!

          1. re: Charles Yu

            When I went to Bar Isabel, Brandon was the man in the back making magic. He worked w/ a friend of mine at Ad Hoc so he came highly recommended and was the impetus for us to check out the place.

            1. re: GoodGravy

              whoa, cool! i'm planning to check out addendum for takeout fried chicken in august! i'll definitely check back with bar isabel after the trip!

          2. re: happycamper

            The ceviche was definitely the stand-out dish for us when I was there. We EVISCERATED the thing, we loved it so much. The waitress came back in shock and said, "What have you guys done??! Can I take this away or do you want the bones to make a neckless." Easily one of the best things I have eaten all year.

            Also, anything with the blood sausage was good - in our case the deviled eggs.

            1. re: mnajji

              Same for us. I thought the ceviche was awesome and we destroyed the entire thing. I think most people are missing out cuz all the remaining fried meat between the bones, the cheeks, behind the head, all of that, was amazing too along with the raw parts. I seriously wanted a whole fish all fried to go along with it.

              Yup deviled eggs/blood sausage very good. I will be somewhat of a dissenter on the boquerones (even though I love small fish in general), I think there should be some heat to the peppers. Although it's also because we had eaten the pickles right before, so there was too much sour going on at the time.

              Celery dessert and mostarda aren't on the menu anymore, apparently due to problems getting in certain ingredients.

              I preferred this to Carmen (which I still enjoyed), can't wait to come back.

              1. re: Chester Eleganté

                CE!! You re-surfaced!! Haven't seen you posting for a while!!

                1. re: Chester Eleganté

                  Agreed, fish head meat is where it's at. I understand why it's used in soup. Super fatty and delicious.

            2. The original comment has been removed
              1. The basque cake is sooooo good. I could eat two myself but that would be really really bad. :-)

                3 Replies
                1. re: JennaBean

                  Our waiter told us, a business owner from across the road comes in a few times a week, sat at the bar and ordered nothing but the 'Basque Cake WITH FOIE GRAS' and a glass of Portuguese Muscato sweet wine to go with them! Now! That is BAD!!!!! :-)
                  On second thoughts! That is actually pretty darn GOOD!! Yummmm!!

                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    I would need to run a good 10K to earn that kind of treat. It might actually be worth it - just not in this heat.

                  2. went last night for a second time. it was really, really good.


                    devilled duck egg
                    octopus chorizo skewers
                    chickpea salad
                    fried chicken
                    pork loin
                    hanger steak and shishito peppers
                    smoked cod collars
                    basque cake
                    strawberry/lemon thing

                    it was all really, really good. i don't really have much else to say - i don't know if there's another kitchen in the city doing food this fun and delicious in such a good atmosphere. i don't think we were served anything less than excellent last night. although i wish i could have had the octopus again, my companions weren't feeling it. good service, good atmosphere, just... a great place