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Oct 24, 2013 11:09 AM

enRoute - Canada's Best New Restaurants

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  1. I've eaten at 7 of these the past year and am not surprised in the slightest that Bar Isabel took #1. Just a world-class experience.

    35 Replies
    1. re: childofthestorm

      I've no argument on the choices - but 'world-class' doesn't spring to my mind.
      The food is very good. Wine list is abysmal. Service is friendly but very patchy. That doesn't even make 'top-class' in my book.

      1. re: estufarian

        Oh, how Toronto of you.

        Even when we're good at something, we're even better at bashing ourselves in.

        Why, oh why are we so self-deprecating.

        1. re: pakmode

          He's referring to BI itself, not Toronto as a whole.

          To say 'world class', in the traditional sense, implies BI is on the level of Noma, Mugaritz, EMP, etc. I don't think anyone is going to pretend that BI is anywhere close - but it all depends on how you interpret their respective definitions of "world-class", as to what each is inferring, doesn't it?

          1. re: justxpete

            All depends on what you mean by "world class". Bar Isabel is the first restaurant in Toronto that's on par with the better bistros in North America such as Joe Beef, Husk, State Bird Provisions. It's also a very complete restaurant - the wine list is smartly chosen for the food, beer and cocktails are superlative and the service is polished for its class of restaurant.

            Is it a world class bistro? Maybe not (the world's a big place), but it's as good as almost anywhere in North America in its class. And that's a huge step forward for Toronto in much the same way Edulis was a huge step forward last year.

            1. re: BigBabyYeezuS

              pssssst... I think that's what I was saying. Or what I said, almost literally.

              1. re: BigBabyYeezuS

                By their own definition, Bar Isabel is more like a Tapas Bar. As such, comparison should be made with similar establishments. IMHO. though Isabel's food is good by GTA standard, however, when compare to other top Tapas bar around the world like Casa Mono of NYC, Fino of London or Ship 22 of Hong Kong, BI still has a lot of distances to catch up. And if the captioned three places are good but no where near 'world class'. How can BI be called World Class??!!.

                1. re: Charles Yu

                  It's tapas inspired but it's not a tapas bar - there are GVG interviews where he says as much. The ceviche is Peruvian, the morcilla with foie, jelee and brioche is deeply Gallic and the rib eye with chimichurri is Argentinian and first rate. I'm not sure that Casa Mono is better (and isn't really a tapas bar like you'd find in Spain anyway).

                  Forget the world, look in North America - State Bird Provisions was named the best new restaurant in the US by BA in 2012 and just won a Michelin star. My meals at Isabel this year have been better and more satisfying than my meal at State Bird. Full stop.

                  I sound like a Bar Isabel shill, but we need to recognize that places like BI and Edulis represent a large step forward for cooking in this city.

                  World class is too strong, I agree. But very, very few restaurants are "world class".

                2. re: BigBabyYeezuS

                  Welcome to Chowhound.

                  I like to treat new posters with respect. This is a place to exchange considered opinions.

                  Joe Beef is fun. Husk is excellent local food, with a limited menu. Haven't tried State Bird Provisions.

                  And I don’t really care whether a place is called a ‘Bistro’ or a ‘Tapas Bar’ – it’s not the label that’s important, but what’s being delivered to the patron. And I have eaten in, maybe, 50 restaurants in the past year that I preferred to Bar Isabel, with a handful being ‘world-class’ (which in my book means something similar to “worth a special trip”). But this isn't an exercise in 'my list is better than yours'.

                  I stated that I had no argument with the list. Only disagreed with world-class AND GAVE MY REASONS!

                  The food is very good (you seem to agree).

                  Wine list is abysmal - where's your evidence to refute? Virtually no Spanish wines (which one might expect given the style of dishes) - further compare their wine list with Patria (a place that has been compared to Bar Isabel specifically in another thread). My knowledge of beer and cocktails is limited – I don’t recall the beer as being particularly strong, but certainly the cocktails were impressive. But even if the beer and cocktails were superb, I’m not sure that this would lift Bar Isabel (or any other place) to ‘world-class restaurant’.

                  Service is friendly – but see my response to pakmode for my examples of where it is sub-standard.

                  I’ve been 3 times – it might even make my year-end list of 10 best restaurants in Toronto – it’s certainly a candidate. But there’s still room for improvement, and I will be as happy as anybody here if that improvement is realized.

                  And Edulis didn’t make my top 10 last year. So maybe we just have different tastes (which I can respect).

                  1. re: estufarian

                    Don't really care about the list, but I do have to chime in on the beer/cocktail list at Bar Isabel. Absolutely top notch, no other resto in the city is coming close.

                      1. re: estufarian

                        if you don't remember the beer list, then i automatically discount everything you talked about.
                        they're the only restaurant selling high-end barrel-aged and sour beer. find me another restaurant that sells Trou du Diable on tap or in bottles. hell, 99% of toronto bars don't sell TdD and i bet you just went to google them to see who they are.

                        they also have Bellwoods on tap and they've had Hopfenstark on tap.

                        Keep6 imports helps with their beer menu. they and Esprit import the best beer to Ontario. if your restaurant orders bottled beer from the LCBO, then yeah, please don't bother.

                        Why do they need Spanish wines to be good? I find that almost a joke. It you're an Italian restaurant and you only serve Italian wine, explain how that works? Ontario has some world class whites grown 1 hour outside of the GTA and I find it insulting that a wine shipped from Italy is considered better simply due to the country it was grown in.

                        BI's cocktail list is impeccable. Top 5 in the city (still love Cocktail Bar).

                        I love BI. love it. it is the kind of restaurant i treat myself to every 2 months, which reminds me: i'm due for a visit

                        1. re: atomeyes

                          I admit I'm not a beer expert so you can discount every review I've ever posted on Chowhound. Unfortunately I only have two sour beers in my collection of less than a dozen, as compared with the hundreds of wines.

                          Thanks for the reference to the better beer importers.

                          I admit I don't choose my restaurants based on where they get their beer - I'm actually more interested in the food.

                          I also find it insulting (actually that's not the word I'd use - I prefer 'ignorant' or 'uneducated', implying that the person could potentially be educated) that anyone could consider a wine better, just because of the country from where it originated.
                          As for 'world-class whites', then I believe Ontario's Rieslings are the best wines produced here - pity that few people buy these and there's virtually no export market for them. If someone else is buying, I'd still choose those from Germany in preference.

                          As for Spanish wines - I specifically referenced a thread here on Chowhound where this was discussed, as to why I singled out Spanish.

                          That was also driven by the belief that the menu at Bar Isabel was based on the trip the chef took after his previous stints at places in Toronto and before opening Bar Isabel. And, not coincidentally, where he recently took his sous-chef on a food trip. As I have already stated earlier - I don't care what a restaurant calls itself - it's the food that matters. But the chef touring Spain, then taking his sous-chef to Spain and the restaurant being compared here on Chowhound with avowedly Spanish restaurants (with little disagreement) surely qualifies in the 'looks like; walks like; quacks like' category.

                          Perhaps love can also be blind.

                          1. re: estufarian

                            Why the hostility towards the Bar Isabel winelist? From my experience, it's been in a reasonable range for the food, it's been fairly tightly curated, and there are some interesting selections from atypical (for Toronto) areas. I don't see why the lack of Spanish wines matter one way or another - the wines all work well with the food *ie. the Pierre Frick blanc de noir). The Somm is ex-Splendido and ex-Momo, and generally knows his stuff.

                            GVG has been pretty clear in interviews that it's Spanish inspired (which, yeah, clearly) but isn't serving Spanish food per se. The menu is Spanish inflected, and there are Spanish dishes, but the scope is both wider and more personal than replicating a Spanish tapas bar.

                            From my experience, Bar Isabel is the only mid-level place in Toronto that operates with a level of consistent quality and execution across the board that's comparable with other top restaurants in its class in North America. Obviously, it's not one of the world's elite restaurants.

                            1. re: BigBabyYeezuS

                              Somm is ex-Splendido and ex-Momo??? Mik went back to Montreal 6 months ago.

                              1. re: justxpete

                                Didn't realize that. Google search says he went to Toque! - good for him (Toque! is awesome), but there's still influence there on the wine list. Haven't noticed a drop-off.

                            2. re: estufarian

                              then you better look out because he's off to Prague in 3 weeks.

                              1. re: atomeyes

                                Maybe to find some of my favourite beers.
                                The wines are also not bad.

                          2. re: estufarian

                            I like beer nearly as much as I like wine, and I can vouch for the beer list which is excellent. I don't know that I would characterize the wine list as abysmal, exactly; I felt it was just kind of meh.

                            I did like the food, and I agree that we maybe have to realize that this is a new restaurant and has room to grow in some areas.

                      2. re: pakmode

                        Exactly what is being bashed here?

                        How is “I’ve no argument with the choices” in ANY way self-deprecating. Didn’t I imply I was happy with the top two places being from Toronto?

                        My point was that saying ‘world-class’ without indicating how or why is the issue NOT the restaurants. The wine list at Bar Isabel is pathetic – and even then, the wine I ordered was ‘no longer available’. Service is NOT world-class (even by Toronto standards) – my bill had 3 errors (one dish I ordered never was delivered, but charged; I was charged for a dish I never ordered and never received; one of my dishes was not included in the bill: to be fair they did comp a dish).

                        And I said the food was very good (I could have added that the cocktails were similarly good, but that doesn’t make any restaurant world-class by itself).

                        1. re: estufarian

                          My issue with BI's food is its inconsistency!!

                          When half the dishes ordered were a flop, IMO, I don't think the short fall can be offset by the other half even it the latter were super delicious! The bad will always create a shadow and stays in the mind more than the good!

                          'World class' restaurant will never let this type of things happen!!

                          My inconsistent experience at BI:

                          1. re: Charles Yu

                            Have you been back since that visit, Charles? Seems like you went within 2-3 months that they opened. Perhaps their game is more 'polished' now?

                            1. re: Charles Yu

                              Service at BI has been pretty bad the times I've gone. Still like the place.

                              1. re: Charles Yu

                                Charles for what it is worth, I had a similarly mixed experience at BI:

                          2. re: estufarian

                            Just FYI by "world-class" I was referring to the whole experience, not one specific element such as the food (which I love), the wine list (or lack thereof), the service (great for me, but I'm a regular), etc. Rather, for me it's a question of "if you put this restaurant in a city like New York or Hong Kong, would it be a hit?" I spend a fair bit of time in both cities, and other world capitals, and for me with Bar Isabel the answer is yes. When that room is full, there are very few experiences like it, and yeah it's uniquely Toronto and I am proud of that.

                            Of course I tend to overrate "vibe" just like other posters have their own specific needs when it comes to restaurant experiences. To each their own.

                            1. re: childofthestorm

                              The thing about Toronto is, even though it is a big metropolis, however, foodwise, comparing to the likes of NYC, London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo.....It still has ways to go before one can call it a WORLD CLASS 'food' destination.
                              As such, since the choice of establishments serving decent 'Tapas like' food are far and few and can literally be summed up by fingers of one hand ( Patria, Torito's, Carmen, BI ). patrons' tolerance for bad experiences are higher due to limited choices and are more willing to return. However, in cities like New York, London and Hong Kong...etc, where choices are much, much greater. If mistakes similar to the ones I had at BI happens?! Before you know it, comments and reviews will become viral on Timeout or Openrice and people will head elsewhere since there are much more similar food alternatives available rather than taking the risk!
                              Back to BI. IMO, there is no excuse for the kitchen to serve watery and mushy textured King crab legs and charge an arm and a leg for them!! Seasoned chefs should be able to tell the quality of the crab by feeling how 'hollow' the leg casings are!! Chances are they under-estimated the appeal of the crab, took them out to defrost and then re-freeze them when they did not sell??!! Bad management!!

                              @ justxpete. Apart from the yummy Basque cake dessert, IMO, the place is too cramped and noisy and the food and overall experiences provided by BI are just not appealing enough to lure me all the way down from Richmond Hill. Besides, since I make trips to NYC and Hong Kong annually, I can afford to save up money for better and more consistent offerings there!! BTW, I am a wine drinker and not keen on beer, so the great beer list of BI is not a criteria for me.

                              1. re: Charles Yu

                                The point I was trying to make, is that there's a reason that reviewers go 3+ times and give restaurants, typically, 3 months+ before they go. So I think judging them based on 1 visit, within 3 months is a little bit is a bit harsh, and I generally don't judge a restaurant based on one visit alone, either. Good or bad.

                                And, I might add, you're missing out.

                                1. re: justxpete

                                  Hay Friend, based on past exchanges, lets just agree to disagree.
                                  Personally, I think there are much better foods to be had in Toronto. Even BI good food are not 'stellar' enough. Torito's 'Tongue and cheek' for example is another matter! Now, THAT'S a dish that wows!! Besides, I don't think I am going to take the risk in rounding up another group of people with possibility of them becoming disappointing guinea pig!!
                                  BTW, as eluded before, I'm in the process of planning a trip to Chicago. So, need I say more??!! Ha!!

                                  1. re: Charles Yu

                                    Fair enough, Charles - but I still think you're missing out!

                                    btw - the GM of Grace reco'd Pequods for Deep dish - so you may want to check it out. I only managed to get to Lou Malnati's!

                                2. re: Charles Yu

                                  fried chicken.
                                  any dish wish blood sausage.
                                  their charcuterie.

                                  cramped and noisy....feels like a perfect replica of a San Sebastian bar. if you want to eat in a library, so be it. BI has character and life and fun. zero stuffiness.

                                3. re: childofthestorm

                                  Fair enough.
                                  I like the place too. It's fun.
                                  It just never entered my mind to consider it world-class.

                                  'Top' chefs seem to have difficulty transporting their restaurants to other cities - not that many have tried opening in Toronto (obviously the relatively recent arrival of Momofuku shows that it can be done) but both Vancouver and Montreal have resisted transplants. I'm happy to have Grant remain here - for me the food is more important than the vibe - but again, 'vive la difference' - if everyone liked the same place it would be impossible to get in.

                                  1. re: estufarian

                                    just re: Vancouver + Montreal resisting 'transplants' - I don't know if that can be said for certain. If the two Boulud restaurants in Vancouver were anything like Jean-Georges' "Market" 'Trans-plant' in Vancouver, then I can totally understand why they failed. Market is woefully inadequate, and I'm left wondering why it's still open. It's not anything like the NYC restaurant, in any context.

                                4. re: estufarian

                                  Patria scores higher than Isabel in my books.

                              2. Yeah, EM BBQ? Not so sure about that one. But overall, not that disagreeable.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: justxpete

                                  mark this day down: for once, i agree with you.

                                  overpriced, small portions. very tasty, but not a world beater (same as Grand Electric, IMO).

                                  i enjoy eating at EM, but i don't make a habit of going there.

                                  1. re: atomeyes

                                    You must be eating a lot of fish these days. ;)

                                2. enRoute, really ?

                                  I thought they left those sticky, dog eared magazines in the plane for those unfortunate souls who forgot their newspaper, computer, iPad, iPod, Kindle, book, or magazine.

                                  Can't ever remember hearing a sentence starting with "I read this fascinating article in enRoute..."

                                  9 Replies
                                  1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                    Despite the source, given the other 'lists' we've had to endure and their obvious omissions and questionable inclusions, this list is actually respectable, and shows a significant, competent effort. It's to be applauded, not derided.

                                    1. re: justxpete

                                      Maybe we need a thread on "Food and Drink" too..

                                      I can't help wondering how much these "free" rags are costing me...

                                      1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                        Oh don't worry about that. EnRoute charges through the nose for ads, and is stocked with blue chip brands. Captive audience with money = $$$.

                                    2. re: PoppiYYZ

                                      I wonder if I'm the only one who collects in-flight magazines. Not explicitly for their food articles but I have shelves full of them from the 80's onward. They make for interesting reading on a rainy day. Who flew where, when. What was in vogue at that time, and so on.

                                      1. re: radiopolitic

                                        Sounds like a great way of documenting your travels. I used to work with a guy that used to photograph fire-hydrants in every city; another guy, mailboxes. I wish I had done something similar - I don't remember half the places I've been to anymore!

                                        1. re: justxpete

                                          thats the problem with a good beer list: blackout drinking.

                                          - khao san road

                                        2. re: radiopolitic

                                          I haven't collected the recent enRoute magazines but after many travels via Air Canada, I can definitely say the enRoute has greatly improved in their content.

                                          As for the magazine itself, I know a decent amount of first time visitors to Canada read the magazine and it's not usually dog earred or gummy on the trips I've been on. I've had great conversation starters with my row mates from the various topics. One of my most favourite trips was with a Saudi business man and a Spanish college student about the various regional dishes found in Canada... poutine being the big discussion point!

                                          Anyhow, I've been to a few of the restaurants on the prior year's enRoute list and I will say that it was a fairly good list. It didn't seem catered towards only high end highly commercialized or yelped based reviews (like a website that rhymes with beater). I happen to eat at all the places in 2011 top 10 list and I may not agree with it's order but I do agree that all of the restaurants at least belonged on the top 15 of new restaurants in Canada.

                                        3. re: PoppiYYZ

                                          I disagree. I have always enjoyed enRoute's attempt to be much more than just an in-flight magazine. It stands head and shoulders above normal in-flight publications.

                                        4. Wow, the online version of this article is stunning. Well done enroute.

                                          Loved the Shoto video. David Chang is great fun to watch.