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Bar Isabel - Must Tries?

Heading there in March for a birthday celebration. What are your faves?

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  1. JonasBrand has given a detailed account of select dishes from a few months back:

    There's more general discussion and some recs in another thread too if you're willing to wade through. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/895137

    I enjoyed the bone marrow personally.

    1. Basque cake and Cumbrae's ribeye are both great, the former, outstanding. Shishito peppers are a go-to for me as well.

        1. re: childofthestorm

          agreed with all of the above + charred leaks

        2. The octopus is delicious, the patatas Bravas supreme-O version is total stoner food, and the fried chicken (only available late night) is some of the best in the city. The ribeye was ok, nothing special IMO and expensive for what it is. But I've never been a fan of ordering any steaks in the city as my SO is exceptional with that at home, so it's never worth it for me. I also don't get the love for the peppers. I did really enjoy a chickpea dish last time I was there though.

          The Morcilla and foie on brioche is rich but delicious.

          The cocktails are very well done, wine list is good but expect high markups.

          1 Reply
          1. re: BlackMambaSommelier

            i think the peppers are great and the chickpeas are boring so i guess it depends what you're into

            the octopus has always been a hit for me

            there really isn't much you can go wrong with on their menu at any given time

          2. I personally didn't like either of the dishes with Morcilla. Loved he peppers, " stinky " cheese flatbread, octopus, fried chicken, and tongue sandwich... tated like awesome pastrami.

            1 Reply
            1. re: robb

              The tounge sandwich if you haven't had it before but it is the same thing GVG served at the Hoof since 2008 so if you've had that already and are looking for something newer...

              They've been posting pictures of a "rabbit porchetta" that looks amazing.

            2. Recently, the two standout dishes have been a sobrassada crostini with honey and frozen shaved foie over top (Momofuku Ko style). One of the best dishes I've had this year.

              Also, if there's a lobster prep, get it. Grilled lobster with a pepper and white wine glaze a couple months ago and the lobster caledreta last month were among the best dishes I've had there.

              Obviously the octo (get the half) and the ceviche. Shishito peppers are great, smoked sweetbreads and tuna as well, and the charred leaks. Basque cake for dessert.

              I'm less a fan of the Black Hoof dishes - the marrow is fine and I find the sandwich a bit boring and a bit gimmicky at this point. The sandwich especially seems incongruent with the restaurant's current style.

              5 Replies
              1. re: BigBabyYeezuS

                Agree re: marrow and tongue sandwich.

                I really disliked the sweetbread/tuna dish. Flavour was totally incongruous and the dish as a whole makes no sense to me. No contrasting textures either.

                I know a lot of people love the peppers (my hubby included). Seems most men I know love that dish while women are just "eh" about it. We char peppers all the time at home in the summer so its not particularly exciting (for me).

                Also forgot to mention the Boquerones with the house made chips-those are super addictive.

                I've ordered the Basque cake a few times now and every time I've found it slightly too dry. Its still good though. The baba au rhum at Edulis kills it.

                1. re: BlackMambaSommelier

                  The tuna sweetbreads dish is a play on Vitello tonnato.

                  1. re: BigBabyYeezuS

                    So? I still stand by my opinion that the combo of sweetbreads and tuna doesn't work for me.

                    1. re: BlackMambaSommelier

                      That's fine. Just pointing out that it's a play on a classic combination. I'm explicating, not criticizing.

                      1. re: BigBabyYeezuS

                        I love Vitello Tonnato (I grew up eating a ton of Italian food with family in NYC), but I don't think sweetbreads work the same way with tuna-either texturally or flavour wise.

              2. Thanks all for the thoughtful suggestions. Heading there in about 10 days. I'll post a report!

                1. Thanks again for all the suggestions. We were a party of five. Reservations are clearly a must. It was packed at 6:30 on a Monday.

                  It's rare I look at a menu and want to try everything. Overwhelmed by choice, we mentioned some of our must-haves, based on your recommendations, and then asked the kitchen to fill in the gaps.

                  Octopus was the obvious dish to have and we were not disappointed. Such perfect char. So tender.

                  The whole sea bream ceviche also lives up to its rating. Perfect, large-chunked fish, washed in flavour and beautifully presented. We scraped this pescatarian bowl clean and performed further ignominy by digging out the crisp cheeks and eating them.

                  The other must-try was their frequent special -- Rabbit Porchetta. Very intelligently presented with probably the best cauliflower you'll have. Don't make the mistake of asking how this usually healthy vegetable is prepared before you've finished eating every bite. Indulge.

                  More delight found in the charred leeks and the airy charcuterie. Ditto the humble strips of anchovy and red pepper on crunchy house-made chips. Spicy, crisp potatoes. A tasty blur of delight.

                  My table compatriots sullied this otherwise hipster-ish spot with a birthday request. Mustachioed server obliged by sticking a candle in something we all shared. Something delicious. Something flat. Drizzled with something else. We asked him what it was but he was clearly embarrassed by this suburban display and wanted out of there. He pronounced it "cake" before he scarpered, leaving the table to sing Happy BIrthday and the rest of the restaurant to pretend this wasn't happening.

                  Splendid times. Thanks again, Chowhound hive-mind.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Markaroni

                    Sounds like the frequently lauded Basque cake

                  2. Finally made it to the famous Bar Isabel recently and it did not disappoint. I particularly wanted to highlight their flexibility - we were a group of six and did the same thing as Markaroni I think: we gave them our list of must-tries from the menu and asked them to create a tasting menu around those, for the whole table. It was a terrific arrangement - we got everything we wanted in perfect proportions (didn't have to do the math to figure out how many orders of each dish for our size of group), and a few surprises as well. Well paced, and great value too. $65 pp for 14 dishes!

                    My faves from the meal were: marinated sardines; Morcilla Scotch egg; swordfish tiradito with smoked olives; whole sea-bream ceviche; and frankly, my favourite dessert was the oatmeal lime puff (mmm, lime curd inside a delicious crunchy coating). For me, the Basque cake was over-the-top rich. Basically a butter cake with a little flour to hold the butter together - delicious sure, but one bite is enough.
                    I also enjoyed the sweetbreads and tuna. The octopus and rib-eye were both good but didn't wow me as much.

                    It was a bit loud for actually talking to someone farther away then immediately beside, but otherwise I highly recommend this directed-tasting-menu arrangement for a group (at least if you can all agree on the dishes!).

                    1. Everyone needs to stop with the octo and start with the whole grilled Spanish sole with grilled mushrooms in pil-pil sauce.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: BigBabyYeezuS

                        Why should everyone stop with the octopus? Octopus is a treat for me, and something I never prepare at home. Sole is fine, and something I might order in addition to the octopus, but I'd never choose sole or any other finfish over octopus. YMMV.

                        1. re: prima

                          I'm kidding around a bit - the octo's a good dish, I've had it a number of times - but I don't think there's another restaurant in North America (seriously, I'm not kidding) right now doing high quality Mediterranean sole (a fish that you see on three star restaurants across Europe) grilled whole, bone in, with pil-pil sauce. It's essentially the same prep they do at the Spanish seafood temples.

                          The octo will always be there, the octo is a good dish, they're never getting rid of the octo, but this is something special that people here should know about. And it's better than the octo. Really.

                          1. re: BigBabyYeezuS

                            ;) Sorry, couldn't tell you were kidding. Guess I need some sort of sarcasm mark.

                            Did Bar Isabel mention where their sole is sourced? How much did your whole fish cost? Is it sold at market price?

                            As far as I understand, Mediterranean sole is the same fish as common sole and Dover sole. Quality sole should be available at Chiado and Joso's, as well, although that would be without the pil pil sauce.


                            I can't remember if I tried any pil pil sauces when I was in northern Spain. But if I return to Bar Isabel anytime soon, I'll give their version a try (but I'll also order the octopus).

                            1. re: prima

                              It's from between Spain and Morocco (I asked). And yeah, it's the same fish as Dover Sole, but it's an extremely high quality fish - I would rank it below turbot as a straight eating fish, above almost everything else (here's a good article on the two fishes from the Washingtonian way back: http://www.washingtonian.com/articles...) . The good stuff is so far above the common sole that we get here, it's not funny.

                              Pil-pil is classic Spanish seafood sauce that you see with all sorts of fish - cod, yes, but also hake, sole, even gambas.

                              I've not seen high quality sole with pil-pil on any NYC menus, nor have I seen high quality grilled sole at Joso's or Chiado, which doesn't mean that they don't ever have it, but it seems that it's sufficiently rare.

                              Which is all to say that this is another one of the high ingredient quality, relatively low-margin, extremely well executed dishes that Bar Isabel has had this year: razor clams, percebes, Iberico pork grilled over binchotan, now this. Just want to alert people that there are some very special dishes on the menu that they may miss in favour of the more hyped ones.

                              1. re: BigBabyYeezuS

                                I've enjoyed sole in the UK and in Europe. I agree that it's a delicious (and expensive) fish.

                                Pil Pil in NYC serves cod with pil pil. Sole with pil pil is matching a fancy fish with a rustic sauce. I'd think most tapas bars stick with the cheaper and more common rustic approach (cod or farmed shrimp). :)