I heart Spain.
The country resonates with me hard as it was my first solo travel adventure way back when in 2006. I had organized for myself a classic Euro-backpacking trip which had me zipping from Oslo to Budapest, Florence to Glasgow. My start in Spain had me pleasantly surprised by a culinary tradition that is far richer than the over-glorified paella. I became obsessed with the unique performance of pouring local cider and couldn’t fit enough manchego and jamón serrano into my daily siesta snack hour. Fond memories from Madrid to Barcelona.
Today Spain and Denmark seem to be wowing the world with daring chefs who have created celebrated restaurants worthy of a culinary pilgrimage. It is not alarming then that Toronto’s own kitchen wizard Chef Grant van Gameron, the man who put The Black Hoof on the cities culinary map has opened Bar Isabel to celebrate the decadent snackability of España.
Jolting along College Street I popped off the streetcar just before Ossington Avenue. Stepping into Bar Isabel I was greeted by a choir of smiling faces which gathered for pre-service chats at the restaurants vintage stool tucked bar-top. Make a point of looking up and down: the floor is covered in a stunning splatter of Spanish floor tiles while a potpourri of whimsical antique lamps illuminate the space from the ceiling.
My guests joining me at the table that evening would be a femme-triology. I had spent the last two months traveling endlessly through Alberta, Colorado, Turkey and Dubai and was keen for a catch-up with Erica, Melly and Beatrice before jetting off to Maui, Vancouver and Hong Kong in October. The evening was an absolute delight featuring gossip filled musings, romantic boyfriend storytelling and a blessed realization that all four of us are at a happy stage in our lives.
The ladies sipped glasses of Spanish red wine and filthy Dirty Martinis teaming with plump olives. I quenched on a local cider while we earnestly flicked our fingers through the menu. Favourites from Bar Isabel include: Coca Flatbread topped with caramelized onion, plum and stinky cheese, crispy Patatas Bravas, smoky Charred Leeks and eye bulging Fried Chicken paired with a rich buttermilk sauce.
Coca Flatbread, Caramelized Onions, Italian Plums and Stinky Cheese
Roast Bone Marrow
Morcilla, Salt Cured Foie Gras and Brioche
Marinated Swiss Chard, Raisons, Anchovy
Charred Leeks, Wild Mushrooms, Sheppard Peppers
Fried Chicken with Buttermilk Sauce