Bar Isabel, located in Little Italy on 797 College Street, was one of 2013’s most highly anticipated restaurants.  Their chef, Grant van Gameren, had previous associations with Black Hoof and Enoteca Sociale.  He brought over the well-received menu item from Black Hoof, roast bone marrow, which I tried and enjoyed during my first visit to Bar Isabel last year, when the restaurant was new. This is my second visit, and I am still fairly satisfied at the quality of their dishes.

Ambiance-wise, Bar Isabel is designed to fabricate a tavern in the 60’s-70’s with dim yellowish lighting, torn wood finishes, and stained mirrors.  Perhaps it is deliberate, but I disliked the fact that it was very noisy inside the restaurant.

Service was acceptable.  However I was caught by surprise when I found a $4 charge on my bill for bread.  I hoped the server would have mentioned this to us; which most likely would not change our minds on having the bread.  I just did not appreciate seeing charges on my bill that belonged to typically complementary items, such as water (not even bottled water), and bread.

As I called far in-advance to place my reservation, I had forgotten that I left my friend’s contact instead of my own, which caused some confusion.  I can’t imagine why in this day and age, online reservation was not made available.

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Leuchtenburg Erste & Neue Kalterersee Classico Superiore 2012 ~ Made with German/Italian grape Vernatsch, this medium bodied red wine was served chilled.  Resembling the fuller version of a rosé wine, the racy acidity and suggestions of sour cherry well-complemented the savoury charcuterie.  Excellent summer wine.

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Cured meat plate ($16) ~ Blog.to rated Bar Isabel’s charcuterie plate to be the second best in Toronto (see article), after Black Hoof.  Perhaps that could be true if I ordered the $50 Iberico ham, but this $16 plate was nothing but mediocre.  Besides the salami, the other two types of ham tasted quite similar.

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Cheese platter ($16) ~ Equally mediocre and unimpressive.

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Whole Sea Bream Ceviche ($26) ~ Mixed in with lemon juice, red onions & avocado, the ceviche was light and refreshing as an appetizer.  The entire fish was de-boned and deep-fried.  Perhaps it would be better if the ceviche can be placed beside instead of on top of the fish bone, thereby retaining the bone’s crispiness.

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Grilled Razor Clams ($21) ~ My favorite dish of the night.  I enjoyed the fact that the clams were cooked perfectly, because they would become too chewy if overcooked.

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Whole Grill Spanish Octopus ($59) ~ The specialty of Bar Isabel (half portion available for $34).  Although tender and flavorful, it comes with a hefty price tag.  Best to be shared.

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This pork dish was not listed on the menu but I vaguely remembered that it was priced at around $22-$24.  Very adventurous of us to eat pork that was not thoroughly cooked.  I didn’t mind the texture of the meat as it was quite juicy and tender, however we were disappointed at the sauce.  My friend said that it resembled Kraft’s Cheese Whiz, and unfortunately, she was bang-on.

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18 oz Cumbrae’s Ribeye & Chimichurri ($42) ~  In comparison to steaks previously purchased from Cumbrae’s store, for the size of this steak, the price was reasonable.  The chimichurri sauce gave a pleasant twist to an otherwise boring (albeit perfectly grilled) steak.

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Most recommended: Razor clams, steak, octopus.

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Suggestions for improvements:

1.  Set-up online reservation.

2.  Although the cost of the bread was listed on the menu, perhaps this should be verbally communicated to customers to avoid unpleasant surprise.

Bar Isabel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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