The premise of the column is simple; work with restaurants of all kinds in this amazing city to explore what they have to offer and what makes them unique. In a city like Toronto, the choices are sometimes daunting and the food reviews and critics can be snotty and too complicated for their own good. So why not keep this easy?
Drinks. Appetizer. Main Course. Dessert. All along with a bit of information about what makes them my choice for Daniel’s Dish and why you should try them right away!
The Carbon Bar, 99 Queen Street East (416) 947-7000
The First Daniel’s Dish of 2014 has arrived, and The Carbon Bar has set the bar high. Sister restaurant to the Toronto hot spot Nota Bene (see my review of their G&T program here), The Carbon Bar is quickly making a name for itself in the food world. Windows looking into the enormous space are suggestively dressed with disco balls and glitz that grab your attention amid the hustle and bustle of Queen Street. When you walk into the space, your eyes are drawn immediately to the incredible height of the ceiling and the enormity of the restaurant from one end to the other. The decor is nothing short of breath taking in its complexity and elegance. I have no other way to describe the juxtaposition of colour and texture other then a medley with something to look at everywhere you turn. I would go so far as to say it is a sensory overload in all the right ways.
Red leather benches and exposed brick, disco balls and over-sized light fixtures. I was reminded of a warehouse in its grandeur with touches of modern decor throughout. A private dinning room over looks the entirety of the space and the lounge is ever filled with laughter and patrons enjoying themselves. This truly is a destination for all Torontonians and tourist alike, so let me tell me you why.
A good cocktail can be very hard to find. Some of us enjoy the sweetness of a fresh fruit mix while others are more believers in a classic cocktail which is driven by its alcohol flavour. To find a balance between the two is never an easy task and many have failed. A well trained mixologist or bartender will understand that a drink should be just as balanced as a well executed menu item. As I have mentioned several times before, nothing irritates me more then a cocktail list that goes on for pages and pages. Luckily, for people who agree with me that choosing a drink should not be like writing a thesis, The Carbon Bar keeps it simple and to the point.
My choice for the evening was evident when I read the description for The Alibi. Sweet, spicy & boozey. My three favourite words when it comes to a good cocktail for a Friday night! Tequila based with hints of lemon & chartreuse, the drink is given life with buckthorn guajillo chili syrup. For those of you who don’t know, Guajillo is a hot pepper which has a subtle earthiness to it. Well thought out, this syrup really rounds out the drink without ruining it or drowning the other flavours. My must try cocktail of the night, hands down. So please do give this tangerine coloured trifecta a try on your next visit.
Being that the menu is meant for sharing, and ranges from small plates to a sharing platter of entree delights, I knew that choosing just one appetizer to tell you about would be difficult. And it was! Each dish I tasted seemed so simple and yet when you take that first bite you realize how much thought has gone into the execution from start to finish. Nothing is what it seems at The Carbon Bar, and for that I am left intrigued, happily surprised and anxiously looking forward to my next visit.
My appetizer of choice would have to be The Sea Scallops. Something that is so overdone in the food world and so often underwhelming. Scallops are fickle and many people who eat them do so far too overdone to enjoy the subtle sweetness and delicate texture. This embodiment that I was so happy with is delicately complimented with dill pickle (a menu item which actually seems to be playfully present in many items on the menu), bitter parsley, grainy mustard and horseradish. Our lovely server Risha helped to pinpoint the flavour profile was in fact inspired by a deconstructed Reuben sandwich. And she was right! Leaving me smiling and anxiously scratching into my notepad, this was beautifully executed and I commend the chefs behind this dish.
Should seafood not be your thing, honorable mention must go to The Cabrito Papusa which Julio so enthusiastically said was “El Salvadorian Street Food Elevated.” And if any of you know Julio, that is one big compliment!
Now I do my very best to not do too much research about the restaurants I visit with Daniel’s Dish before my actual visit. The reason for that is I want to walk in with fresh eyes like any patron would coming in from the street. I had a very hard time avoiding The Carbon Bar however because everyone who is everyone has been visiting since its recent opening pre-holiday season 2013. And the one dish I just keep hearing about was the one I simply had to try for myself. The description alone had my mouth watering.
“Oak-Fired Octopus: okra, sausage, hominy corn & lobster gumbo.” I mean, basically, you had me at hello. Gumbo once again is one of those dishes that many try to execute but few fail to do it properly. Most end up too sweet or tasting of tinned tomatoes, lacking in any depth. Not so in this instance my friends. The sheer elegance of this dish is what took my words from me. Subtle and delicate, the gumbo is not a one pot sitting in the back of the kitchen kind of dish. It is layers of sweet lobster meat mixed with fresh made hot and fatty jalapeno sausage. Hominy corn, for those of you who aren’t aware, is similar in texture to grits but offers some more flavour and sweetness. And then to top it with oak-fired octopus is a brave move. Octopus can become chewy within seconds and be ruined, but this dish was so beautifully presented.. all I have left to say is try it. Just try it.
Should the carnivore in you want something more meatatarian, I would point you in the direction of The Pit Master Platter. I had the luck of sitting beside a lovely couple who enjoyed it and trust me, it looked positively divine. Just make sure your date isn’t a vegatarian because they will not be pleased!
Many of you wouldn’t know this about me, but one of my favourite cities in the world is London England. So much so, that one day I would love to sweep Julio away and move their to chase our dreams in Fashion & Food across the pond. One of the most sinfully delicious desserts I have ever had while visiting London would have to be Banoffee Pie. Banana and caramel meet in heavenly bliss in a dessert made famous by the Brits, and god bless them for the discovery!
This favourite dessert of mine is brought right to the heart of Toronto in the form of The Carbon Bar’s Banana Toffee Cream Pie (for 2) which was the best way to finish an evening of harmonious balance and sensory stimulation. Don’t worry though, no pickles in this one! A flakey buttery crust holds within it perfectly ripe banana and creamy caramel. Now, please do notice the For 2 part of this because the dessert is almost the size of my head. And what a romantic way to end the evening with the one you love then to feed it sensually to one another across the table.
Just try to not drop it so abruptly on the table like I did which caused us both to laugh for what felt like an eternity. Not the romantic moment I was going for, but a good one nonetheless. It seems as though the rest of the room had their own good moments occurring throughout the night as well and I have no doubt you will too.
Secret You Should Know:
Being that the space used to be a media forum for City TV, how could it not have a secret back entrance? The best part of this piece of information brought to you first by #DoTheDaniel, is that the private dinning room over looking the entirety of the restaurant & lounge utilizes this secret entrance. Be it for celebrity dinners and tastings or just to throw the best surprise party ever, The Carbon Bar uses this entrance for each and every one of its guests that deserve the star treatment. I love the exclusivity of it all and that will always leave me wondering who is up there if it isn’t us. Will it be you?
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