The hottest new tapas restaurant in Toronto isn’t on King West. It’s not on Queen West. It’s not on Ossington, nor is it in Leslieville. No, it’s down by the St. Lawrence Market. Shocking, right? An area that until recently was plagued by mediocrity insofar as food options are concerned (save for the St. Lawrence Market itself, of course), Old Town Toronto has become a hip and happening ‘hood thanks to additions like Market Street Catch, East Thirty-Six, Carbon Bar, Triple A Bar, and the list does indeed go on. What’s old is new again, amirite?
Bolstering the beauty of the historic downtown area is Barsa Taberna, a stunning new restaurant whose philosophy is dictated by the carefree attitude of Barcelona. Not to be confused with an attempt at mimicking the Spanish city, Barsa Taberna’s got a unique character all its own – a fusion of Barcelonian lifestyle and Toronto tendencies. I recently met with owner Aras Azadian to talk all things Barsa over a glass of the best sangria to ever sashay past my taste receptors. Here’s what’ll make Barsa Taberna your next obsession…
Old World Meets New World, Twice
Not only is Barsa Taberna a contemporary homage to a European city rife with centuries of cultural growth, the restaurant itself restores a piece of Toronto’s storied past to new school glory. Designer John Tong’s playful allusions to Barcelona’s aesthetic are anything but par for the course: gorgeous mosaic tiling lines the floors; a 30-foot-long backlit LED mural evokes Picasso’s passion while alluding to the “revenge of the bulls”; a lengthy wall comprised of over 1,000 laboriously hand-cut coloured glass bottles shares the same sensibilities of a Goudy pattern; custom-made bar stools – none of which are identical – are dubbed ‘Little Devils’, playing off the idea that the devil comes out around the bar; the running of the bulls is mimicked in the custom light fixtures sprinkling an ambient glow above the drinks pass. Save for the vibrant orange-red table seats, pretty much all decor elements were custom-made to achieve the appropriate vibe and usher in the casual cool of Barcelona’s lively restaurant scene.
It’s Tapas Like You’ve Never Had Tapas Before
Chef Michael Smith (not to be confused with the tall dude from Food Network Canada) has crafted a unique and affordably-priced menu of intriguing dishes. Banderillas, so called for the skewers used to stab at the bites, sees a melange of house-pickled goods, marinated goat cheese, and quail eggs in a terra cotta dish perfect for sharing. A sea bream ceviche is beautifully balanced in a “Tiger’s Milk” marinade (traditionally Peruvian), accompanied by avocado mousse and a shaving of salted, frozen foie gras; the foie adds a slightly buttery texture to each forkful of the fresh, citrusy fish. Piquillo peppers are stuffed with short ribs that have been braised and brined in a dashi base for about 72 hours – an umami experience unexpected at a Spanish tapas restaurant. The mix of cold, hot, and fried tapas lends itself to a social dining experience, though a small yet thoughtful selection of larger plates (think rack of lamb with compressed coffee carrots; an haute burger with Iberico ham and Idiazbal cheese; and, of course, a daily paella) will woo selfish noshers who prefer to keep their forks and knives on their own plates.
Barsa Taberna Has a Sangria Program, and It’s Effing Rad
Many of you likely equate sangria with the paltry excuses chain restaurants sell by the pitcher-full in the warm summer months – the ones topped up by splashes of soda or orange juice. Barsa Taberna’s selection is a hell of a lot more impressive. The kitchen chops and preps the fruit which macerates for about three days in either brandy or wine depending on the intended sangria recipe. Syrups are made off-site by Chef Michael’s wife (a chef in her own right) and add depth to the palatable pitchers. The recipes are based on classic concoctions yet yield modern uniqueness with each dangerous sip. Dangerous, I say, as Barsa’s well-balanced cava sangria tastes as I imagine aqua de vida would.
Barsa Taberna may be a new restaurant in an old building, but it won’t be long before it forges its own mark on Toronto’s history.
Have you gone to Barsa Taberna yet? Comment below or tweet us @ViewtheVibe!