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Just Opened: Atlantic, where Nathan Isberg goes from Coca to crickets

Devotion to the ocean: Nathan Isberg at his new restaurant, Atlantic

There are two things that chef Nathan Isberg kept in mind when opening his new restaurant: he wanted to do it without investors and stay away from condo-land or whatever is deemed “the next big neighbourhood.” That’s why he snatched up a 33-year-old sports bar at Brock and Dundas West after biking past it last summer. With an initial budget of $600, he gradually transformed it into the cozy nautical-themed tapas-style restaurant now known as Atlantic.

Help came from the most surprising of places: Isberg’s former bosses at Coca, with whom he buried the hatchet after the Queen West spot was suddenly shut down last year. They gave him Coca’s old chairs, banquettes, wine glasses and a table. “We took a bad situation and turned it around,” Isberg says. “I don’t think the investors shut the place down out of malice. I think they weren’t used to working at a restaurant and got flustered.”

With that behind him, Isberg’s taking things slow this time, rather than aiming for a grand opening with instant success. “All the businesses in this neighbourhood have been around for decades, and everyone is doing it out of love rather than for money. If I wanted to be mega-successful immediately, I’d sell steak frites and charcuterie.”

Instead, adventurous diners can rejoice: Isberg is sautéeing crickets. The benefits of eating insects (low fat, high protein) have long been the subject of food trend stories, but Isberg is treating them as a regular ingredient, rather than a novelty dish. The bugs come in live and are placed in the fridge to slow their metabolism. Then he takes off the wings and legs (it takes about five seconds per leg—see images below) and sautées the bodies in a pan with peppers or chilies. He assures us that these aren’t the same crickets found in a backyard, though when asked about his suppliers, he smiles and tells us that it’s a secret. “They taste like what they eat, so I feed them rosemary,” he says.

Less daring diners can order dishes à la carte ($9 for one dish, $25 for three, $33 for four), such as escargot (the classic butter and garlic variety, but with a splash of amontillado), frog legs (tossed with Korean chilies and served with kimchee), pickled quail eggs with avruga caviar, beet and red cabbage salad, and gruyère-and-potato-filled pierogies. Isberg emphasizes a menu that’s “lower on the food chain,” meaning it’s centred on vegetables and seafood. He says he likes to speak with diners first to get a feel for what they like so he can cook accordingly.

Diners hoping to sample the crickets should call ahead. Sadly, Isberg was out of them when we dropped by.

Atlantic, 1597 Dundas St. W. (at Brock Ave.), 416-219-3819.

(Images: Karon Liu)

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  • Sam

    It’s about time he returned –if anyone can make a cricket seem like an ingredient, not an insect, it’s Isberg.

  • Silvi

    Just getting over a bout of food poisoning. This article is making me nauseous.

  • Brian B. Wolf

    Haven’t we had enough of fad cooking! first molecular gastronomy, now insects…start cooking REAL food and they will come!!!

  • Jo-Jo

    Crickets? That seems like a gimmick to me. I’m with the last post: cook real food!

  • Nuh

    is it enough time to grow up, Nathan? Or..Paul did he say?

    while “People are doing it out of love..”, he is doing it out of insult, deceit, lying, vengeance..Just to prove this time with crickets. What a twisted..
    Too immature to take that fame.

  • Dave B

    Whats wrong with a chef trying something different? Does he have to serve up exactly what you’re expecting. Plus look at the article closely.
    The menu has crickets or something like gruyère-and-potato-filled pierogies. Is the gruyere scaring you off???
    Good luck Nathan and yes I’ll skip the crickets but the pierogies sound great.

    @Nuh-I think you have some issues you need to sort out.

  • Jane J

    Issues with Nathan???? get in line, Nuh and half the city of Toronto. We shall see if treating people horribly for nearly a decade has any effect on his business. Poor Nathan tries so hard not to be trendy, in the end he is the very definition.

  • Rosa and Brian

    Nathan – you’ve always succeeded. This will be no different. Carry on cooking “crispy critters”.
    We are coming to try your food end of June !

  • Mike D

    Nathan is a great chef and friend. I’m tempted to travel from my home in northern BC to Toronto just to have a beer and crickets with the man! All the best!

  • Mark

    Get lost with the insectoid menu.
    This isn’t a 3rd world country.
    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  • jess

    For the record: No crickets on the menu since that article, everything has been delicious though…enough with the hating.

  • Mr Cricket

    well, trend or no, real food or no, bad person or no, the discussion thus started justifies the experiment.
    If we were eating like a third world country, or even just reconsidering some of the basic assumptions we hold about what constitutes food, some of the worst social injustices around the distribution of resources would be partially addressed. While we clamour for charcuterie and steaks, people die of malnutrition- this is social injustice and it happens within Toronto where people live at Second or Third World nutrition levels. While we dismiss grasshoppers as unclean, or inedible, the massive feedlots that provide your cheap meats spread disease that can only be checked by stronger antibiotics (and organic, naturally raised etc. is simply a less harmful version- akin to the hybrid SUV. It’s a way of mitigating effect without solving the problem). While we devour another 10 ounce steak from Healthy Butcher, the shelters in Parkdale don’t have fresh fruit. Nobody has posted an intelligent critique of the use of insects as food here, and the attacks on character are perhaps a bit beside the point and should be either brought up as specific allegations backed by examples or dealt with on an interpersonal level- in any case this is not the most appropriate context. As far as trends- it’s interesting that the Black Hoof for instance is not slighted for the slavish following of trends in it’s charcuterie slinging (including serving foie gras which deserves some scruitiny as far as what constitutes ‘real’ food)- everything Grant has done has been done previously by chefs like Chris Mc Donald a decade ago. This, and the local, organic, Slow Food movements that still emphasize First World gluttony and meat consumption rather than a simplification of our eating habits are trends that benefit no one including the consumer. Perhaps the use of insects is a trend, and if it is, then the only question to ask is whether or not it’s a harmful trend or not- anything else is moot.

  • sammi

    Hey Nuh, what’s your problem? Is it with Narhan or with crickets or what? And who is Paul? Take ‘er easy.

  • brocktonlocal

    Nice to see that the Toronto resto scene is as warm, mature and open as ever. Maybe we can just look at this as a restaurant rather than trying to let the world know you have the inside scoop, (you nuh who you are). Really. grow the fk up.

  • Darth Stewie

    This guy is smart. Insect eaters are always around us, the just don’t show it. Crickets are also a “novelty” insect, due to their exquisite flavor. I’m not so sure about them tasting like rosemary,though. Even so, many people are interested in the unusual, which is what this man based his restauant on.

  • bal

    It is known that the guy has disguised with several false name in the past ridiculing employees. So some group of people who know what he did poke their fingers sometimes. what goes around comes around. I don’t care what he makes or he lives..with the dual side but also feel something wrenching inside as for his comment..’love’. Puhhhhhh—a!
    Shut up and just cook, man~

  • maria rosa brian

    we had every dish at Nathons tapis bar and it was all FANTASTIC! Our favourite dishes were the salad, and the goat cheese. Thanks Nathon!

  • iZe.

    What’s up with all the haters ?! Chill out!
    Crickets obviously aren’t for everyone, but are nothing new and are more than just a trend – “The benefits of eating insects (low fat, high protein)” – rather a delicacy in some countries. Wedge that ‘Charcuterie’ out from your behind and remain open to different cultures and tastes. That’s all, good day to all!

  • Earhart

    no matter what he makes. dishonest, mean, arrogant and “dishonest”- says everything about all the noises around him. The first step for this man to do is saying his REAL name instead of using the FAUX.