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.