For many Toronto food lovers, Hoof Raw Bar, the latest eatery in Jen Agg’s burgeoning Dundas West mini-empire, came out of left field when it opened a couple weeks back. But Agg tells us that she’d long wanted to open a space to serve oysters, and had been throwing around the idea for a seafood-focused restaurant since last September. She and her husband began the DIY construction work on the former Ferreira photography studio in November, but didn’t get down to the heavy lifting until January of this year—all while Agg was running the neighbouring Black Hoof and Cocktail Bar.
The room’s layout is a mirror image of the Hoof’s, complete with a quartz-topped bar running through the heart of the long restaurant, tiny open kitchen and tables filling the back room. What is different is the colour scheme: clean whites and natural wood, with splashes of grey and seafoam. The white-tiled walls are decorated with long mirrors and chalkboards, and punctuated with exposed bricks. A mish-mash of low- and high-end pieces fill the room: pressed plywood tables, tall metal bar stools, bare seafoam-coloured chairs, custom shelving and banquette seating by Stroudfoot Design and an antique library ladder salvaged from Smash.
Keeping in line with the other Hoof establishments, Raw Bar doesn’t take reservations. It’s open Tuesdays to Saturdays, complementing the Black Hoof, which is open Thursday to Monday. Chef Jonathan Pong, who previously cooked alongside Brandon Olsen at the Hoof next door, has put together a menu that’s divided into three sections: raw/cold; snacks/bar; and cooked plates. Most of the plates are sharing-friendly, such as the shrimp and toast ($16) or raw scallops ($13)—both simply dressed but full of contrasting textures. The cured fish board ($22) is a riff off of the Hoof’s charcuterie board, and features cured mackerel, albacore tuna, black cod, branzino and scallops that have been cured in the Hoof’s own chorizo spice mix. Half-portions are also available, which encourages grazing and solo dining.
Complementing the food is a thoughtful drink menu featuring seafood friendly white (white burgundy, Assyrtiko) and red wines (Gamay, Beaujolais), many available by the glass. Agg, ever the cocktail maven, has also elected to feature four tomato-based drinks, including a reprise of the popular Hoof Café Caesar made with marmite and pink peppercorn vodka—yes, vodka, a spirit that Agg has railed against in the past and doesn’t serve at Cocktail Bar. Despite not loving the stuff, Agg admits it does work well with seafood. “In a seafood bar, it makes perfect sense to me,” she admits. “Here, we would happily serve a vodka martini, because it works.”