Grant van Gameren

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Review: Bar Raval, Grant van Gameren’s College Street tapas bar, is another standout

(Image: Jonathan Friedman)

(Image: Jonathan Friedman)

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Bar Raval 3 star
505 College St.
Bar Raval 3 star
505 College St.

Grant van Gameren’s claim to greatness is sweating the small details. At Bar Isabel, his first post-Hoof venture, he tiled the wall mosaic himself and obsessed over the perfect technique to grill whole baby octopus. At his new, second spot, he’s replicated the suave yet oh-so-slightly louche quality of the kind of Barcelona tapas bar where you grab an espresso on the way to work, meet friends for five o’clock cocktails, and perch with a paramour late into the night on stools in a corner, grazing from plates of lusciously fatty chorizo and “gildas” of speared olives, Italian peppers and pickled pearl onions. (Those stools are few in number—as in Spain, you’re expected to stand, lean against the bar and mingle.) The menu is weighted to seafood, much of it steamed and served, comme il faut, in the cans in which it’s been preserved. The standout option is pungently delicious razor clams and sweet peppers—they’ll make you reevaluate the quality of supplies in your doomsday bunker. Van Gameren makes a decadent rendition of a McMuffin with a slice of seared, paprika- and nutmeg-laced Spanish blood sausage, sunny-side-up quail egg and a splatter of parsley sauce. Mutton-chopped bartenders push a long, on-theme list of sherries and rare vermouths, yet the real treats are artisanal concoctions, like the sweet-tart Dopeness of Amontillado, Seville orange marmalade and, for healthy measure, a dash of bee pollen. Once the just-opened hype quiets (there’s often a queue through the night), it promises to become a neighbourhood institution.

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People

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Q&A: Jen Agg, Toronto’s most loved and loathed restaurateur

(Image: Jenna Marie Wakani)

(Image: Jenna Marie Wakani)

Since opening The Black Hoof in 2008, Jen Agg has established herself as one of the most influential—and divisive—restaurant owners in the city. She’s contributed plenty to Toronto’s food obsession (the city’s love for charcuterie, the cocktail movement, and even just making Dundas West a thing), but she’s also known for her opinionated swagger, which sometimes overshadows her culinary prescience (she often takes her beefs to Twitter, and in one memorable episode, used the social platform to complain about some of her “douchier” patrons). Earlier this month, news broke that she’s starting her biggest project yet: Agrikol, a Haitian restaurant she’s opening in Montreal with her husband, artist Roland Jean, plus Win Butler and Régine Chassagne from Arcade Fire. She’s also writing a memoir called I Hear She’s A Real Bitch that’s set to be published by Random House next year. We caught up with her to talk about her new restaurant, her book and why she thinks she’s got so many enemies.

So your upcoming new restaurant is getting attention everywhere. It’s even been mentioned in Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. It seems like that’s not really your style, to hype something up like that.
Well, it was a conscious choice. I knew the cat would get out of the bag, so I wanted to control the dissemination. I wanted to make sure that the story that got out was the story I wanted to tell. A lot of the time when you’re dealing with people who are extraordinarily famous—which, certainly, the Arcade Fire are—people will put words in your mouth.

Does that sort of intense media coverage make it feel like too many expectations are building up for you?
No, I don’t feel like that any more. I just feel like it’s going to be fun, and I’m really excited to do it—I’ve already proven that I can do this.

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People

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Q&A: Max Rimaldi, the Pizzeria Libretto owner who made Neapolitan pizza a thing in Toronto

(Image: Claire Foster)

(Image: Claire Foster)

In the seven years since Pizzeria Libretto first opened on Ossington, co-owner and creator Max Rimaldi has become one of the most influential restaurateurs in the city. There are now three Librettos, along with legions of copycats—this, in addition to his other restaurants, including the much-heralded Enoteca Sociale on Dundas West and two in-the-works collaborations with Porchetta and Co.’s Nick Auf der Mauer: a pizza and porchetta union on King West and A3 Napoli in Little Italy. Oh, and did we mention that Rimaldi also helped finance a little restaurant called Bar Isabel? We met up with Rimaldi to talk about fine dining, Neapolitan pizza and the state of Toronto’s restaurant scene.

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Openings

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Introducing: Bar Raval, Grant van Gameren’s much-hyped Spanish pinchos bar

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Bar Raval
Contact Info: 505 College St.thisisbarraval.com, @bar_raval
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Owners: Grant Van Gameren (Bar Isabel), Mike Webster (Momofuku and Bar Isabel) and Robin Goodfellow (Ursa)
Chefs: Van Gameren and former Bar Isabel sous chefs Ryan Baddeley and Keenan Mcvey

The Food: Guests at van Gameren’s new pinchos place dine shoulder-to-shoulder, eating from a tapas menu that doesn’t bother much with fanciness: small bites like steamed leeks on romesco, morcilla sausage with quail eggs and salty boquerón—quintessential casual northern-Spanish snacks—are eaten with toothpicks. The canned seafood, some of it imported, some house-made, includes preserved mussels, smoked mackerel with rosemary, as well as berberechos—small, saltwater clams from Conservas de Campados that are steamed in the can they come in, then served with a side of chips and a house aperitivo sauce. Embuditos (cured meat), and plancha-grilled seafood, meats and cheeses round out the snacks. And at Bar Raval, anytime is tapas time: it’s open every day, from 8 a.m.–2 a.m.

The Drinks: Bar Raval’s low-octane tipples, like the Jack Knife made with Tio Pepe, promote day drinking (as well as afternoon functioning). A long list of fortified wine, vermouth and sherry is available all day, too. The bar itself is built for speed and functionality: it boasts a sunken, angled gutter that keeps the team’s mise en place out of the way.

The Place: A tin roof is all that’s left of what used to be Teatro. Intricate, Antoni Gaudí-inspired woodwork (completed by design team Partisan for a price tag of $200,000) melts mahogany into swooping curves, with few right angles in sight, making the bar feel like a warm and super-stylish grotto.

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Restaurants

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Meathead: Grant van Gameren is Toronto’s hottest chef, and he’s about to prove it again

At the Black Hoof and Bar Isabel, the neurotic, self-taught Grant van Gameren made offal sexy and became an unlikely celebrity chef. Bar Raval, his new restaurant on a prime Little Italy corner, is the most hyped opening of the year. Too bad he loathes the spotlight

Grant van GamerenBar Raval, Grant van Gameren’s latest project, is named after a seedy neighbourhood in Barcelona. You wouldn’t know it from his elaborate plans for the place. He and his two partners, Robin Goodfellow and Mike Webster, are investing somewhere around half a million dollars to renovate the building at the corner of College and Palmerston, where Teatro used to be—a preposterous sum for a 40-seat restaurant that will serve finger food and cocktails. Everything, absolutely everything at Bar Raval, will be custom made: the tamper for the espresso bar, the foot rests, the drip tray with the Wu-Tang logo. The South American mahogany for the walls is being machine-carved and hand-oiled at a millworks in North York. The panels, designed by the boutique architecture firm Partisans, will have swooping rounded contours that replicate the three partners’ bodies. The design was so novel, so complex, that the manufacturers had to develop new algorithms for the software that guides the drill bits over the wood.

The project would seem hubristic if van Gameren had ever failed at a restaurant. But he hasn’t. The man’s sense of what Toronto craves has been impeccable. His food manages to fit the moment and the city with perfect accord.

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Recipes

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Recipe: Bar Isabel chef Grant van Gameren’s grilled steak with shishito peppers

Toronto Life Cookbook Recipe: Steak with Shishito Peppers
Toronto Life Recipes | Entrees
STEAK WITH SHISHITO PEPPERS
By Grant van Gameren
Bar Isabel
STEAK WITH SHISHITO PEPPERS
By Grant van Gameren
Bar Isabel

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Restaurants

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Summerlicious: dignified dining program or “cash-grabby food factory”?

(Image: Winter/Summerlicious/Facebook)

(Image: Winter/Summerlicious/Facebook)

The idea of dining out on the cheap is nice, but what is Summerlicious like from the restaurant’s perspective? Sure, bargain meals help bring in business, but there are not-so-great tradeoffs, like stress, boredom and uncertain financial rewards (it costs over $1,150 just to participate). So, is it worth it? We got in touch with some chefs and restaurateurs to find out.

The Loyalist

image“The Fifth has enjoyed a long relationship with Summerlicious. It has been very beneficial to us, because it exposes the restaurant to a new group of dinner guests. With the backing of the city and the media exposure, we get a chance to reach out to guests who may under normal circumstances not join us.”

—Brad Livergant, chef at The Fifth


The Pragmatists

(Image: Nota Bene)“At Nota Bene, we never felt that we had to create such a program. But then we had a conversation about Summerlicious and thought that maybe we were missing out on opportunities. It’s more about promotion for us, and in that regard I think it has worked very well. We’ve introduced a lot of people to the restaurant. The profit margins aren’t as great as they could be, but we consider it an opportunity for people to discover Nota Bene.”

—Yannick Bigourgan, co-owner at Nota Bene

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Restaurants

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Chef’s Choice: Grant van Gameren of Bar Isabel picks his favourite restaurants

Chef's Choice: Grant van Gameran of Bar Isabel picks his favourite restaurants

Who better to guide a fantasy food tour than a chef? We asked some of the city’s top culinary talents to walk us through their ideal day in Toronto restaurant meals.

grant van gameren
Bar Isabel

BREAKFAST
The Federal on Dundas West is my breakfast local. I always get the Cubano sandwich and freshsqueezed orange juice.”
1438 Dundas St. W., 647-352-9120.

LUNCH
Grand Electric’s squid hoagie is insanely rich. You may want to split it.”
1330 Queen St. W., 416-627-3459.

DINNER
“I love a blind tasting at ­Hopgood’s Foodliner for interesting combinations like Triscuits and crab dip.”
325 Roncesvalles Ave., ­416-533-2723.

DRINKS
Chantecler’s Toronto cocktail is rye, bitters, Fernet Branca and orange. It goes down a little too easily.”
1320 Queen St. W., 416-628-3586.

The Informer

People

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The New Power Set: five young Torontonians on the verge of greatness

The New Power Set: five young Torontonians on the verge of greatness

Jared MenkesJARED MENKES, 32
The grandson of Menkes Developments founder Murray is starting to dominate the downtown condo market. He oversaw Pears on the Avenue, a Yorkville condo, then led the firm’s advance south of Bloor with Fabrik, a 16-storey building in the fashion district. Now he’s in charge of Harbour Plaza, a two-tower project in the South Core, and Noir, a 49-storey condo at King and Peter.

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Restaurants

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Three Toronto Hot Spots Make EnRoute’s Annual “Best New Restaurants” List—Including Number One

enroute-logoIt’s that time again, when end-of-year lists start clogging our Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines. One we look forward to every October, though, is “Canada’s Best New Restaurants” by EnRoute—Air Canada’s consistently (and surprisingly) good in-flight magazine. This year, three excellent Toronto restaurants made the list. At number 10 is Parkdale’s “twisted hymn to the American South,” Electric Mud BBQ. At number two, David Chang’s University Avenue ode to the chef’s menu, Momofuko Shōtō. And at number one, Bar Isabel, where Grant van Gameren shows off his prowess with dish after dish of Spanish delights. You can see the full list here, along with notes about the trends EnRoute loves (lamb belly as the new pork belly) and hates (tables that are way too small).

The Dish

Restaurants

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The Dish Power Rankings: the Jack Bauer edition

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Toronto Life’s roundup of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

Bar Isabel holds strong at the top and Jack Bauer’s presence pulls a normally buzz-free tavern into the number ten spot.

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Restaurants

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The Dish Power Rankings: Terroir-ism edition

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Toronto Life’s roundup of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

The seventh annual Terroir Symposium brought a raft of international food stars to Toronto—and rearranged this week’s top restaurants. Further down, the first reviews for Chantecler’s new tasting menu shoot it up the list.

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The Dish

Restaurants

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The Dish Power Rankings: April fools edition

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Toronto Life’s roundup of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

A long running powerhouse prepares for a three-week break and David Chang spills the beans on where he eats in Toronto.

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Restaurants

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The Dish Power Rankings: Brandon Walsh edition

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Toronto Life’s roundup of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

The top two restaurants swap positions this week, and Patria rockets back on the list after an excellent celeb spotting.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Bar Isabel, Grant van Gameren’s highly anticipated new restaurant in Little Italy

Introducing: Bar Isabel

Name: Bar Isabel
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Contact info: 797 College St., 416-532-2222, barisabel.com, @BarIsabel797
Owners: Grant van Gameren (Black Hoof, Enoteca Sociale) and Max Rimaldi (Enoteca Sociale, Pizzeria Libretto)
Chefs: executive chef Grant van Gameren and chef de cuisine Brandon Olsen (Black Hoof)
General manager: Guy Rawlings (Room 203, Brockton General)

The food: Sharing-friendly plates ranging widely from Mediterranean standards like a whole grilled octopus ($49) to chicken wings ($10) served escabeche-style.

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