After successfully running the beloved Corner House restaurant, in mid-town Toronto, for 15 years, husband and wife team Herbert and Michelle Barnsteiner, in 2014, took a well-deserved break and moved on to their next venture.
That would be Barnsteiner’s, a terrific new bistro located in Toronto’s tony Yonge and St. Clair neighbourhood. The curving, blue-hued space — softly lit, with flickering votive candles set on bare, walnut-finished tables — manages to be upscale, comfortable and welcoming all at once.
Even early in the week in January, traditionally the slowest restaurant month of the year, the room is packed at dinnertime. But that’s no surprise at all, after sampling chef Herbert’s refined home-style plates based on traditional German, French, Spanish and Northern Italian recipes.
Coral-coloured bisque, feather-light thanks to an absence of cream, distills the pure essence of lobster into liquid form. The nightly soup brings a hearty puree of cauliflower and lentil studded with whole lentils.
Chunks of venison are super-tender, thanks to a braise in red wine juniper sauce; a scattering of blueberries plays well against the meat’s mild gaminess. Accessorizing the venison are chef Herbert’s hand-shaved, Bavarian-style spaetzle — a much longer, and much tastier, version of those soft, irresistible egg noodles than I’ve ever experienced — tossed with root veg.
Diver scallops are seared perfectly — moist, with a smoky crust — and paired with a smooth, ginger-scented carrot puree, and a selection of soft root veggies.
Chef Herbert tosses more of his superb spaetzle with gruyere and intensely caramelized onions, resulting in a subtle and sophisticated Bavarian-style mac and cheese.
Also a pastry chef, chef Herbert makes all of the restaurant’s desserts — and they are not to be missed. Boasting flaky/tender pastry, loaded with fruit and garnished with vanilla sauce, his apple strudel is Toronto’s best. And the lemon tart, of cloud-like curd and delicate pastry, goes down like velvet.
Throughout the evening, Michelle hosts the buzzing room with grace and aplomb.
Buyouts will be considered for the dining room, which accommodates 70, seated and 160, cocktail-style. A private room accommodates 31, seated and 40, cocktail-style, while a patio seats 24.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 25 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,300 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.