Nestled below street level, on Market Street, in downtown Toronto, Barsa Taberna is a deeply inviting space that takes full advantage of its 19th century heritage building’s exposed-stone walls and low, wood-beamed ceiling. Outfitted with Edison bulbs, Abstract Expressionist paintings and, along one wall, a colourful, Picasso-inspired, LED-illuminated light drawing, the room feels like an upscale, tastefully designed Spanish wine cellar.
Heading up the kitchen is executive chef Andres Salomon and chef de cuisine Damon Ha, and together, they’re turning out first-rate plates that draw inspiration from recipes and ingredients from the Iberian Peninsula, but with a contemporary Spanish spin.
Smoked albacore tuna and cured ham bolster feather-light croquettes garnished with pickled cabbage slaw. Pureed currants add intriguing sweet notes to soft, olive oil-poached trout. In another standout, sparklingly fresh scallops are given the ceviche treatment highlighted by bracing notes of citrus and, the genius touch, smoky hazelnuts. Tender shrimp, red from their chile marinade, perch on Moorish barley salad garnished with walnut romesco sauce.
Hazelnut praline sweetens cloud-like whipped goat cheese, providing the perfect foil to beets and soft poached pears, and a salsa of Aleppo chile and blue crab enrich a sophisticated corn soup.
And then comes brilliant Cornish hen, its breast tender and mild, its thigh wearing a crisp, honey mustard breading. Offering superb support is a mix of baby cabbage, pickled cauliflower, cauliflower couscous, Brussels sprouts and pistachios that delivers quiet heat, sour notes and crunch.
And just when I thought there weren’t any creative ways to present chocolate, Barsa’s kitchen does just that, creating an intoxicating layering of dark chocolate (ganache), sweet spice (cinnamon whipped cream) and exotic fruit notes (date puree, caramelized apples and spiced apple cider). On a lighter note, there’s house-made lemon ice and Catalan crème custard.
Seating 70 people (and up to 80 if the high-top tables in the lounge area are included), the restaurant is available for full buyouts, and can also host cocktail receptions for up to 175. A semi-private room seats up to 24. Barsa also caters off-site events.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,400 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.