You knew if Nota Bene was going to put its name behind another restaurant in Toronto that it was going to be something special. And they did, and it is.
The Carbon Bar, located at 99 Queen St. East, is an enormous addition to Toronto’s food scene. Housed in a historic building, the newly renovated space is alive with years of local history. Electric Circus once lived here, as did Citytv’s original headquarters. But the fifty foot ceilings* now hold sway to a much more posh interior than whatever this was supposed to be. Huge spherical lamps hang like small planets above modern wooden tables and swank red leather booths. Brick walls grip the interior, creating an Old World feel that mixes with the contemporary additions of electric signs and handpainted installations. The Carbon Bar has managed to do something so many before it have struggled to do: create the perfect blend of the old and new. Somewhere Frank Sinatra and Britney Spears could both fit in equally. You know, if Old Blue Eyes was still around and if Britney was still relevant.
How’s this for an example of a great mix: they start us off with a Smokin’ Manhattan. If we were ever worried The Carbon Bar might be more style than substance, we stopped the minute this tobacco-infused Maker’s Mark, oak-infused Dolins, and bitters cocktail hit our lips. Yes, you read that right. You’re drinking bourbon that’s been fused with some Cuban cigars. If the night had suddenly ended here, we still would have felt satisfied.
But then the kitchen took its turn, and its Southern-style cooking did not disappoint. We started off with Cabrito Papusa (goat-stuffed masa tortilla, tomatillo salsa, guajillo date jus) served on a simple bed of greens including diced cucumber and pickled red onions. It was just the right size for an appetizer and the succulent goat got our mouths watering and our stomach wanting more. Next up, a traditional Hawaiian dish in the form of Hamachi (Hamachi tartare, clementine, pear, coriander, kombucha vinegar). This light and refreshing plate demonstrates Chef de Cuisine Hidde Zomer’s commitment to serving the best of Southern cuisine – even if this Southern is talking about the Pacific Ocean. It’s not only delicious, it’s easy to share, which seems to be a theme here at The Carbon Bar. As if to emphasis this point, the next kitchen delivery is stacked full of four different types of mouthwatering meat. We’ve come face-to-face with the Pit Master Platter (ribs, beef brisket, jalapeño sausage, and pulled pork), and your eyes simply don’t win these kinds of staring contests. Luckily, your stomach does. All four types of meat, served with house-made sauce, make you remember why you never became a vegetarian (hey, we love you guys, too… we just love meat more).
Perhaps the best part about The Carbon Bar, however, is their desire to do right by you. So if you’re like us, and you realize that the chef probably knows a thing or two about the food he’s cooking, then simply tell your waiter that you want the kitchen to cook for you. It’s the simplest way to experience this hot new restaurant at its best. Unless of course you consider stepping up your game to be the simplest option, in which case you’re probably gonna’ want to book the spectacular private dining room that sits above the kitchen and overlooks the rest of the restaurant (yes, like a boss). But whatever you decide to do, we promise that as long as you’re doing it at The Carbon Bar, it won’t be the wrong decision.