Rating: NNNNNAlthough he didn't know it at the time, Sly Stone summed up Bar One, the hottest boite to hit.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Sly Stone summed up Bar One, the hottest boite to hit Queen West since Swan and Swallow, in a song: it’s a family affair.
The restaurant’s clever name alone tips you off to its auspicious pedigree. Yes, owner Aldo Barone calls Bar Italia’s Eugene Barone brother Ellipsis’s Nancy Barone is his ex-sister-in-law.
Keeping things deep in the family, former Ellipsis day chef Cris Cruz and her assistant, Mabel Santiago, helm Bar One’s kitchen, while Aldo’s son Marcello runs the stylish room, which just happens to have been designed by Ralph Giannone, the architect responsible for Bar Italia’s suave look.
Even before it debuted, Bar One was the summer’s biggest buzz. (OK, next to Susur’s.) And though it’s only been open three weeks, it’s already living up to the anticipation.
Every square inch of the place has been utilized to maximum effect. At the front, there’s a small booth for two that looks through a floor-to-ceiling glass expanse to a view of the Queen West Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
A double-sided, marble-topped bar lined with nearly 40 moulded plywood chairs stretches from the door to the rear of the space. Opposite it, another five booths take up one mirror-lined wall, and across from them are a few more tables and a stand-up bar.
While most of its surfaces are hard — walls covered in white ceramic tile, a dark mahogany floor — the design incorporates a happy use of sound-absorbing panels. They’ll be needed, because once the S&M crowd (Scarborough and Mississauga) gets hooked on Bar One, the place is going to be insane on Friday and Saturday nights.
But it’s a veritable oasis of calm during the day, when breakfast is served from 8 am. Today I’ve brought along Mr. Persnickety, who professionally picks nits. First up, he orders fizzy San Andrea mineral water, expecting a small one since it’s priced at four bucks. He’s impressed when he’s served a large, 750ml bottle instead.
Then he orders a Bellini, an aperitif made with peach nectar and sparkling white Prosecco ($5.50), but our server explains that they’re all out of juice. Moments later, the bartender slips next door and returns with the goods. My freshly squeezed grapefruit juice ($2.75) is a real eye-opener as well, thick with pulp.
My picky pal finds nothing to fault with ovo buco ($9), a halved wedge of focaccia with a diamond-shaped hole cut through its upper crust. The bread’s been layered with al dente asparagus and nearly melted Brie, an egg is broken into the opening, and then the whole thing’s briefly baked. It’s served on a large plate pooled with a fabulous lemony chipotle hollandaise. No wonder there were lineups for Cruz’s brunches at Ellipsis.
Taking a pass on the breakfast pizza — grated hard-boiled egg, mozzarella and peameal julienne ($7) — I settle on the omelette du jour, always a good test of a kitchen’s skill. It’s flawless, an ethereal combo (today) of chives and cream cheese presented on a bed of semi-wilted spinach ($7). Along with three grilled crostini wedges, this substantial brekkie sees me through to supper.
I still don’t have much of an appetite when I return two days later with friends Jennifer Convertible and Chester Drawers. Order whatever you like, I instruct them. I’ll just nibble at whatever you choose.
They settle on a salad, a pizza and two pastas. Soon, two pizzas arrive, one with smoked salmon, capers and goat cheese ($10.50), the other with rapini, fennel-flecked sausage and chilies (the Sartanese, $10).
We’ve nearly polished off the pair of them when I remember that my guests had ordered smoked salmon salad ($9) and a potato pizza ($10.50). And here they are now! We’re as confused as our server, who doesn’t charge us for the first two pies.
The salad, with Belgian endive leaves, chickpeas, radishes and cubes of fennel, could easily be a main course. This third pizza is simply superb, a thin-crusted winner topped with crunchy red potato, more great sausage, sweet Vidalia onions and Danish blue cheese.
While I sip a pint of Amsterdam Natural Blond ($4.50), Convertible and Drawers knock back summertime Campari and sodas ($5) while ogling our oblivious teenage busboy. Though they argue over who gets to take him home — neither does — they agree that they’ll visit Bar One again if only to bask in his beauty. This is the last time I take these two anywhere.
Between seductive looks, they continue to eat — I’m not hungry, remember? Spaghetti alla Corte d’Assisi ($8), spice-kicked with chili flakes and garlic, knocks Jennifer’s clogs off. Chester’s chuffed about his Cenesa ($8.50), thick bucatini noodles goosed by chopped Roma tomato and anchovies. Needless to say, the two doggy-bag it home, still disputing who gets to bag the busboy.
Grilled chicken salad ($12) with arugula, shaved Asiago, toasted pine nuts and fennel strips is a gorgeous, delicious dish, while Bagna Cauda salad ($9) features meaty porcini and cremini mushrooms coated with breadcrumbs and Parmesan on spinach leaves doused with anchovy dressing. Lovely.
Not everything is as adorable as the staff. But hey, it’s week three — there’s lots of time for fine-tuning. Both smoked chicken soup ($5) — rustic winter broth during an August heatwave? — and sub-par chicken breast on red-pepper slaw on supermarket-quality rye ($9) are major disappointments. (I was going to carp about how they don’t serve bread with their dinners, but maybe that’s a good thing.) And some new CDs wouldn’t be amiss — triphop is so 90s.
Regardless, Bar One is the best thing to happen on Queen West since brunch at the Cameron.
(924 Queen West, 535-1655)
With a family connection to two of College Street’s hottest haunts, Bar Italia and Ellipsis, this streamlined satellite brings cachet to Queen’s condo frontier. Cool decor and mid-range prices make the long, narrow room the strip’s most happening spot, but once the masses descend — and they will — watch lineups and noise levels swell. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($17 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for breakfast Monday to Friday 8 to 11:30 am, for lunch noon to 5 and for dinner 5 to 11 pm. Open for brunch Saturday and Sunday 9 am to 3 pm and for dinner 5 to 11 pm. Bar open till 1 am. Fully licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Thin-crusted pizza with red potato, fennel-flecked sausage and Danish blue cheese