THIS JOINT IS SMOKIN’ HOT

JOANNE KATES BITES INTO DAVID LEE’S GLITZY NEW BBQ SPOT

Village Post - - Front page -

THE CAR­BON BAR 99 Queen St. E. $100 Din­ner for two

When I want to think I’m cool, and if I’m hun­gry (which I usu­ally am), I go to one of the (few) trendy restaurants where they un­der­stand that their bread is but­tered just as well by ag­ing gas­tronomes like me as it is by skinny young hip­sters in four-inch heels.

It’s no ac­ci­dent that The Car­bon Bar has some DNA (and in­vest­ment) from Franco Prevedello, for Franco was the guy who taught sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of Toronto wait­staff (at Cen­tro et al) to treat ev­ery cus­tomer like royalty. It’s also brought to us by the own­ers of Nota Bene. At first glance The Car­bon Bar could be just an­other cool south­ern BBQ house, with the loud mu­sic, the dim light, the brisket, the south­ern fried and the ribs.

But wait: They take reser­va­tions! And hon­our them! The seats are up­hol­stered, and they have backs! The mu­sic isn’t too loud to talk. And OMG, the hot chicks at the podium smile at you. (I won­der who taught them to do that.) And of­fer to take your coat. The room is triple-height (an old Franco trick) and très glam. In fact drop-dead gor­geous in a ca­sual ware­house retro way. This is all very civ­i­lized. Un­til you in­hale the chicken skin app, which is kissin’ cousin to smack. This is a wooden rack of paper-thin chicken skins, which have been cooked till they’re so crisp they shat­ter in the mouth, into tiny shards of greasy heaven. Dip in the sweet chili vine­gar sauce and re­pent to­mor­row. There are other apps, but none this se­duc­tive.

This is a meat palace but they show some re­spect for veg and fish. Big fat scal­lops come graced with sea­sonal veg and lit­tle dots of brisket foam. Re­ally! Oc­to­pus and lob­ster gumbo is a Cre­ole de­light, huge fat oc­to­pus ten­ta­cles ten­der­ized into sub­mis­sion with sweet lob­ster flesh, atop spicy sausage and big chewy ker­nels of hominy corn in tomato-based chili-kicked stew. They sit per­fectly cooked hal­ibut in a light leek and clam chow­der with potato foam on top a clever de­con­struc­tion of clam chow­der.

But the real lovin’ here is for the pit. They slow-roast ribs and brisket over wood with no sauce to dis­tract from the meat. The brisket melts like but­ter and tastes like nir­vana, the ribs are meaty and pink with a hint of smoke and char on the out­side. Side that with the best south­ern fried chicken in town and you have their pit mas­ter plat­ter, $27 per per­son for a big fat slice of heaven.

PHO TIEN THANH 57 Oss­ing­ton Ave. $25 Din­ner for two

Stand out front and you know why Susur Lee eats pho here: The scent of star anise! Which per­me­ates the beef pho, whose char­ac­ter is deep­ened by rare beef, brisket and fatty unc­tu­ous ten­don punc­tu­ated by raw green onions in pro­fu­sion. Pho fa­nat­ics say this place has bet­ter broth than Golden Tur­tle. Maybe so. We brave the ap­palling pink stucco walls ac­cented with equally ugly baby blue trim, and the lousy ser­vice, for pho. Im­pec­ca­ble gar­nishes — lime, bird-eye chiles, bean sprouts, Thai pars­ley and basil make the com­plex broth even bet­ter. Medium pho for un­der $10 is a big din­ner. Skip the mealy spring roll.

Clock­wise from left: two views of Car­bon Bar’s im­pres­sive in­te­rior, boast­ing triple-height ceil­ings (and they ac­tu­ally take reserva

tions); the lav­ish Car­bon plat­ter brim­ming with fresh seafood; beef pho from Pho Tien Thanh; Car­bon’s meaty pit mas­ter plat­ter

JOANNE KATES

Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cor­don Bleu de Cui­sine in Paris. She has writ­ten ar­ti­cles for nu­mer­ous pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the New York Times, Ma­clean’s and Chate­laine.

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