You don’t really see Peruvian cuisine in Toronto, but thankfully it is huge in Miami and I go for it very often. Visiting Peru is on my bucket list hopefully sooner rather than later. Peruvian cuisine is among the most varied and best in the world. Each region has its own local culinary treasures depending on the climate and landscape, including influences from the indigenous population including the Incas as well as cuisines brought from Europe including Spain, Italy, and Germany. There can also be influences from Asia and West Africa as well. There are four traditional staples though – corn, potatoes, quinoa and legumes. Fish is abundant and prepared with imagination.
Celestin Restaurant that was at 623 Mt. Pleasant for many years became Bar Mar as of May 2016. The same chef and owner, Ivan Tarazona, re-envisioned this new concept. He happens to be part Peruvian and part Spanish, so he reopened after a lovely renovation, and a new take and modern approach to Spanish/Peruvian food. The new space was painted a teal colour, the tablecloths were removed to make it more casual and they added a new outside terrace that holds about 45 extra seats in warmer months. Inside the restaurant seats 54 plus there is extra seating at the bar. It makes for a very attractive space.
The menu is no longer prix fixe, but now is a sharing style menu.
We went on a Thursday night and we were THE only people in the restaurant for about an hour! Thankfully one more table came in for the evening. It makes you wonder how fresh the food can be when there is no turnover. Nearby Positano Restaurant was jammed packed the same evening. It is a shame that people may be timid to try this new concept. Our waiter was fantastic, so enthusiastic about the food and knowledgeable about every dish and drink. The menu is divided into hot and cold tapas and there is a section of large plates that can be shared for 4-6 people. So unfortunately, we had to skip that section of the menu as we were only two that evening.
The menu is seafood heavy although the large plates had a rabbit dish.
Peruvian food is known for their ceviches. They offered one, a sea-bream in a cured lime juice with salt, garlic, ginger and aji Amarillo. Because you can’t get the large Peruvian corn in Toronto, they substituted a dry corn on the dish. I have to be honest and tell you the dish was very fishy and therefore not very appealing. Ceviches are usually my favourite course for this cuisine, but this one disappointed. We left most of it and when the waiter asked if we were not enjoying it, we told him our thoughts, he apologized and just took it away. (By the way, we were still charged for it.) Hey only two tables, for the evening, I get it. Next up were the Peruvian style paras bravas. I am usually not a huge fan of these, but they did a good job. They taste like a deep fried ball of mashed potatoes, and they were topped with a nice piquant tomato sauce. The grilled octopus was a stunning presentation, that had a gastronomic feel to it. It was served under a sweet beet sheet. The seafood was cooked properly but the dish was not that flavourful. We also tried a paella with squid, but instead of the traditional rice in Spanish cuisine, he used noodles with a squid ink. Again, I was not loving the flavours in this dish, but the squid was extremely tender. The last dish we tried before dessert was a Dungeness crab causa, another potato dish, topped with fish roe and crab. Again, a beautiful presentation, but was lacking something for me. There was only one dessert offered, so you would think it would be something special. I was guessing it would be something dulce de leche, but it was a Peruvian style fritter. The filling was sweet potatoes and squash. They were deep fried. Instead of being crispy they were beyond greasy and limp, with grease pooling underneath them on the plate. They also mentioned they did them in an olive oil for a sweeter taste, but you just taste the olive oil. If they make the oil hot enough they shouldn’t be greasy. You can also drain them first on a paper towel. This dessert was a dud.
Ivan’s brother is in charge of the bar and cocktails. We tried a Pisco Sour, the national drink of Peru, and the drink wasn’t bad, although I have had much better. He got a great egg foam on the top and he decorated it very well. The wine list and cocktail list are small but thoughtful.
Toronto Life magazine gave the place three stars. Am I missing something? I definitely do not agree with that rating. I had hoped they would improve in the food department, this was a wonderful place for a neighbourhood spot, and Toronto needs a great Peruvian restaurant.