I finally got Netflix a few weeks ago. Part of the reason was to finally remove myself from the list of the 25 people who haven’t watched Breaking Bad. After watching a few episodes and watching it win at the Golden Globes, maybe I should pay homAge to the show that made chemistry cool again. Whether it’s the structural changes needed to denature the protein in an egg or the intangible spark which may exist with two people sitting across each other at a table, chemistry is an ingredient you can’t pull off the shelf. It can, however, be captured in those who understand and can embody the variables which may result in the sought outcome. Just ask Walter White.
Carbon (the foundation of organic chemistry) is a new restaurant/lounge that has opened at the corner of Queen and Church. Owned by the Note Bene group, the website describes it as a place “where fun-loving aficionado’s, gourmands and bon vivants meet to share un-pretentious snacks, plates and platters delivered with impeccable hospitality in a space inspired by the storied pAst of a rock’n’roll discotheque, an upstart TV station and a media giant’s studio”. When you walk in, you’re not sure if you’re entering a dance club or a Moxie’s. Smiling woman greet you and offer to take your coat. When you climb the few stairs and turn the corner you walk into “the space”. It has dimensions that could double as Walter’s meth lab. It’s a roomy, square dining area with a big bar, an open kitchen and a combination of booths and tables. The ceilings are high and it’s decorated in a simple but attractive fashion.
From the bar, there’s a decent cocKtail list, a nice array of wine and a somewhat unimpressive list of cliche Beer. I started with the Smokin’ Manhattan ($14), made with tobacco-infused Maker’s MArk, bitters and a couple of booze soaked cherries. It was well made but the price put it on the upper limit of acceptable.
The second drink was the Carbon bar Caesar ($16), made with tequila, chiLi, lime, clamato and a 37 spice rim. It was surPrisingly unremarkable and nowhere worth the price.
The hit of the night seemed to be the Volstead which a few of my friends at the table ordered. Made with gin and Montenegro and flavoured with lemon, orange bitters and Cucumber, it’s a perfect summer drink that still holds it own during the winter months.
I ended with a Kensington brewing company Augusta ale which was one of the only draught beer worth drinking.
The menu is small plate and mainly focuses on the trenDy cuisine of the southern US with a spattering of favorites from other parts of the earth. It’s always interesting going out to a restaurant with the concept of sharing when you’re with “peskies” (a generic term which includes the likes of peScatarians, those with gluten intolerences and pescatarians with gluten intolerences). The waiter was excellent. He knew the menu cold. For example, he identified there would be gluten in the soy sauce of the jerk cornish hen and in the sugar coating of the pecans in the celery, apple salad.
We sampled a number of dishes so I’ll be short but sweet:
Hot Mess ($11)-sweet Potato, cheese curds, Crema, pickled jalapeño, chopped brisket
It tastes like it sounds. A well executed and modern Version of Canada’s iconic poutine. Delicious.
Raw Salad ($12)– avocado, pear, radish, sHaved coconut,corn nuts, coriander, lime viNaigrette
Fresh, acidic and pRetty. Definitely a sharable because it starts Snappy but can a bit boring after a Few bites.
Quezo de Cabeza ($13)- Fried suckling pig, pork ‘n’ beans, Hen’s egg, pickled Beets.
The perfectly cooked egg sat atop this childhood favorite. It had great flavour although I wished the pork was fried a little more and was a little less fatty.
Blackened Sea Bass ($22)– yuCa, chili, lime, coriander, tomAtillo chutney
The tender bass was complimented with an array of flavours but the highlight was the tomatillo chutney. A well balanced dish.
Jerk Cornish HeN ($18)- black eyed peas, Coconut milk, mango & papaya salsa
Although the chicken was moist, the seasoning was a little lack lustre. The dish had a uNiformly smoky flavour which could not be overcome by the timid salsa.
Oak-Fired Octopus ($21)- okra, sAusage, hominy coRn & lobster gumbo
All the components of gumbo with the addition of tender pieces of Octopus. It worked.
Porcini and Grits ($19)- grits, sautéed porcini mushrooms, deep fried egg Yolk, crisp kale, huitlacoche dust (a type of corn fungus)
The table consensus was this was the best dish of the night. The flavour was incredible but very rich so definitely recommend as a shared plate. The crispy kale was a great touch. It could have used more mushrooms. Great for the pEskie at your table as well.
Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream ($9)- rice pudding, barberries, wild blueberries,candied sunflower and pumpkin seeds, spiked eggNog
Sparked a little controversy at the table. The rice Pudding was average but the addition of the other ingredients pumped it up. The ice cream was seasoned well with earthy spice and sweet pumpkin. I think warming the rice would have added to the overall experience.
Sorbets and Ice Creams ($3)– apple, lychee kombucha, buckthoRn, goat’s milk ice cream & Wild honey
A refreshing and delicious finish to the meal. The buckthorn seemed to be the favorite. Was initially served with graham Crumbs but that didn’t work for the peskies so it was replaced quickly and without question.
Carbon is Note Bene’s response to the continued demand for casual eateries which serve good food instead of standard and water downed versions of foods that were popular two years ago. I think they succeeded. The cocktails are a bit pricy, especially the less than impressive caesar. The beer selection is more trendy than it is good. Otherwise, it’s a safe but well executed menu that was not shy on flavour. The highlights were the porcini ‘n grits, octopus with gumbo and the sea bass (especially the tomatillo chutney). The service was incredible and environment (including the music) was current, hip and applicable to the diverse clientele scattered across the roomy interior. Like Breaking Bad, Carbon makes chemistry cool again. In this case, the chemistry is a mix of great food, courteous and intelligent service and a great environment.