[OPENING] Playa Cabana's NEW Barrio Coreano Opens in Toronto's K-Town!
A mere two and a half years ago, chef and restauranteur, Dave Sidhu, opened up his first Mexican outpost on Dupont at Davenport, the soon-to-be-crazy-hotspot, Playa Cabana. About every 6 months or so thereafter, Sidhu’s restaurant-opening high seems to fade and he sets out on a seemingly remarkable journey resulting in yet another jam-packed Mexican restaurant. From the original Dupont came Cantina in the Junction, and then we later saw Hacienda on Dupont at Avenue. Obviously, when Dave gets the itch to expand the Playa Cabana brand, you can bet your boots that he and his superstar team- fronted by General Manager, Matthew King- build it with passion, perfection and rocket restaurant speed. So with Dave and Matthew’s proven tenacity, track record, and relative insanity, was I really surprised to hear about restaurant numero quatro? Not at this point.
What perhaps did throw me off my predictions, however, was that they not only managed to renovate, outfit and open a new restaurant merely 4 months after Hacienda, while participating in numerous food events around the city (including my August battle of Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium), but that it wasn’t just a simple clone job of one of their previous places. Somehow, Dave also miraculously found time to completely re-imagine their proven Mexican model with an unmistakable Asian twist. Welcome, Barrio Coreano.
If you’ve ever been inside one of Sidhu’s previous creations, you’ll know he goes for playful, eclectic and colourful- and this new Korea town restaurant is no exception. As per usual, Dave has been busy collecting all sorts of kitchy bits and pieces for the restaurant’s décor- from a Philadelphia bowling alley sign, to a flashy star from LA, to rustic metal chairs, to bar and table tops made from a Barrie bowling alley floor. Eye candy doesn’t even begin to describe the 90-seat space.
As I walked out of the cold into the glowing dining room, through the reclaimed gates, past the bar towards the bright open kitchen, I found myself drifting into some sort of riveting escape fantasy. To me, Barrio embodies the sort of underground secret hangout you might stumble upon at 3 AM in a foreign, exotic country only to meet some super-hot local that doesn’t speak a word of English…but it doesn’t matter because its too noisy to try… so you spend the night getting drunk off super smooth tequila and sharing decadent little morsels of whatever they keep bringing, and then the hot local --- uh, yah, you get my point. Barrio is sexy, mysterious, flirty and exciting. Unless you're interested in the seniors special, what else could you want a night out?
Maybe part of the catalyst for my escapist fantasy is the fact that my memories of frequenting K-Town are limited to foggy late night (or early morning, more accurately) karaoke sessions, neon flashing lights, and far too much Soju and scallion pancakes. But my affinity for this space is more than just some nostalgic affiliation. I also like that a sexy new restaurant like Barrio is not in Parkdale, or Roncesvalles, or Dundas West- for once. I like how well the colourful and bright Playa Cabana décor complements other establishments on the strip. And I really like the influence it plays on the direction of the menu.
With Executive Chef, Josh Stanley heading this kitchen, Barrio expands on Playa Cabana’s proven successful tacos and tequila menu by adding Korean flavours, preparations and ingredients to every bite or sip. Think kimchi “juice” in your cocktail, and spicy Bulgogi beef in your tacos. Sure, you can still find a few of Playa Cabana’s signature items, like Dave’s Margarita or their made-to-order guacamole and house-fried chips, but get ready for a few unexpected spanks on the ol’ taste buds. Seriously, folks. If Mexican food is hot, and Korean food is hot, then grab your tequila folks, the K-Mex fire commands serious attention.
The blackboard menu will change frequently to reflect the change in seasons and new kitchen creations. Right now, there will be about 5 tacos starting at $6 each (and you can order as many as you’d like), and a variety of shareable bocaditos including guacamole, jalapeno spring rolls, fried shrimp, and calamari with burnt arbol kimbi. For drinks, expect about 5 signature cocktails to make an appearance on the board, with another handful of Mexican beers, and a red and white wine available by the glass.
When I popped by last week for one heck of an opening media party, I got to sample some of the tasty tacos on the menu and drink my way through the cocktail options. Take a little looksy at this!
Cho-Jito: Mint, Sesame Bitters, Lime, Simple Syrup ($8)
Soju Sangria: Soju + K-Town Fruit ($8)
Way too easy to drink- it’s because of stuff like this that my memory of Korea Town is so foggy.
Kequila Marma: El Jimador, Yujacha, OJ, Lime ($8)
Like a margarita for those who don’t like it too sour.
Kimchi Sour: Honey JD, Lime, Kimchi Liquid ($9)
A very well balanced drink with a unique lingering aftertaste of fermentation. Don’t worry if that freaks you out- it’s subtle enough that it’s not offensive – definitely something all kimchi lovers need to try.
Dave’s Margarita: Tromba, Cointreau, Lime ($9)
The classic and probably still my favourite.
Guacamole and Chips
Prepared in a massive mortar and pestle that looks like a caldron, this must-have classic is perfection.
Yuzu Tuna Taco
I liked the hit of citrusy yuzu to cut through the richness of the fatty tuna.
Korean Beef Taco
One of my two favourites of the night. The beef was deliciously tender, but beware- that sauce does pack a punch of heat!
Grilled Octopus with Wasabi Salsa
Perfectly cooked octopus (thank you for not overcooking as so many restaurants do!) and loaded up with a sinus-clearing salsa. So delicious!
Chipotle Kampungki Chicken
Probably my favourite- light and crispy batter with an addictively spicy sauce and a creamy mayo to cut the heat underneath. Gah, craving another now.
Amazing looking, right? Thankfully, you won’t have to wait too long to get this #foodporn in your mouth- you can get your Barrio Correano fix as early as November 28th. Barrio will be offering dinner service only from Tuesday-Saturday, with no reservations accepted (aka. get-there-now).
Josh Stanley and Dave Sidhu
A massive congrats to Dave Sidhu and his team of clearly driven staff .Opening a restaurant is no small feat (as surely any restauranteur can attest). Opening a restaurant in a few months with 3 others to manage, while maintaining exceptional food quality, and treasure hunting for each and every decorative item in the 90-seat space? You’re a rockstar. Dave, you may have just missed winning your battle at Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium this summer, but I’d put my money on you for most successful chef of the year. Bravo, my friend!