Chefbar is one of those places that you’d call a hidden gem. On the same street as Last Best & Re:Grub, you’d walk right by this joint if you weren’t looking for it. However, if you are one of the folks that drops in, you’ll be happy you did.
Chefbar is the brainchild of Gerry Thomas, of the Gerry Thomas Gallery, and 30-year restaurant veteran Shaun Desaulniers. The concept behind the restaurant is to transport the customer to Shaun’s home for dinner. Small dishes along with family style protein platters encourages diners to share their meals. In addition to the food, Chefbar’s “liquid chefs” are always updating their cocktail list with unique concoctions, such as their Bourbon Iced Tea, which combines freshly brewed chamomile tea with Buffalo Trace bourbon and fresh lemon.
After talking to Shaun, I got a sense of his vision for the menu and the Chefbar space. The menu is constantly changing based on what’s fresh and available from his suppliers rather than seasonally. Shaun also has a specific image for the restaurant and patio space and I hope he can implement some of those ideas as it would make a great space even better!
Upon walking into Chefbar, I was a bit surprised by it’s intimate feel. The bar and open kitchen are front and center, while there is a custom-made feature table occupying the middle of the space. The rest of the space is occupied by a few small tables, making the capacity, I’d estimate, no more than 30 people. The walls in the restaurant are draped with selected artwork from the Gerry Thomas Gallery. The patio is nearly as large as the restaurant, featuring an outdoor fireplace and 7 tables in the enclosed space. What Chefbar really lacks is any kind of prominent signage that would attract people to the restaurant.
We were largely ignored once we were seated, and after we finally got our menus, it took the waitress another 5-10 minutes to come and take our drink orders. There was only one server and one bartender to service the full restaurant, so it was a busy evening for the staff. I decided to order my newest drink of choice, an Old Fashioned and it did not disappoint.
After ordering food, the lighting in the restaurant was dimmed. The photographer in me cringed, as I knew my pictures wouldn’t come out the way I wanted them to. Thankfully we were able to secure a table with marginally better lighting. With Chefbar’s small plate philosophy, it should be noted that dishes come out in no particular order.
First up were the chili lime marinated prawns. These were perfectly cooked shrimp served chilled over a creamy guacamole. There was some pickled jalapeño that added some nice heat. However the tortilla chip, which was there for texture, seemed to overpower the rest of the plate.
Next up, the lobster mac & cheese, which upon arrival looked ultimately underwhelming. After digging in, we noticed the dish was unevenly sauced, with mustard saturating only one half of the dish. It was also overly dry, noticeably lacking cheese and missing the breadcrumb crunch. The lobster, while succulent, wasn’t enough to save this dish.
Then, a plate of ribs came to the table! One problem, we didn’t order ribs. I mentioned this to the waiter and he took the dish back. He returned a minute later apologizing for the kitchen mishap and the owner offered the ribs to us on the house. This was one offer you do not refuse! Being new to the whole pork ribs thing, these bites were dynamite. The ribs had a crispy exterior, with juicy meat inside that fell off the bone but still kept some meatiness to them. The ribs were very similar to the beef ribs I’m accustomed to, differing slightly in texture. The BBQ sauce was fantastic, not too sweet, not too spicy and the crispy onion rings added texture, without being greasy at all.
Following the ribs came the brussel sprouts; perfectly tender while still maintaining a slight bite. The smokiness from the duck crisps and richness from the duck fat played perfectly in this dish. A delicious bite!
The beef tartar then hit the table. The seasoning was spot on with a strong mustard flavour but the tartar was lacking in acid. The bread also got soggy very fast, leaving me wanting some kind of crunch.
The last dish of the night was the roasted cauliflower; boy was this another scrumptious bite. The cauliflower head was deliciously tender with a slightly crispy exterior. This bite reminded me of an Indian curry of my childhood called Aloo Gobi, thanks to the smoked paprika. The only downside to this dish was that it was a bit difficult to eat, as it was the entire head of cauliflower!
There were a few hiccups in service and food, but ultimately these are both issues that can be easily fixed by Shaun and his team. With that said, I decided to go with a 3.5 ranking on Zomato, which is very much in line with the average reviews at the moment. My experience at Chefbar was very pleasurable and I will definitely visit them again to see what other tasty bites they’ve got!