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Don Appetit! Bar Reyna’s Snazzy Mediterranean Snacks

Don Douloff, Food WriterIn May 2016, Bar Reyna launched in a charming Victorian row house in Toronto’s upscale Yorkville area, dishing up Mediterranean-inflected snacks.

It’s a casually comfortable two-level space featuring a bar/lounge and upstairs dining area. In the cold weather, the winterized back patio, decked out with playful Middle Eastern design accents, is a supremely pleasant place to dine.

Spearheading the kitchen is Omar Ma, who’s worked at such Toronto restaurants as the Harbord Room and Buca Yorkville. He’s a talent to watch, because his menu at Bar Reyna is chock-a-block with inventive dishes that deliciously meld Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ideas.

Case in point: Tiny green olives stuffed with spiced tomato and wearing a razor-thin coating. Dipped into labneh (thickened yogurt) jazzed with harissa oil, these olives are addictive flavour bombs.

More impressive still is the labneh animated with pumpkin puree, brown butter, crisp sage leaves, pomegranate molasses and pumpkin and sunflower seeds. The contrast of earthy/sweet pumpkin, sweet/sour pomegranate and the seeds’ crunch is fantastic.

Lamb shank baklava.

Chef Ma stuffs tiny bundles of crisp, shredded phyllo with braised lamb shank and garnishes them with chopped pistachios and a saffron/burnt honey aioli. It’s savory, rich and inventive, an instant classic.

Slices of sweet persimmon animate a Greek salad built on radicchio, kale, feta and walnuts dressed in poppyseed vinaigrette.

Mains show similar skill. Romesco, the classic Spanish sauce of pureed red pepper and almonds, animates smoky, very tender octopus. Blistered shishito peppers only add to the pleasure.

A deeply flavoured tomato broth contains ample mussels and monkfish.

To finish, there are cigar-shaped phyllo packets stuffed with caramel and topped with whipped cream, and a rich and not overly sweet chocolate whoopie pie — the best I’ve encountered.

Bar Reyna can host upwards of 90 people for seated dinners or 150 for cocktail events. The main-floor Queen’s Quarters (bar/lounge) can accommodate smaller group events and the second-floor Moroccan Den offers its own bar. Featuring a retractable roof and winterized sealing, the Secret Garden (back patio) is available for year-round bookings.

— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,300 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.

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