Toronto, ON M5V 3M4
Almost six months to the day since Valdez closed its doors, chef Steve Gonzalez and the team returned. They moved just a hop, skip and jump from the former digs on King West and opened Baro (or Valdez 2.0) in a 15,000 square-foot space spread over four floors.
Executive chef Steve Gonzalez (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)
The main-floor dining room serves a variety of snacks and share plates. The second floor is home to a raw bar and is also an après dinner hangout.
For the lucky few who will be blessed with the password (which changes daily), the Escobar lives on. You still enter through a sort of fridge door that unlocks a modern speakeasy that is heavily guarded. You either already have to know a member of the staff or make your best efforts at befriending one to gain access. The third floor is an events space and the rooftop patio is where Gonzalez hosts his ever-popular rooftop cookouts.
(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)
But those who were former fans of Valdez will feel a sense of familiarity while entering Baro. For starters, the front entrance is still filled with tropical plants and greenery before you enter a wooden tunnel to the main floor dining room. Solid Design, who were also behind El Rey, can take credit for the modern space complete with marble, custom solid brass architecture, and aged mirrors. Several poultry-themed accents are scattered around the new space, a nod to the Valdez days.
Gonzalez likes to describe the menu at Baro as “Valdez classics with some new Baro dishes.”
His infamous CGS – chips, guac and salsa ($15) make a triumphant return, with a member of the kitchen staff churning out guac around the clock. This is served with housemade chips of the pearl potato, plantain, taro and yucca variety — made extra salty to ensure you’re thirsting for drinks.
One of Baro’s bragging points? Its elevated cocktails via bar manager, Wes Galloway (formerly of Byblos). The self-proclaimed “honey nerd” sources his jungle honey (literally honey made by bees that have pollinated in the jungle) and his love of molecular cocktails is what sets his creations apart from every other joint charging this much for cocktails.
(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)
The Madremonte ($15), a take on the classic mojito, differentiates itself with the addition of a carbonated grape that tickles the tongue. The Baro Sour ($12) mixes Peruvian (fierier) and Chilean (milder) piscos together with passionfruit, guava, raspberry blossom honey, ginger, lime, egg white and house vanilla almond bitters for a frothy and full mouth-feel kind of drink. Those looking for something more robust can sink their lips into the Iron Tyrant ($15), a drink that evokes images of a South American dictator smoking a cigar and having a nightcap. This is made with cacao-infused Venezuelan rum, Ron Diplomatico, a vanilla gomme, tincture of saffron, cherry cedar bitters, tobacco essence and a toasted oak-infused ice cube that supposedly ages your cocktail as you’re drinking it.
To soak up all the booze there are Gonzalez’s ceviches, with four varieties to choose from. The Nikkei ($25) draws inspiration from Peru's large population of Japanese ex-pats and features healthy chunks of Hamachi mixed with tofu, edamame, nori and yuzu with crispy baby lotus root chips. The best way to eat a ceviche is “with a spoon” and chef suggests you “pound back the juice.”
Those wanting to indulge in a flight of ceviches will be happy to know it’s still an option like in the good old Valdez days.
(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)
Empanadas ($7), a nod to Gonzalez’s Colombian heritage are going to be “darn hot” temperature-wise, served with an Aji sauce which has a spice level of a 3-4 on Gonzalez’s scale. The deep-fried bites of golden goodness are chock-full of potato, beef and peas. The Chorizo de Valdez ($12), a Latin American sausage is made with Perth Pork, Gonzalez’s secret Latino five-spice blend and served up with an arepa and some lime to cut through the fat.
The Chaufa ($35), a dish that originated as an invention of Chinese immigrants who married it with Peruvian ingredients, is cooked over the flat top with duck confit, rice, edamame, egg, Papi Kung Fu (a sauce made from the jelly from congealed duck fat) and topped with Tobiko. I draws inspiration from Korean bibimbap, the bowl forming a nice rice crust for added texture.
Baro also has a chef de cuisine, Kevin Zuñiga (ex-Nota Bene) of Costa Rican descent who “hope[s] to respect Steve’s flavours using different techniques.” The kitchen team also has pastry chef, Baura Lao who “took our Valdez alfajor and threw it up in the air and when it landed it was gluten-free,” says Gonzalez. Lao has taken the shortbread cookie laced with dulce de leche and rolled in coconut flakes and substituted it with tapioca flour, corn starch and arepica flour. This is best washed down with a cortado as Baro also elevates its non-alcoholic offerings in the form of a coffee program with the help of Hale Coffee, one of Toronto’s premiere roasters.
Published on: Dec 9, 2016