barrio on queen east was a great dining experience. small plates (frites, salads) run in the $5-6 range, while larger plates (quail, halibut) are in the $12-16 range. the portions are surprisingly generous (my familiar lament about the toronto-wide epidemic on small plates hosing does not apply here) and the plates are constructed in a thoughtful, considered manner. we started with the quail stuffed with chorizo. the quail was done a little more than what i would usually prefer, but the fattiness of the chorizo, and the mild gaminess of the sausage counterbalanced the medium-well done quail. it was served ontop of a corn cake that was the essence of corn. it tasted like a little breaded cake of polenta, or masa harina, and was vaguely musty in that cornlike starchy way. this was served on a dice of jicama and bosc pear, the sweet-crunchy elements (in combination with a vinegar-like reduction on the plate) playing off the richness of the meats and bland carbiness of the corn cake.
we then shared a crispy, deep fried goat cheese croquette, that was topped with a peach chutney and itself sat on a bed of shredded duck confit mixed with a mushroom ragout. again, the interplay between the flavours was fresh and interesting and balanced. the peaches (while cooked until unrecognizable save for their floral sweetness) added an acidic saccharine element to the earthy richness of the duck and mushrooms, while the goat cheese was crispy, light, and added a barnyard tang.
i started eating before i could take a pic of this dish. the usual braised shortrib component was replaced with pork belly, lacquered with a sweet glaze, giving way in squishy, unctuous, hunks to the fork. this was served with a crispy yam (read: sweet potato) latke, and served with green beans and (the best part) stewed grapes. again the kitchen provided a dish that had interesting textural elements (softy, chewy, crispy, cellulose) and flavour combinations (sweet, acidic, vegetal, fatty, meaty).
the cheese plate was a little uninspired, but the portions were decidedly larger than the norm. we were served (from left to right), riopelle (a french triple creme), benedictin blue (i believe also french or quebecois) and a smoked applewood cheddar. my one complaint was that the cheese was served with toasted raisin bread, and my personal preference when tasting cheese is to have a neutral bread to allow the flavours of the cheese to shine. in this case, i thought that the raisins in the bread introduced a sweet element that i wasn't able to control.
desserts were pedestrian and unevenly executed. flourless chocolate cake was very chocolatey, but the actual chocolate flavour itself wasn't intriguing or deep. the creme brulees were also inconsistent. mine was overcooked and curdled, the boy's was served correctly. there's nothing worse than overcooked and curdled eggs! it's like eating ceiling paste.
overall, i would definitely recommend it.
this was last night's dinner. i LOVE eggplant when it's cooked until custardy. tonight we're having capellini in a fresh tomato, garlic, basil, parm sauce, with salad.