First Impressions: Hoof Raw Bar

Whiting & Ponzu Whiting & Ponzu
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Meet Abby. She’s smart, funny, and charming. She loves food and is a fantastic baker. A city girl, she lives just a few stops (by subway) outside of downtown Toronto. With endless restaurants, fine food shops, one cookbook store, kitchen supply stores, and markets literally outside her door, inspiration is everywhere. Oh, and did I mention Abby is my best friend?

Abby has been a silent part of foodiePrints for a number of years. Not only do I consider her to be my baking guru, she’s been with us ever since Don started the blog in December 2006. At that time, Abby and I were sharing a house with our girlfriends at Queen’s University. She was, perhaps, and still is, the most forgiving dining companion, especially during the early days when Don was just learning to cook.

Whenever I’m in the city, Abby and I like to try new restaurants. In the past months, we’ve been to Burger Brats, Kenzo Japanese Noodle House, and Luma. Don also joined us for a ridiculously decadent meal at The Black Hoof cafe, during which we ate so much that we had to walk several kilometers before heading home.

Although our friendship extends well beyond food, I’m very excited that she has decided to be a guest blogger for foodiePrints. She’ll be doing restaurant reviews and sharing her recipes and photos. Her first review is of the Hoof Raw Bar, the sister restaurant to The Black Hoof. Located beside the Hoof and across from the Hoof Cocktail Bar, this is Jen Agg’s third establishment. Opened to great fanfare just a few weeks ago, it seats about 30 people. Its kitchen is led by the talented Chef Jonathan Pong.

And so, here is Abby with her first review of the Hoof Raw Bar…

Jenn, Editor

Hoof Raw Bar

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: The Hoof Raw Bar doesn’t only serve raw food. If anything, it’s a loving tribute to seafood, the way The Black Hoof is a loving tribute to meat.

I arrived at the Hoof Raw Bar at 5:30 on a Thursday afternoon. Arriving early was a strategy I had developed for going to The Black Hoof, but fortunately for me, there was no one else at the restaurant. I had my choice of seats. The decor was quite nice, but unlike its neighbour, there was no patio on which to enjoy the wonderful weather. However, there was an open kitchen, which I always enjoy. Something about watching the food being made is fascinating to me.

Open kitchen at Hoof Raw Bar

I had the pleasure of dining with two good friends who are also adventurous eaters. While waiting for the third to arrive, my friend and I decided to order some “fish snacks”, ($9) which, that day, were BBQ-rubbed prawn heads, fried panko-breaded smelt, and fried baitfish. The smelt were well cooked, nice and tender inside the crispy breading. The baitfish were crunchy, and reminded us of salt and vinegar chips. I even commented that I could envision myself sitting in front of the TV with a bag of them. The prawn heads had been rubbed with what seemed like a cajun BBQ spice, then deep-fried. I have to confess, despite the plethora of shrimp, prawn and other seafood I have had in my lifetime, this is the first time I’d ever had a prawn head. This one, luckily, was delicious, and an excellent introduction. There was none of the fishiness that I’d expected; we were sad that there were only three.

Once our third diner arrived, we ordered a variety of dishes that seemed interesting to us: the cured fish board ($22), bream sashimi ($16), baby octopus ($15), and whiting & ponzu ($14). There were oysters available, but my fellow diners deemed the prices too high ($34 for one dozen). We also ordered bread and butter ($2), which were good, but really there’s not much else to say about it.

Oysters anyone?

Sad to say, while the cured fish board was delicious, it was not my favorite dish. This may be because the board was interspersed with pickled onions, which I don’t like, so I didn’t eat it. It would’ve broken up the texture of the plate somewhat.

Cured Fish Board (Photo courtesy of Truc)

The board is presented in the same manner as the charcuterie plate at The Black Hoof, where the cured items are placed from mildest to strongest in flavor. The mildest was branzino in olive oil, which I found to be light, with an excellent fishy texture. The next was a miso marinated sablefish, which we found too sweet. The tuna gravlax was interesting, but we lamented that the tuna flavor was entirely masked by lemon. A mackerel followed, I found rather delicious, though less fishy than any mackerel sashimi I’d had previously. And finally, there was a chorizo scallop, which was delicious. As I mentioned above, it would’ve been nice to have had some other vegetables (pickled ramps?), but I suppose there would’ve been, if I ate onions!

The bream sashimi came with a cucumber soba with wasabi, surrounded by soy butter. This was easily my favorite dish. I’ve not had bream before, but I found the texture to be smooth and tender. And everything was made better by the soy butter. I need to obtain some soy butter and put that on everything. Eggs, steak, cereal, everything.

Forgive me, this being my first post, I didn’t take any notes about the baby octopi.

Baby Octopi

It came with maitake mushrooms, dried tomatillos, and some leafy green (it felt like bok choy to me). The octopi were well done, and the tomatillos were a nice fresh contrast on the plate.

Lastly, we had the whiting and ponzu. The whiting was fried, and came with the head on the plate and was topped with shredded celeriac, sliced radishes and watercress.

Whiting and Ponzu (Photo courtesy of Truc)

I had my first fish head that night too (my grandma would be so proud of me). The fish was tender and flaky, with nice crisp skin. The head was surprisingly good, mostly just crunchy. The ponzu sauce was well flavored, and went very well with the fish. This dish reminded me of what one could get at a Chinese restaurant, with deep fried fish in soy sauce.

While the Hoof Raw Bar boasted a wide array of wines, beers and cocktails, being a lightweight, I stuck with water, so I can’t speak to the quality of the bar.

The overall experience at Hoof Raw Bar was positive. The dishes were different and interesting, and the wait staff were friendly and attentive. Though I’m not sure whether this attention was due to the high staff-customer ratio, but I appreciated it all the same. Our water was refilled without much delay, and we received new place settings with each dish. There were several dishes that I didn’t get a chance to try (the chawanmushi being chief amongst them) so I will definitely be going back!

Hoof Raw Bar
926 Dundas Street West (just west of Bathurst)
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday from 5:30pm-midnight
*No reservations* Cash and CDN debit only.

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Abby. She's smart, funny, and charming. She loves food and is a fantastic baker. In fact, she's the home-baking guru for foodiePrints. Abby has been with us ever since Don started the blog in 2006. A city girl, she can be found baking for her family and friends and exploring Toronto's culinary scene.