From the restaurateurs who brought you Kay Pacha, Cibo Wine Bar, and Via Allegro comes Bar Altura. Bar Altura is a modern take on Italian favourites and opened earlier in 2018. Everything, from the pasta making to the meat curing is done in-house, and the menu is a revolving door of Head Chef Marco Zandona’s creations.
Bar Altura is located near Graffiti Alley on Queen Street and Augusta Avenue. As I approached the restaurant, its identity was clearly marked by not only a stainless steel sign but also "ALTURA" spray painted on the building’s brick wall. A nice ode to the area.
I had a bit of confusion with the opening hours. Online and even on Bar Altura’s door stated that they opened for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays; however, when I tried to walk in for a Saturday lunch, the place was closed. Checking its social media afterwards, I found Altura only had a dinner service. There was no notice of holiday hours either.
After coming back at 5:00 PM, the spot was finally opened, and I luckily got a seat without a reservation. The restaurant’s front area was small, with a few tables for three and a larger six-person table by the window. There was also a spacious bar-seating area, with a very well-stocked bar. I believe there were more tables in the back but never took a look. Smaller tables dotted the restaurant for waiting guests to grab a drink.
The restaurant has an overall neutral tone to it that’s very warm and welcoming. The furniture is very simple but classy, and the chairs reminded me of something you would buy at IKEA.
A small menu was displayed on the front door which showed opening hours, the kind of foods you can expect at Altura, and daily specials. Tuesdays feature half-price bottles of wine, Wednesdays have two-for-one pizzas, Thursdays bring Buck-a-Shuck Oysters, and Sundays are for brunch and super mimosas.
The menu at Bar Altura is always changing, so menu pictures or restaurant profiles written months ago may now be inaccurate. What remains consistent is the lovely modern takes on Italian classics. When I went, there were antipastos like La Finocchiona and Kampachi Crudo; smaller snacks like Fried Sardines and Arancini; Pastas and Pizza, of course; and larger entrees like their duck duo (roasted breast and a confited leg), their veal chop, and the $120 tomahawk steak.
For the appetizer, I had planned to order Alutra’s take on a Tuna Tartar. After the waiter put in the order, Marco Zandona himself came to inform me that the tuna delivered today was not to his liking. He recommended the beef carpaccio instead. Since the chef would obviously know more about his food than I would, I took him up on the suggestion and started with the carpaccio. After I ordered, the waiter happily brought me some bread. It was a delicious grilled sourdough drenched in olive oil.
The carpaccio looked like something out of a Dr. Suess book. The beef slices were laid down with tiny leaves sticking out of the cauliflower couscous. The plating, nonetheless, was outstanding with plenty of attention to detail. It was cute, quirky and fun.
The taste of the food was phenomenal. There was a nice sweetness from the couscous and saltiness from the beef. They both worked in unison to taste like something from a seaside restaurant in the rural parts of Italy. There’s no doubt that the chef was right in recommending the carpaccio.
As Chef Marco recommended the carpaccio, he also informed me that the duck was amazing. I was going to order the veal chop but thought the duck might have been better since the carpaccio was already a beef dish.
When the waiter came by to refill my water, I told him how I decided to go with the duck instead of the veal.
"I had tried everything on the menu, but it was only the duck that I tried recently," he replied. "It’s one of the best things I’ve ever had."
The duck breast came cut to show a nice red colour on the inside—a sign of the perfect temperature. The confited duck leg sat on top of a bed of polenta mash and Brussel sprouts.
As expected from the colour, the breast was very tender. I find duck meat to be tough at times and easily overcooked, but this breast was excellent It almost felt like eating a medium rare steak from a high-end steakhouse. Definitely the best piece of duck I’ve ever had. The duck leg had a very crispy skin to dig into. It wasn’t as tender as the breast but still delicious. It was, however, a bit too salty. This may have been to compliment the polenta underneath.
The polenta and Brussel sprouts, although may have been there to compliment the duck, was possibly my favourite part. The polenta had a similar taste to a Thanksgiving mash potato—plenty of butter and possibly a hint of cheese. The texture was a bit more grainy which was a nice touch to differ it from an ordinary mash potato. The Brussel sprouts were very tender, as well. They practically melted in my mouth! Not a phrase I commonly associate with a vegetable.
Sweet Dot At The End
There were three options for dessert. A tiramisu, a panna cotta, and a creme brulee. $12 for a panna cotta I thought was expensive—thinking it would be the same size as the one from Gusto101— but I ordered it anyway. When the dessert arrived, it turned out to be much bigger.
The panna cotta had hints of lavender and chamomile with pistachios spread out on the plate.
"Our chef forages for the chamomile himself," the waiter told me. "The first time I saw him walk in with a bag of chamomile, I thought ‘wow what a guy...’"
The lavender and chamomile flavours were subtle, but the texture of the panna cotta was soft and silky. The crunch of the nuts and their savouriness worked very well with the creamy and sweetness of the panna cotta. It was a very well thought out pairing. I really enjoyed it.
Service and Staff
The service was as expected of a "nicer" restaurant. Our waiter was very friendly and told us about the quirks of the restaurant and his relationship with the owners throughout the night. We got along very well. He was hyper attentive, always coming at the perfect times to refill my water.
I came into the restaurant pretty early, so there wasn’t much business at the time. Despite the lack of people, my food came out pretty slowly. I didn’t mind too much as I enjoyed the atmosphere, but the three courses took longer than I expected.
Overall, Bar Altura was a fantastic experience. I have more or less no complaints about the place and will be back for the weekday specials. With three courses, I felt full and very satisfied. The dessert was not overly sweet so I didn’t feel jittery. It might have been a placebo effect, but I had a great sleep that night, possibly owing to the foraged chamomile.