The bar at Patrick Kriss’s Alo, tucked away three storeys above Queen and Spadina, has been my closely guarded secret. Not many people know that if you can’t score a reservation in the restaurant—they are released every two months and disappear instantly—you can count on a midweek walk-in table in the adjoining room and feast from a short menu of substantial bar snacks. Those snacks provide a fair approximation of the magic in the main dining room. The bartenders also make one of the city’s best martinis.
At the end of the summer, Kriss opened Alobar, a stand-alone bar in a neighbourhood with no shortage of options for small plates and drinks: Yorkville. He easily one-ups his competitors. The entrance is reached through a discreet alleyway and shaded courtyard—there’s patio seating but not much of a view. As at the original Alo, and Kriss’s upscale diner Aloette, all is meticulously polished to perfection: the staff (neat in blue jackets and crisp white shirts), the decor (plush scoop chairs, dark mirrors multiplying the room, signature brass inlays cutting across the wood floor) and a music mix that’s jazzy without being obtrusive. More importantly, the martinis remain terrific, and the next best drink is the Glass Onion, composed of crisp gin, fortified wine and kümmel, a fennel and caraway liqueur. Christopher Sealy, the Alo group’s head sommelier, circulates through the room to answer queries about a collection that’s starry and Eurocentric, some from cult Tuscan and Lebanese producers. One complaint: he needs more than a dozen by-the-glass choices, since no single bottle adequately straddles a dinner here.
The menu, designed by Kriss and chef de cuisine Matthew Betsch, divides into small and big sharing plates, plus sides (a jar of frites, a bowl of creamed, buttery spinach, a wedge salad coated in toasted quinoa and curls of shaved blue cheese). It’s more like Aloette (à la carte and best shared) but dressed in a coat of only-in-Yorkville, over-the-top luxury. The kitchen wraps hamachi in sheets of translucent Iberico ham, brushes hefty chunks of lobster with XO sauce, and floats sea scallops, as thick as hockey pucks, in a vibrant pool of puréed summer corn and jalapeño. Sometimes they go too far, overwhelming tuna belly tartare with a funky mountain of black truffle shavings or coating blistered San Marzano tomatoes, tender and sweet, with a granola-crunch blanket of pine nuts and breadcrumbs. Then they take us back to the sublime: a cocktail glass of foie gras parfait, creamy and studded with preserved cherries, plus frozen shavings of yet more foie gras. Desserts like mille feuille, a stack of alternating puff pastry and Chantilly cream, are equally wonderful.
Some midtowners may have been disappointed that Kriss opened a lounge in Yorkville instead of the full Alo experience. But an exclusive restaurant like Alo, with its high-stakes nightly chef’s menu, doesn’t lend itself to empire building—it can’t easily be cloned. Alobar and Aloette are more loose-limbed, chill, approachable. They prove the strength of the original’s DNA.
57A-162 Cumberland St., 416-961-1222, alobaryorkville.com