First Look: Howard Dubrovsky returns to Toronto restaurants with Bar Sybanne


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Image: Yvonne Tsui

It seems Toronto restaurateurs are still enamored with Mediterranean cuisine and Ossington Avenue. The latest addition is Bar Sybanne in the former home of Yours Truly, near the intersection with Dundas West.

It also marks Howard Dubrovsky’s return to the dining scene. He made his debut back in 2010 with L.A.B. on College, a molecular gastronomy pioneer in Toronto. He then went on to head the Fonda Lola kitchen before a year-long sabbatical to focus on art of another kind – painting. But he soon felt the “gravitational pull” of restaurant life and went through a series of attempts to get a new project going. 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

On the subject of art and cooking, Dubrovsky says that they both involve the “creation of something tactile with physical substance” and that they both “elicit a reaction from someone immediately – instant feedback” which is “something that is satisfying to me.”

The initial concept was always to do small plates. In the very early stages of planning, Dubrovsky tinkered with going the way of El Furniture Warehouse by doing super casual, cheap eats. It wasn’t until his realtor floated the Harbord Room as a potential location that the idea of moving towards a more refined version of the small-plates concept was born. “It’s a combination of what diners are seeking and how I like to eat. Who doesn’t want to go to a place and taste 15 things instead of one,” he says.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

A good portion of the menu is what Dubrovsky grew up eating – Lebanese, Israeli, Greek plus a Moroccan influence. “To have the flavours morph and interplay with each other is a beautiful thing,” says Dubrovsky of his menu.

The restaurant’s name is a portmanteau honoring both of Dubrovsky’s grandmothers – Sybil and Anne. “I was very close to them and have fond memories of food and how much food was at the centre of keeping the family close-knit,” he adds. 

Dubrovsky’s extended family numbers in the 40s and they still find time to gather around the table three or four times a year.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The concise, one-page menu may look scant at first, but the options are plenty. It opens up with a choice of dips – beet, hummus, labneh or eggplant, served with gözleme (house-made flatbread). The menu is then broken up into hot or cold dishes. On the cold side of things is a whitefish crudo, with a daily fish, pickled turnip, lemon and extra virgin olive oil or dishes such as house pickles and Marcona almonds which make for great finger-food nosh.

Warming up, the daily fish is served bone-in, and head-on with Romesco sauce and lemon. Tack on a side roasted carrots with Ras el Hanout, a Moroccan spice blend, to make it a meal for two.

Bar Sybanne’s menu— complemented by the wine and cocktail program — has the versatility to make it a place where you grab a glass of wine and a bite or commit to a full dinner. Marissa Kelly, the restaurant’s general manager and sommelier (formerly Los Colibris) has built a wine list that is “smaller, but has something for everyone’s price point and palate that works with Howard’s menu,” she explains. 

It is a mix of Old World (Mediterranean) and New World wines, with the New World list being exclusively wines from Niagara-On-the-Lake and Prince Edward County.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The cocktail list is the brainchild of the Drake’s Sandy De Almeida and most of her creations are a nod to the movies. There’s the “A Prophet” (made with bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Benedictine, Angostura Bitters and Drunken Cherry) in honour of both a movie and the cedar trees from Lebanon. Or the English Basillica, with pink Lillet Blanc, lemon juice, orange blossom, basil and egg white.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The design is very much Dubrovsky’s vision “made better” by Roundabout Studios’ Ilya Skok. The rich tapestry and communal booth are meant to evoke Marakesh’s markets. Equally colourful is dessert, like the daily yogurt, with a drizzle of honey and pistachios.

Dubrovsky feels “a level of responsibility to the restaurant above and beyond function since it’s in honour of my grandmothers.”

Bar Sybanne, 229 Ossington Ave., 647-350-9229


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

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Yvonne is a freelance food and drink writer and the Director of Brand Experience at U-Feast, which curates unique, off-menu dining experiences.  Always in search of delicious. Decor and service be damned, food is king. Follow her @life_of_y and @u_feast.  Warning: don't look at her "feed" if you're hungry.

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