What's the vibe
Squeezed into the bustling restaurant row on Yonge Street just south of Finch, Chat Bar is an out-of-the-ordinary addition to the neighbourhood. Joining locations in Scarborough and Unionville, this spot specializes in fiery Chinese chuan’r – or skewers. While the menu is fairly focused on the little sticks, that’s not the only component to this kind of cuisine. Chinese chuan’r culture translates to “the atmosphere of smoke and fire,” and that’s exactly what you’ll experience in this lively little spot.
Red brick and exposed light bulbs give the narrow, two-level restaurant an almost hipster vibe, but thick ropes hanging from the ceiling and wooden awnings made to look like little huts over each table round out the aesthetic. It’s modern but rustic. It verges on kitschy but the beautiful woodwork pulls it off.
What to drink
Don’t expect to find anything fancy on the drink list here, and for good reason. With fare almost too hot to handle, our beverage choice quickly became about finding the coolest, most refreshing sipper, rather than looking for creative concoctions.
There are a few domestic brews, plus imports like Sapporo and Asahi. Strangely enough, drinks from our youth like Mike’s Hard and Smirnoff Ice are the only options even remotely resembling a cocktail.
Our advice: set aside imbibing for the night and go for their Chinese herbal iced tea in a can. It’s just sweet enough to soothe your flaming tongue, without distracting from the meal.
What to eat
Billed as the first restaurant in the GTA to showcase this kind of cuisine, Chat Bar serves their spicy skewers of meat, seafood and vegetables izakaya-style. That means small plates aplenty. The menu is pretty substantial, but each dish is only around the five dollar mark so you can try a good variety without breaking the bank. And a warming plate over a candle will prevent your skewers from going cold if you order too much and take a while to finish (we learned first hand).
We started things off with grilled oysters, charcoal grilled scallops and garlic grilled shrimp. Interested in trying offal? This is the place to do it. Skewers include chicken hearts, pork skins, beef heart artery, lamb kidney and more. We went for tamer options like plain old lamb, beef and chicken, but the sweet little Chinese sausages were the favourite.
Don’t skip out on the cheese corn. This indulgent side dish is reminiscent of a gooey baked mac n’ cheese, but replace the macaroni with kernels of sweet corn.
Pro tip: if you’re not up to reaching for water after every bite, ask them to tone down the spice when you order.
Dinner and drinks for two: around $40.
5312 Yonge St., (647) 508-5588; chatbar.ca