70 Years of Legendary Women and Seinfeld-Like Cereal Obsessions at Rasa

With the popularity of food trucks in Toronto, it seems like two things are happening.  First, the trucks are spawning off from established restaurants in order to expand their reach.  Second, the gypsy life of a food truck transforms into a brick and mortar opportunity and sets up in one of the many trendy areas of town.

The latter describes Rasa bar.  Set up in the proximity of Harbord Room, THR and Co. and Spendido along Harbord St, it’ s  the brain child of the Food Dudes who may be best known for their Cap’n Crunch tacos served with spiked mango slaw.  In fact, these tacos inspired the dish for my Masterchef Canada tryout a while back.  In addition, I was told by a colleague the the cereal dessert was the best she had in Toronto, which left me more than intrigued.  Needless to say, I was excited to sit down, have a drink and see what else the dudes had to offer. One warning…taking a look at the website may induce seizures or nausea in those who can’t handle rapid movement.  It reminded me of Madonna’s stomach turning “Ray of Light” video.

Once I showed up, I noticed a couple of things almost immediately.  First, it had that garage/industrial type feel.  Second, they played excellent music at a decibel level which allowed for conversation with other people; a novel concept in a city where decor and the insistence of loud tunes outshine the food at times.  Finally, from the minute I entered it was clear that the service would be cordial.  I forgot about how difficult it is to get to Harbord during the bicycle rush hour, so I was 10-15 minutes late and they didn’t bat an eye.

In addition to a small list of draught beer including Niagara-on-the-Lake’s hidden gem Oast brewery, one can sip a number of innovative cocktails featuring some of the trendier spirits on the rail. I opted for the Texas Guinan, a bourbon based drink with accents that allowed the whisky to shine instead of being blunted by conflicting additions.  It’s the way I imagined a cocktail in the era of prohibition where the goal was to relish the booze in its native form. Interestingly enough, this drink is the namesake of a prominent silent movie actress who became America’s first cow girl.  On the more notorious side, she opened a speakeasy in New York during prohibition and was well known to law enforcement for the majority of the 20’s.  Ironically, although spending a decade in an environment filled with booze and scantly clad women, Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan died in Vancouver in 1933 of ameobic dysentery.

Texas Guinan $15
Texas Guinan $15

The food started with a complimentary offering of the mini muffin, a dainty bite filled with the fall flavours of pumpkin and squash and topped with a little salted caramel. It was a cute homage to the season.

Complimentary Mini Muffins
Complimentary Mini Muffins

Next was the chopped salad (vegetables, quinoa, macedonian feta, crispy garbanzos, sumac) for $13.  It was fattoush on steroids.  The strong acidity/sourness of the dressing and sumac, the saltiness of the feta and the crunch of the garbanzo beans created a taste and textural diversity as impressive as the ingredients themselves.

Chopped salad
Chopped salad $13

The fish board special of the night was a chowder ($18).  A thick broth housed jumbo shrimp, scallop, fish, doubled smoked bacon and pickled jalapenos.  It was smooth as silk with enough acid and heat from the pepper to cut the richness to a very palatable level.

Fish Board (Chowder) $18
Fish Board (Chowder) $18

After careful consultation with the very pleasant waitress, we opted for the duck breast over the truffle gnudi and beef cheek ragu.  Rendered nicely and sitting on top of a pillowy puree, it was finished with cherries, chestnuts and greens topped with shaved fois gras torchon.  Although the duck was  underseasoned , it was saved by the array of aforementioned flavours on the plate.

Duck Breast $25
Duck Breast $25

I didn’t need the advice of the waitress for the spare ribs and I wasn’t disappointed. Although a little tricky to eat, they were extremely tender.  More impressive were the playful flavours.  From both a taste and visual perspective, the sweet rib sauce coupled with the foamy polenta was a tongue-tingling metophor of a root beer float. The pickles and corn nuts added a tad of acid and texture.     `

Spare Ribs $17
Spare Ribs $17

As I mentioned, I was told about the druthers of the cereal dessert.  Although I can’t say it is the best in Toronto, it fused modern flavours and techniques with the simple flavours of the well-known boxed treat.  Despite the use of cocoa puffs (or a reasonable facsimile), the sweetness was surprisingly subtle and was further suppressed by the intense nuttiness of the macademia milk.  The fact that it was poured tableside added a nostalgic flare reminiscent of the morning ritual.  It appears from the menu now that there have been some modifications to the dessert (ie. banana and cocoa milk) so I can’t confirm it would be the same today.

Cereal $8
Cereal $9

The other dessert we ordered was the praline sticky bun.  Another breakfast favorite turned dessert,  candied bacon and walnuts surrounded a decedent and rather large pastry sitting on top an innovative cream cheese anglaise.  It was sinful and delicious.

Sticky Bun
Sticky Bun $10

My Take

Rasa by the Food Dudes takes their innovative gypsy philosophy and centralizes it into a bricks and mortar environment. From the homage to female legends (including the Texas Guinan cocktail and Madonna’s Ray of Light website) to their Seinfeld-like cereal infatuation, the concept is pop-intelligent and fun.  The menu seems to rotate often (it’s changed since I went a couple of weeks ago) and there is always the mystery of things like the daily fish plate. There is also “set Mondays”, a $35 tasting menu  with $5 drinks and live music. I suspect Rasa’s promise of fun food and respectful service might actually draw foodies and food truck followers alike into the relatively unknown area north of the College Street parallel and into a land lacking “provision pretension” despite primping plaid shirts. In summary, when I think of Rasa I can’t help but think that Tony the Tiger said it best;”They’re Greeeeeeeaaaaat!”

Rasa on Urbanspoon

Fin-al-ly..The Peoples Eatery has Come Back (although it was never there to start with) to Spadina Avenue!

The first time I heard the name “peoples eatery” I couldn’t help but think of  Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.  He used to step into the ring, grab a microphone and proceed to gloat and taunt his way through an electric monologue which began with “Finally, the Rock has come back to insert city,” and made numerous references to him as the “people’s champion”. He would also cite his “people’s elbow” finishing move so suffice to say he may appreciate eating at the people’s eatery.

In fact, the name may be a reference to the People’s Republic of China given the menu features a spin on Asian fare in the heart of China town (there seems to be inconsistency about whether there is an apostrophe in peoples but the website suggests no)   .  As an extension of 416 snack bar, it has similar features in that it’s crammed into a tiny space (at least the downstairs is) and doesn’t see the necessity of utensils.  It’s different in that the dishes are primarily  inspired by Jewish and East-Asian cultures with a few other surprises thrown in. In addition, there is the option of a tasting menu designed by executive chef Dustin Gallagher and his culinary team.

I arrived to be greeted by well-coiffed waitstaff with a pretension reminiscent of  Rocky Maivia, Johnson’s pre-rock persona. They offer a small but impressive list of local beer featuring breweries like Left Field and Neustadt for around $7.  I inquired about the list and had the choices on the menu described to me.  Ten minutes later, the same guy had a conversation with a co-worker behind the bar raving about the new beer they just got that wasn’t on the menu. I was a little perplexed as to why this was never mentioned to me.

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“It doesn’t matter what beer you want!”

The Peoples Eatery in a true snack bar.   Most things on the menu are under ten bucks unless you want quail or peking duck.  I got the “small plate” speech which was a predictable as the Rock saying “Jabroni” during one of his heated wrestling rants.  I ordered a bunch of dishes with the knowledge  they would arrive as they were prepared and ready from the kitchen.  Speaking of the kitchen, there is an open prep area for cold foods beside the bar and an open kitchen for hot food in the back. The first dish  to arrive was a twist on the Jewish Sabich (pita with quail egg and herb salad) for $7.  The abundant filling made it a bit tricky to eat and was accented with pickles, a tangy dressing and a creamy sauce.  The flavours were good but it lacked a little substance, especially for seven bucks.

Sabich $7
Sabich $7

Next to arrive was the panipuri ($4).  Also called waterbombs, these bite size morsels fizzled more than they exploded although the dipping sauce added a sweet, tangy and sourness which accented the bombs greatly.

Panipuri $4
Panipuri $4

The General Tso-fu should be ordered just for the name.  It’s tofu….done General Tso style.  It was arguably the best thing I ate all evening.  The silkiness and temperature of the piping hot tofu coupled with the cooling yet spicy sauce balanced perfectly.

Tso-fu $4
Tso-fu $4

Char Shiu Boa (aka pork buns) may be the new taco. Although surprisingly simply, there are many interpretations of this traditional Chinese dish.  The people’s version is a transfer from 416 snack bar and more reminiscent of the Momofuku staple as opposed to the standard dim sum version.  It had that wonderful wonder bread mouth feel and taste which surrounded  a delicious tender pork filling.

Char Shiu Bao $5
Char Shiu Bao $5

Although I follow and accept the small plate doctrine of the restaurants I eat in, I felt it very strange that my oysters were served last.  My guess is that either the waiter forgot until I reminded him or it takes longer to shuck 6 oysters than it does to prepare four dishes.  I was interested in the oysters for two reasons; they were less than $3 bucks each (which is a novelty in Toronto in most cases) and the promise of traditional and untraditional garnishes.  In this case, they were served with lime, a mignonette and a beet horseradish (which I suppose is a little unorthodox).  The oysters themselves were a nice size and shucked properly.

Oysters 6 for $15 served with lime, mignonette and beet horseradish
Oysters 6 for $15 served with lime, mignonette and beet horseradish

For dessert, I ordered the pineapple with coconut cream and lime.  It was a refreshing finish to the meal but nothing remarkable. In general, I find the quality of pineapple inconsistent in general  and this one was a bit on the sour side.

Pineapple with coconut cream and lime $4
Pineapple with coconut cream and lime $4

My Take 

Ok, the Peoples Eatery has never been on Spadina Avenue so technically it can’t come back but let’s stick with the wrestling analogy.  First, we have the pretension of the staff which mimics that of the buff characters in the ring.  There was certainly hipster muscle flexing going on.  Second, like a wrestling match, the menu was well choreographed, offering both traditional and fancy moves contained within an entertaining evening. Finally, as a finishing move the dessert  was more like Hulk Hogan’s lame leg drop as opposed to the Rock’s electrifying people’s elbow executed in front of the millions and millions of his adoring  fans.  In the end, the People’s Eatery is a decent but not spectacular sequel to 416 snack bar.  I wouldn’t say it has the swagger of Wrestlemania but it would certainly be considered a good episode of Monday night raw…. if you smell what the Rock is cooking.

People's Eatery on Urbanspoon