The name Sara is fairly prominent in pop culture. On the music side, the name Sara has fronted such singers as McLaughlin and Bareilles although the former is spelled with and H on the end. My sister’s name is also Sarah which gave my grandmother years of difficult since she was never quite sure where the H went. Every year my sister would get a card which read “Happy Birthday Sahra!” or “Merry Christmas Sarha!” or “Happy Graduation Shara!”. I also used to bug my sister in the 80’s by humming the tune “Sara” by Starship which,in addition to “We Built this City”, could the two worst songs released in 1985. I still don’t think she’s forgiven me.
From a food perspective, perhaps the best known Sara is Sara Lee. The company, once called the Kitchens of Sara Lee and opened in 1935, was a small chain of bakeries in Chicago with a man who named his bakeries and a cheesecake within them after his daughter. Both the name and the bakery was purchased and 70 years later was a multinational company with 137 000 employees. Since then, the company has been swallowed up by even bigger fish and is now a subsidiary of Tyson Foods. That said, it still remains a place to pick up a quick cheesecake if you plan to binge watch Animal Kingdom or you forgot it was your turn for dessert once again and a bag of two bite brownies just won’t cut it.
I couldn’t tell you the origin of Sara, the food dudes new culinary experiment in Toronto’s King West area. I can only assume it’s an anagram of Rasa, their other brick and mortar restaurant. I see Sara as Rasa’s more sophisticated but stuffier sister. Rasa hangs out in a basement on Harbord Street, drinking cocktails named after her friends and eating lamb bacon and sticky buns off of wooden tables. Sara, on the other hand, prefers to sip G&T and eat crab dumplings off of marble tables in the vicinity of Lee and Jacob’s steakhouse. I was quite excited for my first date with her.
When I arrived I didn’t recognize her. She is in one of the many recently renovated houses along Portland Street just north of King St so it could easily be mistaken for another person (although she didn’t look like a Jimmy and certainly wasn’t Chubby). After double checking the address, I entered the front door and was immediately impressed with her interior. It was modest but classy with virginal white (damn!) walls and wood accents. Her marble tables were sleek yet practical given the fact they held a chamber for cell phones with the intention of removing texting temptations and force and face to face discussion. She also mentioned they are planning to put chargers in the tables in due time for extra motivation.
It seems Sara likes the hard stuff more than a pint; in particular she’s a fan of a good G&T or a vodka/soda as indicated by the fact that these are the only cocktails formally on the menu. There are 4 combinations using different gins or vodkas along seasonings and house made mixes based on taste preference. I opted for a “spice” G&T ($16) accented with fruit and star anise. In line with the anti-straw movement, she provided an artsy vessel which doubles as a device to muddle the contents. That said, she was full of surprises and produced a solid old-fashioned comparable to some of the best I’ve had in Toronto.
Once Sara got me a bit tipsy, she proceeded to show me a little more of her personality. I quickly realized she was a bit of an uptown girl…a quality vs quantity kind of woman. In addition, she was full of surprises by offering her upscale versions of food I may eat in a roadhouse with a girl named Becky. The chopped salad ($16), fries ($14) ,dumplings ($20) and rice pudding ($15), for example, were hardly pedestrian. The salad was garnished with cashew cheese instead of chunks of marble. The fries were shaped shredded potatoes bathed in schmaltz versus shoestrings in shortening. The dumplings were Prada-like purses darkened with squid ink and overstuffed with seafood and Bearnaise as opposed to generic bags full of ground pork and cabbage. The rice pudding was a rich and savory porridge peppered with corn and bacon and certainly not the senior special with sprinkled cinnamon and a dollop of whipped cream.
Her elegance emerged as the meal progressed. I looked into her (rib) eye ($34) and I felt like a king (salmon) ($25). I couldn’t help but admire her (pork) belly ($22) in my periphery. All were well prepared but the portion sizes were a bit of a tease. The steak went well with the snap pea slaw to balance things out.
I thought it was a little risque when she invited me to the washroom but it was really just to show me the toilet. Imported from Japan, they come complete with an wall mounted remote with words like pulsating, pressure, oscillating and position. Needless to say, I was quite excited when she asked me to sit down. Luckily, the heated seat was a wonderful distraction and took my mind off any potential pulsation. I must confess I did play with the controls a little before heading back up hoping I might get the dessert I missed out in the washroom…especially with cherries and a party listed on the menu.
There were only three desserts on the menu and I stuck with my washroom thoughts. The cherry crullers ($12) were rich but modest and nicely flavoured with cardamom and cream. The party sandwich ($12) seems the signature dessert and is Sara’s version of a regular ice cream sandwich. It wasn’t sickly sweet partially due to the sesame and miso flavours.
I think my date with Sara went well. I mean we got tipsy. ate pub food, locked rib eyes, took a trip to the washroom and had a party after. The date wasn’t cheap though. I think there will some complaints about the price points relative to portion size but as mentioned, Sara is an uptown girl and values quantity over quantity. Personally, I’m more of a Rasa guy with a preference for basement apartments and her sticky buns vs lofty abodes and Sara’s cherry cruller. That said, I wouldn’t turn down a second date as long as it was sometime around a pay day.