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

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DDD:Toking at Tommy’s Joynt although Cheech was the Californian

I was excited to drop into Tommy’s Joynt for an afternoon bite.    Touted as San Francisco’s original Hofbrau, it has been serving a menu centred on carved meat sandwiches since 1947.  They take pride in a no frills attitude and keeping prices low.  In fact, the only three  menu items over ten bucks are the famous Buffalo Stew, braised  oxtails with pasta (served Monday) and  braised  lamb shanks with vegetables (served Thursday and Sunday).  The hunks of meat sitting in the cafeteria style chafing dishes right inside the door while the rest of the place is a seating area complete with a bar serving local craft draught, international bottles and  cheapish cocktails. The cast of characters ranged from young to old, regulars to tourists and hipsters to those with with artificial hips.  The decor is a reminder that it’s been open for almost 70 years.  Hundreds of knick-knacks fill the walls, shelves and any other square inch of available space.  It’s like a yard sale on steroids.  They’ve never changed their style, they just added to it. It’s like a timeline of post WWII Americana scattered all over the place.

Apparently Tommy’s is “Where Turkey is King” so I strolled to the counter and ordered the roast turkey sandwich for $6 along with a side of mixed pickled beans for $2.65.  The guy behind the counter pulled out the bird, carved some meat off the bird and slapped it on a fresh baguette with a side of au jus.  As magical as Tommy’s was, they still couldn’t solve the dry poultry issue.  You can’t keep a turkey in a chafing dish and expect it to stay moist.  That said, the au jus added flavour and moisture to the sandwich.  The bean salad was pretty typical.  I thought things like the barrel of complimentary pickles (complete with a sign telling you not to abuse the pickle pecking privlegdes) to the  strategically placed mustard jars were a nice touch.

Turkey Sandwich $6 with Pickled Bean Salad $2.65
Turkey Sandwich $6 with Pickled Bean Salad $2.65

My Take

Tommy’s Joynt is a west coast version of a Hofbrau, a casual German eatery with focus on beer and food.   Having no idea who the place is named after, I figured it might be Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong fame). Ironically, Cheech is the Californian (Chong is a good old Canadian).  I mean, the psychedelic paint job on the outside, the easy access to copious amounts of food, some clientele that look like they have hot boxed a few million times and even the fact it has “joynt’ in the name makes my theory somewhat viable. In fact, after a drag one might relish staring intently at the numerous trinkets which populate the walls and shelves.  That said, the food was reasonable, the vibe was good but it just didn’t give me the “high”  some of the other Diners, Drive-ins and Dives did.

Food- 3.5 Guyz

Service- 4 Guyz

Vibe- 4 Guyz

Total- 11.5 Guyz

Tommy's Joynt on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Baldwin Village:Yakitori Bar

A fedora and a pink cardigan.  That’s how owner Sang Kim is depicted on the website and that’s exactly how he appears in person as he stands behind the bar as music fills the air at the boisterous Yakitori bar in Baldwin village. I half expected to see a karaoke machine and wouldn’t have  surprised if Mr. Kim himself were first up with  a stunning rendition of Billy Joel’s “We didn’t Start the Fire” or “Mr. Roboto” by Styx .

Yakitori is a fusion of the izakaya and pop-up restaurant concepts taking Toronto by storm.  The drink menu includes 10 or so types of sake, some of which are also offered in a number of cocktails. I opted for a jubilee (sake/gin/muddled berries).  It’s nice to see a well conceived and tasty drink for less than $8 which can rival cocktails up to twice the price in other places.   There are a few beer on tap and some wine choices as well.

Jubilee Cocktail ($7.96)
Jubilee Cocktail ($7.96)

As for the food, the menu is presented in the format of a  Bad Boy furniture ad.  Daily specials and notifications of kimchi battles are plastered throughout the one pager.  As for content, the mainstays are bbq meats typical of the yakitori concept with a few korean infusions including bibimbap,  kimchi and mundoo.

Must

I skirted over the fact that the cheeseburger came with soup and salad and was pleasantly surprised to see a bowl of pumpkin carrot soup arrive.  It was presented at “perfect soup temperature”*. Despite the main ingredients, the soup was not over sweet, was seasoned beautifully and managed to keep the integrity of the fresh ingredients through both texture and taste.

*- Perfect soup temperature is defined as not mouth-burning yet hot enough to endure the time it takes to consume the last bite.

Pumpkin soup (served with cheeseburger)
Pumpkin soup (served with cheeseburger)

The  kimchi flight (see picture below) features 3 generations of kimchi (1 day, 2 weeks and 3 months old)  appeared to be a bit of a gimmick until you tried it.  Like a grandfather, father and son, each had similarities yet definite differences in taste.  The elder kimchi’s flavour  was smoky and full.  The middle offering had a modest bite but was still juicy and ripe.  The youngin’  was fresh and crispy yet still intense.  Despite the small quantities, the taste intensity made it next to impossible to finish all three even despite  my attempt to scatter it among my other dishes.

Maybe

In a city where burger shops seem to outnumber Starbucks, this mainstay needs something to stand out. Yakatori’s attempt is bulgogi (Korean beef)  served on a fresh roll and topped with a bit of caramelized kimchi and the more traditional, as far as burger’s go,  lettuce, tomato and cheese.   It wouldn’t rank among the best burgers in Toronto but it’s a solid sandwich.  The accompanying salad was pleasant although the dressing was a little flat.  A little more acid might have helped.

Kimchi Flight ($3.95) and Bulgogi Cheeseburger ($9.95)
Kimchi Flight ($3.95) and Bulgogi Cheeseburger ($9.95)

The BBQ eel off the grill was a nice few bites. It was moist and covered with a sweet sauce that nicely complemented the powerful taste of the eel.  I found it a little pricy at $6.25 but for a solo diner the quantity was sufficient.   Throw this in front of a group however, and the next thing you know singing battles to Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” may settle who gets the last piece.

BBQ Eel ($6.25)
BBQ Eel ($6.25)

My Take

 I like the vibe of Yakitori bar.  It maintains the ethnic flare of Baldwin village but not at the expense of drab and downtrodden decor.  It is fresh and clean and the food is fun. Although I went at down time, I imagine the night crowd can bring some energy without the need for half-naked wasabi fights or singing line cooks.   There is a variety of snacks that will appeal to most palates. There’s even some decent choices for vegetarians and gluten free eaters.  Cheapish cocktails, choices for the peckish and starving alike and kimchi older than Psy’s shelf life makes Yakatori a place with staying power….which may be more than I can say about a pink cardigan. Gun Bae, Mr. Kim!

Yakitori Bar and Seoul Food Co. on Urbanspoon

Fare..Eat..Ales: My Top Canadian Restaurants of 2012

I’ve been to enough restaurants this year to compile a list of  I what I think are the best 10 in Canada.  I am also including a few which I may not have blogged about since I visited them before I started in June or July.  I will begin a daily countdown starting with number 10 and ending with number 1 on New Year’s Eve.

I’m a amateur blogger with a passion for food and this post is nothing more than my personal reflection of a year of eating out.  Feel free to agree or disagree. I encourage your comments!

See the urbanspoon list at the link below.

http://www.urbanspoon.com/guides/5781-my-top-canadian-restaurants-of-2012

10. Union 613– Ottawa

I can still taste the fried okra and Berkshire pork belly to this day.  The environment is best described as  union hall meets hipster joint meets smokehouse.  The staff is courteous, flexible and attentive. The impressive cocktail  list features rotating southern influenced cocktails (usually bourbon) and flavourful local brews.  Some of the traditional dishes were presented with a risky twist; the lemon lime parfait  was a savory rendition of the normally sweet yet tart key lime pie and the beef brisket was topped with an aggressive salsa verde.

The only major flaw was the rather bland oysters.

In the end, it’s great  food and great service in a great environment. I’ll sign the union card.

Check out initial review below and agree or disagree!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/review-ottawa-union-613/

9. Trevor Bar and Kitchen- Toronto

Trevor is a meat and fois gras happy restaurant buried in the architecture of Wellington Street East. Well executed main entrees such as coq au vin and prawn spaghettini  as well as beautiful desserts are examples of the stellar food.  In an attempt to  preserve the integrity of the century and a half old building, the decor still makes me feel like I’m eating in a subway station. Regardless, I’ll buy a metro pass.

Check out initial review below and agree or disagree!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/reviewtorontost-lawrence-market-old-towntrevor-kitchen-and-bar/

8. Table 17– Toronto

Table17 is a quaint place  with a great atmosphere located along Queen St. East.  It’s not too loud but still manages to have a buzzy aura. It offers  an innovative cocktail list and sticks pretty consistently to a well executed menu with large portions and  a focus on signature items including oysters, rillette, hot balls and and beef tartare.  The  polenta, presented table side, was the pinnacle of the meal and the duck entree was done well.   The desserts were not  mind-blowing but you may not need them after the meal.   This is a table I don’t  mind sitting at!

The blog post  is below.  Let me know if you agree!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/review-toronto-queen-east-table-17/

7.  Stoney’s Bread Company– Oakville

Stoney’s Bread Company is the least orthodox place on this list.  It’s not fancy, doesn’t have a stunning decor and isn’t the roaring hotspot like some of the others.  That being said, the food is wicked. The chicken curry sandwich on their own bread is one of the best I’ve had all year.  The pizza had a crust thin enough to allow for delicious origami while thick enough to hold together the fragrant sauce and the other fresh ingredients such as the high quality meats and cheeses which adorn the pies. I’d skip the dessert squares though.  Stoney’s may not be  the place to bring a first date or to impress your new boss…unless of course  they love amazing food and don’t mind taking a trip to a plain jane sandwich joint a bit off the beaten path.

The post is pending. Stay tuned!

6. Chambar– Vancouver

This west coast eatery mixes traditional belgian cuisine with tastes from around the world.  Chambar offers an amazing and unique Belgian beer selection and mussels to match.  In addition, there is an array of unique and sinful desserts with a presentation that rival some of the landmarks from the countries they represent.  The entrees were average and it’s almost too loud to have a conversation but the ambiance is pleasant and the edgy yet traditional menu is for the most part one of the better I’ve tried this year. When it comes to the underrated recreation of Belgian cuisine, Chambar is no sham bar.

Read my earlier review!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/reviewvancouvergastownchambar/

5. Charcut– Calgary

Highlights of this downtown Calgary establishment include a trendy environment in the Hotel Le Germain, a decent booze list and amazing well-prepared yet simple food. In particular, the kitchen pickles and pork belly were most  memorable.   The desserts were decent but limited in choice.  I didn’t blog Charcut because I started writing  a few months after going.  Perhaps it was memorable since it was my first celebrity chef sighting when I chatted with Top Chef Canada contestant Connie DeSousa after dinner. Maybe it was memorable because the food was just damn good.

4. Ursa- Toronto

Ursa is a casual yet elegant eatery which sits quietly on Queen West. Adorned with a long wood bar and open kitchen, it has an intimate environment which is both classic and trendy.  As I mentioned in my review, each dish is a story, whether it be the sourcing of the ingredients or the distinct cooking methods.  Every plate is presented with an artistic flare with fresh,seasonal fare.  The elk tartare was a lesson in leaving good ingredients alone to tell their own tale. In addition, the cocktail list featured quality liquors with fresh ingredients presented in award-winning fashions.   Finally, the deconstructed lemon meringue pie was as tasty as it was visually appealing.  The biggest downfall regarding Ursa is an ever changing and unpredictable small menu which may not appeal to everybody..but I leave you to decide whether that is a major or just a minor issue.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/reviewtoronto-east-ursa/

3. Richmond Station– Toronto

In a few short months, Richmond Station has already established itself as a Toronto hotspot.  Maybe it’s riding the wave of chef/owner Carl Heinrich’s Top Chef Canada 2 win.  With a great open kitchen and a decor that is classy yet trendy, it’s a welcome change from the stuffy French bistros and hipster-centric caverns which straddle the Toronto streets. The food follows the same pattern, offering classic  yet contemporary cocktails, lobster bisque, shucked oysters with fresh condiments and duck two ways. The service, the environment, the chef, the kitchen…all the pieces fit together to make Richmond Station a bitchin’ station.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/reviewtorontodowntownrichmond-station/

2. Grand Electric-Toronto

Grand electric has a feel to it like no other place.  It’s well…electric.    The pozole, the spicy squid and the  tacos (especially the arbol chicken and beef cheek) are some of the better things I have eaten this year.  There’s a great booze list as well.  Despite the long waits and sometimes shady service, the overall feel is hip and cool, catalyzed by loud, hard rap and funky yard sale decor. It’s not clear if the second floor expansion will change the vibe but it shouldn’t change the food on the relatively static  but well executed menu.  In the meantime, there are no surprises.  You’ll  get what you expect with Grand Electric; the “it” factor…but first you gotta put your name on the waiting list.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/reviewtorontoparkdalegrand-electric/

1. Sidedoor- Ottawa

The Sidedoor experience started with impeccable service  the minute I walked in and continued until I left. There was a great cocktail list and the food was even more  impressive. The tuna sashimi might have been the best thing I ate all year and the sinful donuts were a great end to the meal. I was treated to a fantastic pickle tray that wasn’t even on the menu, which contained everything from melon rind to sunchoke to sea asparagus. The tacos were just fine as well. Sidedoor is an example of a perfect storm in which the service, food and environment collide for a truly memorable dining experience. It was so addictive, the next time I went to Ottawa I walked through the cold at 11 pm on a Monday night praying that  by some miracle they’d be open so I could  indulge again.  They weren’t.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/review-ottawa-sidedoor/