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

Review:Toronto:Food Trucks:Food Dudes

A couple of days after Hogtown Smoke, I ventured back to the corner of Sherbourne and Front to take on Food Dudes. An established catering company in Toronto, Food Dudes joined the truck craze a few months back.  I’m learning with food trucks to get there early to avoid longs lines and product shortages if possible. I’m also learning that gas station parking lots are an interesting place to meet people. In this case, I was first in line, narrowly beating out a woman with a large parrot on her shoulder.  They were there for the Mac and Cheese balls.

Food Dudes Menus (subject to change)

Must

Who am I to question a parrot? The Mac and Cheese balls were a great start, served hot and in a shallow pool of fresh, spicy marinara. The crisp outside and  gooey, rich middle was balanced by the tart, acidic and spicy sauce.  The shaved cheese  and fresh herbs filled out the flavor profile.  A fun, balanced dish overall. Based on the parrot’s reaction, I wasn’t alone.

Mac and Cheese Balls

Other than the fact they were round, I wondered why they were called nutella bombs.   I made the mistake of biting into one (I guess the normal protocol is to eat the whole thing at once) and found out.  There was a minor explosion, luckily away from me and on to the ground. The remnants were delicious; a sinful mix of banana bread and nutella coated with corn flakes and garnished with whipped cream and bourbon caramel sauce.  They had an intense sweetness but it was contained in a small morsel and was a funky way to end the meal.

Nutella Bombs

Maybe

The fish taco can be described as Cap’n Crunch meets Captain Highliner.  Served in pairs, these cod tacos were decent.  The coating didn’t have the intensity of sweetness I expected from the cereal and it  provided an appreciated crunch instead of a soggy batter which often come with other fish tacos. Whether it was the shape or the texture they did, however, remind me a little of the fish sticks that went from blue box to cookie sheet to oven that haunted my childhood. The condiments were a bit scarce and a little underwhelming but the sauce was tasty and fresh.

Cap”n Crunch Cod Tacos

The BBQ pork shoulder was served on a cheddar jalapeno biscuit and topped with a southwest slaw providing most of the components of a southern barbeque meal with the added benefit of being able to hold it on one hand. The biscuit was delicious and the other components were decent. The pork was moist but it was more about  the sauce and less about the meat itself. Not a bad sandwich overall, but it was like an anchor in my stomach  and I don’t think I could finish it on a good day.

BBQ Pork Shoulder on Cheddar Jalapeno Biscuit

Mundane

The chicken curry was a bit of a mess. It was served overflowing in an asian-style take out container which eventually leaked out the bottom.  The dish itself was average, lacking any of the extremities of  flavour and spiciness of a good curry.  Call me a purist, but I like a plain basmati rice with a curry.  Instead, this curry was served with a sticky rice which didn’t do much to help.

Chicken Curry

My Take

With exploding balls, tacos inspired by fictional sea captains, anchor-like sandwiches and a mac and cheese eating parrot I felt I was in “Pirates of the Caribbean”.  The mates behind the counter were courteous and the booty was fine. Stick with the staples such as the cod tacos, and you’ll yell yo-ho-ho.  The mac and cheese and nutella balls made me shiver me timbers but the curry was blimey.  With great variety, great service and an established catering business in a hot food truck market (check out http://torontofoodtrucks.ca/), I don’t see Food Dudes sinking to meet Davy Jones’ anytime soon.

Food Dudes on Urbanspoon