Rasa inhabits restaurant row on charming Harbord Street, in Toronto’s leafy Annex area. The space resembles a hipster’s cheery country kitchen: reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs, concrete floors, wood-topped bar. The restaurant is instantly welcoming and early on a Saturday night, fills with a boisterous crowd.
No wonder the place is packed. Rasa has hit on a winning formula: Reasonably priced, globally influenced food served in casual surroundings without a hint of pretension. Creativity means nothing, however, unless it’s backed by faultless execution. At Rasa, rock-solid technique rules.
I can’t remember enjoying a salad more than Rasa’s chopped creation loaded with kale moistened with red wine vinaigrette; smooth puree of jalapeno-spiked feta; tangy, slightly lemony sumac spice; and crispy chickpeas.
Red miso and gruyere add deep umami notes to a slab of custardy eggplant garnished with sunflower microgreens. Truffle paste brings earthy notes to ricotta gnudi dumplings given further earthiness with mixed mushrooms and Portobello ‘soil.’
Mains show that apps were no fluke. A dollop of airy sherry cream accessorizes tender shrimp jazzed with smoked tomato, chimichurri and black rice. A clever savoury granola (barley, rye flakes, pumpkin and sunflower seeds) adds slight crunch and nutty notes to pork belly amplified with tangy, onion-perfumed buttermilk. The menu jet-hops to India thanks to soft slices of lamb tenderloin perfumed with vadouvan (Frenchified curry powder), tandoori vegetables and raita-style tahini.
Desserts are terrific, too. Cleverly built on smoked chocolate, semi-freddo startles with its earthy jolt. Cream cheese-enriched custard sauce animates a moist, pecan-crusted sticky bun. Best of a strong bunch: Gingerbread cake, white chocolate mousse, poached pineapple and coconut lime foam, a brilliant and heavenly flavour combo.
Buyouts will be considered for Rasa, which seats 50. The Food Dudes catering operation, run out of a kitchen in east-end Toronto, can handle events of all types and sizes.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,300 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.