I still dream about the day I sunk my teeth into soft, pillowy gnudi in the shape of dumplings soaked in truffle oil and walnut pesto. And the way the carrot cake brought little sweet bites of happiness that my stomach couldn't tell whether it was butterflies or my sweet tooth jumping with excitement like a pogo.
Rasa has been on my bucket list ever since it opened in June 2014 by the Food Dudes, who you may recognize as a food truck turned catering rockstar. Led by executive chef Adrian Niman, the brain behind the menu, the cuisine perfectly represents what "Toronto" is - a melting pot of cultures.
It's through this tapas-style concept that you get to experience so many ethnic flavours around the globe. So I truly lucked out that my guest, a fellow freelancer/creative genius, had an appreciation for all cuisines and was ready to tackle anything on the menu.
The name Rasa translates to "essence" in Sanskrit. "It’s about creating," says co-owner and creative director Brent McClenahan. "It’s about taking something imaginary and making it real. That’s what life is about.”
The space has gone through a complete 360 transformation from a into a modern industrial chic place seating just shy of 50, plus an outdoor 40-seat patio perfect for people watching. The "Chef's table" is a great spot to watch the chefs in action. If you're without a reservation, there are seating available near the front of the restaurant with amazingly comfy leather chairs.
The cocktail selection is stellar, having been developed by mixologist Chanel Wood (formerly of Cold Tea and Rodney's Oyster House). From the 8 signature cocktails to boot, I fell in love with the Chartreuse Swizzle. I usually don't go for fruity drinks but this one blew it out of the ball park. The nutty sweetness of the macademia syrup balanced out the sour lime and refreshing pineapple juice, which I'd consider as the new bff to chartreuse.
Our complimentary snack came with walnut, raisin, clementine, goat cheese on a bite-size crouton. This kept our stomachs happily distracted while we were too busy pondering in an indecisive manner what to order off a menu that seemed to have 21 too-many-good options (but a decision ain't one).
As we trusted our waitress' recommendation, we started off with the Chopped Salad. If you've ever judged a dish by its name, I suggest you wipe away that thinking now and embrace the epicness of what a "chopped" salad truly is: a mindblowing piece of crunchy vegetables, smooth macedonia feta, laden with bits of quinoa and crispy deep fried chick peas with tangy Sumac, which adds a beautiful pop of colour. I almost forgot at one point that I was eating salad!
Next came the Truffle Gnudi and wow. One bite of this and you're in Italian heaven. The gnudi is subtly crispy on the outside and immediately melts in your mouth with walnut pesto that's good enough to lick off the plate. I like to call this a tribute to mushrooms because I lost count of how many different local mushrooms are in this dish - from the portabello soil to the pickled shimenji. Gone are the nightmares of being a vegetarian.
The Thai-inspired Bangkok bowl is beautifully presented with calamari that's lightly crisp as parchment paper, yet tender on the inside. Underneath you have fresh raw yellow fin tuna encrusted in black sesame over a base of mango jicama slaw. Calamari is easy to criticize yet hard to cook just right, but this dish made me a happy calamari camper as it was cooked to perfection.
Finally, we ordered a weekly inspired dessert which had carrot cake with whipped mascarpone and a medey of crushed granola bits. Simply the end all be all, this is a must-try for all carrot cake lovers. Even after I was stuffed to the fullest and felt like my food belly couldn't possibly expand any more, I still managed to gulp this one down in just a few bites like a hungry girl.
I definitely prolonged my stay, thanks to the great hospitality by the staff and wonderful conversation that makes time go by quickly. The prices are well worth an above satisfactory experience, as the Food Dudes know how to deliver on value. After splitting the bill, it came to $63 each person. They've far exceeded my expectations and I hope to be back soon to explore the rest of the menu. When it comes to Rasa, food really knows no boundaries!
196 Robert Street