Rasa opened in Harbord Village this past June and has settled comfortably into the neighbourhood over these last few months. Occupying a subterranean space that was formerly Momo's and Momo's Groceteria & Bakery , this restaurant collaboration between The Food Dudes and first-time restaurateur/front-of-house manager Adam Minster serves up eclectic sharing plates and carefully crafted cocktails.
The look of the spot is appealingly masculine, and doesn't try to hide the fact that it's in a basement-like setting. Food Dudes creative director Brent McClenahan and Damon Snider of Type-D are responsible for the design of the space, which received a complete overhaul post-Momo's and now looks like a modern industrial bunker/lodge, with a mix of concrete, metallic details and a heavy helping of wood beams.
Dining areas are split into multiple sections: there's a four-seat "chef's counter" where you can watch as your food is prepared in the open kitchen; a cozy main dining area in the back, along with a sleek bar; a front area reserved for walk-ins; and a heated patio that wraps around the northwest corner of Harbord and Robert - a pleasant place to perch and people watch.
Food Dudes executive chef Adrian Niman is the brain behind the menu, and in typical Food Dudes style, the cuisine is decidedly "Toronto" - influenced by the melting pot culture of the city. The tapas-style concept allows diners to experience a range of ethnically inflected flavours on beautifully presented plates.
A fish board trio (MP, currently $24) consists of cold smoked salmon over a schmear of creme fraiche, sprinkled with an everything bagel crumble, mini gherkins and slices of orange - a play on a bagel and lox; torched scallops on sushi rice with yuzu aioli, crispy nori, Thai basil and fermented chilies, a mouthful of fusion-y goodness; and an interpretation of a tuna caprese salad with basil puree, cherry tomatoes and grana padano crisps that doesn't miss the mozzarella di bufalo. On this one plate, Rasa's already dabbled in Jewish, Japanese, Thai and Italian fare.
There's another Italian-inspired dish in the form of truffle gnudi ($18). The soft, pillowy dumplings are accompanied by parsley pesto, mache (or lamb's lettuce ), more grana padano crisps, and mushrooms galore - in emulsion form, as a "portobello soil" and pickled, locally sourced shimeji. My dining companion, who usually isn't a fan of fungi, is now a convert with this particular combo of 'shrooms.
Now it's onto a taste of the Middle East (perhaps a nod to the previous occupant?), with a make-your-own mini shawarma platter ($24). Roasted lamb neck on the bone, chickpea tahini, harissa hot sauce, pickled jicama (a nice twist on the typical radish), tabbouleh and mini flatbreads come ready for assembly, and make for a fun DIY dining activity.
As for the bar, they're serious about their cocktails here, and labour-intensive libations created by Chanel Wood (formerly of Cold Tea ) will vary seasonally.
We try a Gonzalo's Sour ($13) a frothy sherry-based concoction with fresh lemon and egg white (the way a sour should be made) as well as a Texas Guinan ($15), a boozy mix of Bulleit bourbon, Amaro Sibilla (an Italian bitter liqueur), Santa Maria Cream Sherry, Chartreuse and cardamom bitters.
I also sample Wood's seasonal punch ($7), which currently contains clarified milk ( fascinating ), Pisco and brandy (delicious!). If you're feeling indecisive, you can even tell the bar your likes and dislikes and a bespoke drink will be created.
Minster, who ran front-of-house for Bloke & 4th (at one point another Food Dudes venture) and staged at Pangaea , says Rasa's menu will change up every few months to keep things fresh and have regulars returning for more. In an area that loves to support local businesses, this sounds like a solid plan. Prices here add up and it's definitely not a cheap place to dine, but the experience is worth every penny.
Rasa is currently open Tuesdays through Sundays from 5pm to midnight.
Photos by Jesse Milns