It excites me when I meet a young, talented, creative and passionate chef. I am even more excited when he is one of our best, homegrown from my city of Toronto. I am talking about Chef Adrian Niman – a kind, and humble young man, who’s also a real entrepreneur, and even more, he really knows how to cook. In a few short years he went from apprentice to caterer, to food truck to restauranteur, to today’s mini-empire (he has other restaurants, as well) and growing. Although still in his 20’s, he has really shown himself to be passionate and driven. I have totally become a big admirer of his prowess in business and in the kitchen.
At Rasa, Adrian has created a globally inspired menu with an innovative approach. Hence the name, “Rasa”, which means, “blank slate”.
The restaurant has a rustic-chic, casual feel to it, with a cool vibe. There is a mix of concrete, beams, and distressed wood, with copper lighting fixtures and Edison bulbs. The bar area is exposed and there is an open kitchen. Seating is divided into two distinct areas that hold a total of 40 people. In warm weather, an additional 40 people can sit on their wrap-around outdoor patio. The crowd is mostly young and hip, and there is a boisterous and energetic feel to it. The night I dined there, actress Jodie Foster was in the house too. I had been a couple of times when it first opened but I admit I hadn’t been back in quite a while. I have to say even though I enjoyed it then, I think the kitchen has improved even more.
The menu is divided into three categories: “From the Soil”, “From Water” and “From Land”.
Each table starts with some sort of homemade mini bread that changes, ours was reminiscent of a Peruvian roll.
A signature must-have dish is the chopped salad. This perfectly balanced combination of vegetables, quinoa, jalapeño feta, harissa and crunchy chickpeas, has the perfect flavours and texture combination. The Brussels sprouts may be Toronto’s best – done in a scotch bonnet vinegar, with cauliflower cheese, and topped with crispy fried onions. I like how there is a ying and yang to each dish. Another standout dish is the truffle gnudi, done with mushrooms, portobello soil, pickled shimeji in a walnut pesto.
Lucky for me white truffles were in season, and Chef Adrian gave me a substantial grating on top. I thought these fluffy bits of heaven were impossible to improve upon, but fresh truffles took it to another level. One of my guests was a vegetarian and the kitchen is capable of handling allergies or food requests. There were lots of options on the menu for her and a few surprises to accommodate.
The cauliflower is done in a horseradish yogurt, with black vinegar radishes and puffed amaranth. How do you make cauliflower aesthetically appealing? He does. We tried the fish board, which comes with a sampling trio of different fish and seafood. Ours had an albacore tuna, with confit tomato, olives, basil pure and a crispy cheese. There was also an octopus in a sambal sauce, with yellow pepper, lettuce root and purple potato and lentils. The third dish was steelhead trout in a dill crème fraîche, with sauerkraut, black mustard and caraway. Each presentation is infused with distinctive yet subtle flavours.
The lamb sirloin with black garlic eggplant, tahini, fermented jalapeño and fried parsley is a unique and creative dish. I don’t think I have ever tasted such tender lamb. The branzino was prepared in a curried coconut broth, with fall succotash, Lima beans and a side of yucca chips.
Another standout for me is the burger. This just may be my favourite burger in Toronto. It certainly surpasses almost all that I have ever had. It is made with ground steak, beef cheek, provolone in a gochujang and bean sprout kimchee sauce and perfectly cooked to a toothsome perfection, it is outstanding.
Everything is artfully plated – every bite is bursting with flavours, and exciting in a different way.
For dessert, we enjoyed the sticky bun encrusted with a walnut praline, and served with a puddle of cream cheese anglaise, and some sensational candied bacon. We also tried the chocolate malted milk ice cream, with malted crunch and toasted meringue. Again, the ying and yang of taste and texture.
Rasa’s staff are friendly, attentive and knowledgeable. They helped us with descriptions, and gave great suggestions. They even help select our wine. There is a nice menu of craft cocktails as well.
Adrian’s tapas style sharing plates change seasonally.
The restaurant is open every night for dinner except Sunday. They also serve brunch on Sunday and, hallelujah! they even take reservations. I checked out the menu and it looks great, especially the chicken and waffles and the stuffed French toast. On Mondays they offer a three-course tasting menu at $40, and you can also request a tasting menu during the week. It is a four-course meal, plus dessert at $60.
I feel this restaurant is a little under the radar and it is a must visit, one of Toronto’s best.