You do not have to indulge in a fine dining experience to receive outstanding food. One of Toronto’s hottest new restaurants, Sara, has a kitchen bursting with ambition, inventive and creative food in a serene, yet casual environment.
A collaboration of hearts and minds, that share a vision, with Executive Chef Adrian Niman, and his partners, Adam Minster, Brent McClenahan, Lindsay Klein and company of others, they have created a more upscale, sister restaurant to Rasa, one of my personal favourites. Mary Dinh who was a sous chef at Rasa, now heads up the kitchen at Sara, with Davin Shearer. They spent a year creating the menu and even went on trips to San Francisco and Japan for inspiration. “Sara” means, “small plates” in Japanese, and the eclectic menu definitely encourages the sharing of a steady procession of these dishes, with Japanese, Asian, and Jewish influences.
Sara is housed in a lovely Victorian, two floor home in the entertainment district of Toronto, at 98 Portland Street. You can see the effort and expense that went into their latest project. The space is serene, minimalist, with soft hues, light woods made of rift sawn oak, quartz table tops, that are curved and can cleverly fit into each other, to make different seating configurations. Each table has a cubby where you can store your phone and you can actually connect with your food and dinner companion. The meal begins with a hot towel. Also, check out the bathrooms, you may not want to leave, but you must, because the food is quite impressive and mouthwatering.
The menu is divided into small dishes, dumplings, charcoal grill and sweets. The French fries were an original dish, made with schmaltz (chicken fat), kewpie, kimchi and topped with bonito flakes. The squash latkes are topped with salmon roe, chive cream and kombu syrup, are a one bite wonder. The Shanghai pork dumplings in a chili vinegar were bursting with flavour, and the charcoal black cod, in a miso garlic bagna cauda, was served with an apple mostarda and snap pea tips that were delightful. There were so many highlights on the menu, but the standouts for me were the scallop and crab infused with a buttery, creamy hollandaise and served in a squid ink dumpling. The PEI aged rib eye was sliced very thin and formed around a skewer, grilled over charcoal, and served with king, oyster and maitake mushrooms and nasturtium leaves. Tender and flavourful, they nailed this dish. Then there is the wagyu Reuben, a toasted buttered sandwich with gruyere, sauerkraut and truffle mustard that will make you squirm with delight. Of course, the team is famous for their chopped salad, and this one differs from Rasa in that it is completely vegan, but no less stellar. Made with the addition of poblano cashew cheese and wasabi peas, it is a lighter, fresher version. Something completely new for me was the bincho broccoli, with kohlrabi cake, nuoc man and almonds, it was original and delicious.
Dessert has three offerings and we tried two of them. The lighter choice is a take on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich called the PB&J, made with raspberry jam done two ways, a peanut crumble, and a peanut butter mousse, made with a liquid nitrogen. The other a take on an ice cream sandwich, called The Party Sandwich, created with tahini ice cream, a dense chocolate cake, and dipped in chocolate and white sesame. This is surrounded by cashew brittle and miso caramel. Decadent yet not too sweet.
It is so refreshing to see a restaurant change it up and think outside the box. They are on trend, but also thoughtful. Coolness is important, but so is great food, and they deliver. They have an eclectic playful selection, that is inventive, in an inviting space, with an emphasis on quality ingredients, a kitchen that is knocking it out of the park, and a warm, friendly, and knowledgeable crew that works hard, stays positive and makes this place wonderful.
Currently, open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner. They will be opening shortly on Mondays as well, with a smaller, fixed price menu. They will eventually be open for lunch Monday through Friday, serving lighter fare like their chopped salad with an additional protein, and some specialty sandwiches.