It’s not something you often hear in Toronto: “I’m looking forward to winter.” But at Rasa, a comfortable little restaurant in the city’s Harbord Village, it’s a sentence uttered more than once. “When people are here in winter they’re like, ‘Oh, this is amazing, I’m watching the snow fall from these big windows; in the summertime they say, ‘I can’t wait to come here in winter, it’s such a cozy restaurant,” says Adam Minster, Rasa’s general manager and co-owner. Rich, dark browns and low ceilings make the space feel inviting and warm; Minster mentions the banquettes, which are stuffed with memory foam for maximum relaxation. “We want people to sink into those seats and feel comfortable,” he says. Mission accomplished. Oh, and the food is more than fine, too.
Rasa was opened last summer by the Food Dudes, a local catering company. The brick-and-mortar location allows the chefs to dig their heels in, to experiment, and, as Minster points out, to be held responsible for what they produce. “The sentiment is pretty much that with catering, as long as you don’t put a really crappy product out there, people are going to like it because they’re not paying for it,” he says. “It was always a dream of [the Food Dudes] and a dream of mine to have a place where you’re under microscope the whole time. If you do something, if put a product on a plate that’s not good or treat someone the wrong way, you’re going to hear about it, because they’re pulling out their wallets at end of the meal. So you’d better give them what they want. We enjoy the challenge of having people right here and judging us on the spot—because we think we do a pretty good job.” Certainly: the fresh, home-style, made-in-house menu is small but mighty. Start with mini muffins and lime butter, or maybe the “popcorn chicken” barbeque sweetbreads; indulge in the burger (steak, beef cheek, provolone, squash kimchi) and even it out with the veg slate of summer vegetables, smoked sunchokes, baba ganoush, and beet chips; try the truffle gnudi, with local mushrooms and walnut pesto; and do save room for a sticky bun (with almond praline and candied bacon) for dessert.
For Minster, a first-time restaurateur, the process has been “a rollercoaster ride of emotion. It’s amazing, there’s nothing else in the world I would rather do. And I think you have to truly have that stance if you want to go into the restaurant industry—you can’t ever think that it’s not 110 per cent what you love and what you want to do for the rest of your life—because it is extremely taxing and gruelling to own a restaurant. But it’s been an amazing ride and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.” And truly, Rasa is good in every season.
Rasa, 196 Robert Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2K8, Canada, 647-350-8221.