Where: 98 Portland St., Toronto
What: Restaurant, modern-Asian
At this business dinner, don’t expect the client to be on the phone. For at Sara all things mobile-related are to be tucked away in the table’s centre, hidden beneath a slab of perfect marble until the meal comes to a close. And that’s partially, at least, what makes this new restaurant so enticing.
Housed in a Victorian semi that is quintessentially Toronto, and designed by renowned firm ODAMI, Sara is the elder sibling to Harbord’s Rasa. Inside, calmness envelops the space, which has been outfitted in pastel hues that feel very Scandinavia by way of Japan. Those aforementioned marble tables line the downstairs room like sleek puzzle pieces, sat against a backdrop of washed-out sea foam green banquettes. Upstairs the ceiling lifts into precise angles, drawing to mind the crystalline structure of the ROM and pairing beautifully with the blonde wood of the staircase.
It’s no surprise that this discerning approach continues on with the meal itself; dinner begins with warm towelettes scented with mint and eucalyptus, a simple trick that immediately elevates the experience. The menu — a collaboration between Food Dudes’ founder Adrian Niman along with chef Mary Dinh and sous Graham Gibb, who both hopped over from Rasa. They’ve divvied it up into three easily digestible sections: small plates, dumplings and the robata grill. Sharing, as Torontonians love to do, is the goal here.
Snacky dishes like the truffle crullers act as diner catnip; two savoury rounds get dollops of fermented tomato and are finished with a flurry of parmesan. Shaved and twice-fried potato is transformed into robust batons the menu calls French fries, but are far more than your average fry. Dishes for the more health conscious include the snap pea slaw with Asian pear for a wallop of crunch, while the plant-based chopped salad tops a medley of greens with champagne grapes and a lacing of cashew poblano cheese.
From the robata hails dishes like the king salmon, grilled over Japanese binchotan charcoal that delivers a distinct flavour without the typical smokiness. Squid ink dumplings bathing in hollandaise are stuffed with scallops and finished with king crab for good measure. Ordering them twice in a row wouldn’t be unheard of. A compact dessert menu includes a party sandwich, which presses chocolate-tahini ice cream between slabs of chocolate cake, with miso-caramel to finish.
Nothing has been missed at Sara; the attention to detail extends down to the basement where, upon entry into the single-person loos, the Japanese toilet lids lift in anticipation. Only the most elegant of bidets for this place. If this doesn’t impress the client, we’re at a loss.