On Ossington Avenue, just south of Dundas, a large, flashy sign reads "Rhapsody" in stylized letters. It's much less understated than the small glowing sign of sister spot Mrs. Robinson. Looking inside, it's all dark with just a hint of glimmering light. The new Toronto bar and restaurant, or resto-lounge as it's been billed, just opened earlier this month and is already poised to become one of the best bars in the city.
Rhapsody: The vibe
Stepping inside past the dark, velvety curtains, I'm instantly enthralled. Three magnificent chandeliers wear hundreds of tiny crystalline leaves that shimmer above the bar. These and the illuminated shelves of the backbar are the brightest part of the restaurant, which is otherwise shrouded in darkness.
Small sconces and table lamps cast a gold glow on the deep green and dark blue walls. Aside from the whimsical chandeliers, the design is on the edgy side with plenty of chrome and reflective, metallic surfaces.
Rhapsody feels both like a cocktail bar you could get dressed up for and a neighbourhood haunt that you could wander into. During our visit, the DJ remixes old R&B songs into modern, dancey tunes. We can't help but bop along and vibe out while we sip and snack.
Rhapsody: The menu
Peruvian-born chef Elias Salazar has created a knock-out menu of Nikkei (Peruvian-meets-Japanese) share plates. When I first heard the name Rhapsody, I didn't quite get it until visiting the spot. Salazar's dishes contain layers and layers of different flavours that work surprisingly harmoniously together.
The Causa de Cameron is like a fully loaded Peruvian potato with shrimp salad on top, which sounds (and looks) like an unruly medley, but is so delicious. Whipped Yukon gold potato provides the base for avocados and shrimp in a creamy Limo Pepper Mayonnaise with a kick from spicy Aji Amarillo. It's topped with umami roe, a delicate quail's egg and two crunchy pieces of breaded shrimp tempura. I really don't want to say it's a symphony of flavours but...
Served with all the drama of a *cough* rhapsody, the Ceviche Mixto arrives with plumes of smoke wafting out of a dry ice nest under the bowl. I'm always sus about dishes with elaborate plating, but the flavours make my eyes boggle as much as the presentation. Using a spoon (don't judge me) I shovel the spicy, zesty, sweet, Aji Rocoto Tigers Milk into my mouth with bites of tender octopus, juicy shrimp and red onion. I'm grateful for the crunchy Andean corn and sweet yam that cool my palate and add texture to the dish. The dry ice is the only thing that prevents me from lifting the bowl to my lips.
On the larger side, the Pulpo Parrillero is a tender, charred octopus tentacle and a big chunk of chewy, crispy pork belly swimming in more of chef Salazar's delectable sauces.
Everything we put in our mouths is excellent, but my favourite dish of the night has to be the Tostada Nikkei. Layers of nori are fried tempura style to make a crunchy, salty, seaweed cracker that's covered with sushi rice, delicate bites of yellowfin tuna and uni, and torched avocado. A sprinkling of togarashi, roe and caviar top off this delectable dish that's reminiscent of a tuna hand roll that's evolved into its final form.
The evening's finale, the Tres Leches is a light, sweet and perfectly petite dessert that tastes like peach cobbler with the warming spices of a pumpkin pie.
Rhapsody: The cocktails
Mirroring the food menu, the bar program is full of just as many layered, intricate flavours. Bar manager Joe Beiglee's cocktail menu is a masterpiece. I start the night with Above the Clouds, an almost clear, rum-based cocktail served over large cubes of ice. The mixture of coconut cordial, pineapple, cucumber and lime is sweet and refreshing, but unexpected umami notes from sesame oil make this a palate piquing serve. With every sip, my tastebuds are left thoroughly confused yet infinitely curious for more.
My Cherie Amour is an easy crowd-pleaser that I could drink all night. With gin, honey, raspberry and lemon, it's sweet, tart and lusciously foamy. The bright blue Speedboat is booze-forward and smoky with mezcal, tequila, blue curaçao and refreshing hints of lime and eucalyptus. The All Caps is another strong one with rum, pisco, sherry, gin and orange curaçao, but it has a velvety mouthfeel and goes down easy.
With her immaculate vibes and alluring design, Rhapsody is like Mrs. Robinson's artsy, edgy older sister who just moved to town from New York or London. She's cool without being in your face about it. I could easily see this becoming one of my go-to date night or Friday night spots.
Dinner and drinks for two: Around $130 before tax and tip