Restaurant review: SARA

The Food Dudes strike gold again with an incredible Asian-influenced menu that highlights the diversity of Toronto’s cuisine.

What’s the vibe

The Food Dudes insatiable desire to feed the good people of Toronto – by food truck, catering, or at one of their growing number of restaurants around the city – charges ahead with their latest (and dare we say, greatest?) offering. SARA perfectly sums up everything great about Toronto with a menu that spans from yellowtail sashimi to kimchi french fries before bouncing back to chopped salad and aged PEI ribeye; a beautifully curated list that could so easily seem haphazard if it wasn't in the capable hands of the head chef, Mary Dinh.

Despite educated guesses that SARA is just an acronym of fellow Food Dudes restaurant Rasa, its conception actually stems from one of its employees. A dishwasher called Tony proposed the name SARA, a.k.a. the Japanese word for small plates – a fitting moniker for the Asian-influenced tapas style dishes served.

The design, courtesy of ODAMI, is all about simplicity. The clean lines, white unadorned walls, and green and pink seating aim to focus guests in on the meal at hand. Small inset boxes with two finger holes decorate each table – the idea being that should guests wish to cut out dining distractions, they can imprison their phone in a cell for the duration of the meal. The boxes are deceptively heavy, discouraging furtive glances here and there.

What to drink

There’s plenty to choose from on the drinks menu, but the real focus here is gin. Whether you like a juniper-based G&T or prefer your gin more floral, you can select this and the accoutrements – grapefruit, rosemary, cloves – from their extensive menu. Then squeeze and stir to your liking, with their nifty metal straws.

Currently, there are around 25 wines on the menu – whites of all expressions and light to medium reds, with some natural wine available also. However, the goal is to double this over the next few months and to build a custom storage unit downstairs. Currently, there are six Canadian wines represented, with options from as nearby as Etobicoke on the menu. SARA's sommelier and manager, Jason Zinger, is on hand with wine suggestions and pairings. The riesling from Charles Baker 'B-Side' and the very reasonably priced Maison Tramier pinot noir were particular highlights.

What to eat

Adam Minster, co-owner of SARA & RASA, describes the food as “global flavours done in small plates,” recommending that guests order at least ten if you’re peckish. We kick things off with squash latkes, topped with whipped cream and salmon roe that is quite literally bursting with flavour.

Next up is the crispy and fresh Shanghai pork – layers of chili vinegar, scallion and spice that builds nicely with each bite and may require a drink refresh. The wagyu grilled cheese is the fanciest drunk food you'll ever eat, with beef cured in-house and a punchy mustard that will get up your nostrils in the best way possible.

Produce is sourced locally where possible, but since the main goal is to find the right blend of flavours, SARA won't limit itself to Canadian only ingredients.

The dessert menu is small but mighty at SARA. Miso and caramel combine with chocolate and tahini for the tasty and surprising party sandwich. The PB&J nitro ice cream is an elevated comfort classic – but exercise patience. "Leave it a minute or it'll freeze to your mouth," warns our server.

Dinner and drinks: about $150

98 Portland St, 416-985-5721,