Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 100 Cumberland Street
Time of visit: Dinner on a Friday in January
When so many restaurants are dimly lit and swathed in dark browns, it’s refreshing to walk into a bright, white-washed room. The waterfall feature wall has been maintained nicely and still looks beautiful and impressive. Perhaps, what is most appreciated, is the healthy distance between tables – something about not having to slide into your seat sideways and manoeuvering jackets and bags with strangers on shared bench space always starts the meal right.
My last visit to Sassafraz happened two years ago and I vaguely recall the experience. So, when Groupon was offering a three course meal used for four people for only $105 it seemed too good to be true – an economical way to return to the restaurant. But, since it was a deal, we prepared for disappointment; thankfully, the meal turned out terrific.
My appetizer of tempura isn’t on their regular menu. A generous portion of crispy calamari, octopus tentacles and green bean tempura was topped with a sprinkling of chopped red chillies. Unlike Japanese tempura the batter is heavier and accompanied with sweet chili thai and sriracha aioli dipping sauces.
Although the dish’s presentation wasn’t impressive, it tasted good. The batter and chopped chilis already had such great flavour that the dipping sauces weren’t necessarily required. The calamari was cut into large pieces rather that in the typical small rings. I like this as the seafood tastes meatier and retains its moisture; the octopus tentacles were equally well cooked. The green beans, on the other hand, were too oily due to ratio of batter; zucchini strips or bundling the green bean before battering may be better.
The halibut, also not on their regular menu, was an equally large portion. The fish had a nice pan seared crust and the lemon butter sauce complimented the mild halibut well. But, what I enjoyed most were the accompanying poppy seed spaetzle and crisp Swiss chard. Spaetzle, a German side dish of dough slivers, is not found often at restaurants. The only time I’ve ever tried it was at O&B Café and their version pales in comparison to Sassafraz. I enjoy the larger sized pieces which allow the dough to be softer and contrast the crisp pan fried exterior. The Swiss chard was cooked perfectly so that it retained its vibrant red colour and crisp texture, I would have happily trade in the halibut for more of it!
My husband had their 10 oz. striplion with horseradish scented pommes puree with olive ($33). The striplion, despite being a leaner cut of beef, was cooked well and tender. I found the mashed potatoes to have a slightly sour taste that I found strange, but my husband enjoyed it.
For dessert I had the donuts ($12), which are three churros dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with chocolate ganache and dulche de leche dipping sauces. Made to order, they were hot, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. There was just the right amount of cinnamon sugar and the bitterness of the dark chocolate sauce complimented the sweetness. The dessert was a great ending to the meal.
Unfortunately, when offering deals, some restaurants treat customers with subpar service. At Sassafraz this didn’t happen and they were as gracious as they’d normally be, attentive at filling up empty wine and water glasses. The manager even came around at the beginning the welcome all patrons and solicit their feedback at the end of the meal. Competing restaurants should take note of this trait – when you are offering a deal this is your occasion to promote your restaurant and obtain feedback from new customer groups, so use the opportunity wisely!
Overall mark - 8 out of 10
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Gastro World's Grading System
- Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
- 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
- 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
- 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
- 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
- 10 - absolute perfection!