Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sassafraz (for Winterlicious)

I realized that this title should probably read '45$ for a three course meal', not 'per plate'. I'm not that rich! And Winterlicious is not that pricey- it would defeat the purpose after all, since this Toronto tradition is all about bringing food to the people. Amazing fine dining like Sassafraz set up a prix fixe that is affordable. The food-lovers win by getting a treat that's in the budget, and the restaurants who participate (there's a whack of them!) get to increase their business over the dreary snowed in months.
I feel like I'm always around Molly and Pietro, always dragging them out to dinner...oh wait! That's because I live with them. YEP. They must be tired of discovering amazing new places in Toronto at which to dine. Am I ever thankful they put up with me!
By the way, Molly is also an illustrator, you can check out her work here.

We actually tried all three of the appetizers offered as part of the prix fixe, but I've only chosen to draw two of them.There was a soup as well, but the presentation wasn't striking enough for me to draw it: just a sea of pale creamy yellow. I'll let you use your imagination just this once.

You might remember that back when I reviewed CAVA last month, my guests and I tried something similar. Cornmeal, poblano chili sauce- we weren't too impressed. That says something since I love cornmeal. Cornbread, Johnny cake, polenta, I will eat it. And I'll usually love it.
This tamale is like how that should have been. To start, this sauce had zip, zap, zing- everything. Flavour was present in spades! The tamale was so moist that it crumbled with full, tender grains, steaming hot, and achieved an almost creamy texture on the tongue. It was so incredibly good, right to the filling of shrimp. Their flavour was not very strong, but there's an art to delicate cooking. Here the buttery shrimp worked with the cornmeal to make a great, not-too-filling appetizer.

A salad by any other name would be as sweet! With this sort of taste bud teaser, you know what to expect. Beets will taste like beets, and arugula will always have that arugula spice. Everything was wonderfully fresh, crunchy, and home-made in the case of the beet chips and toasted pecans. I think that beet chips might have been misleadingly named since I at least was expecting something cooked and crunchy, but I won't complain- I adore cooked beets. The real art in this salad was the orange fennel root dressing, though. It added an interesting level of flavour to what is otherwise an unassuming salad.

Seafood? More like steak! Such a cut of swordfish could easily be mistaken for red meat. It was a lovely colour, and had a heavy body and dense texture, like chicken. All in all, it didn't taste very fishy at all, and just had the satisfying flavour of a good mouthful of meat and char. The polpette -something this meal introduced me to- had us guessing for a little while. Without the menu in front of us, it was hard to remember exactly what tastes we experienced ('we' since everything was shared). Tomato, sure, basil, maybe, feta? Parmesan? I don't know if there was any cheese inside, but there was a nice saltiness that had more flavour than the described ingredients suggest. It also looked beautiful on the plate.
Interestingly enough, the Internet tells me a polpette is usually a variety of meatball...but this was vegetarian!

Just the sort of thing you order to remind yourself that summer is on the in again. How about a wonderfully grilled steak! Cooked to a perfect medium-rare, the slab of steak I tried was so moist that I could pull it apart with my fork. Chewiness was nonexistent. Sassafraz served their steak nonchalantly on a bed of green beans, as if to say 'we do not have to dress up how amazing this is'. They didn't. It was. Ancho herb butter was the only flourish in this entree, which speaks to the skill required to cook a perfect steak.

One of my goals with 'Drawn and Devoured' is to always be bold. When faced with a menu, I will NOT just order the pizza Margharita! I will order that weird thing with the blue cheese.
On that note, I had to try Cornish hen. Not only have I never tried a tiny bird before, but I knew that it would be great to draw- much more interesting than a piece of chicken. I was very surprised when my fowl landed! Don't birds usually have two legs? What happened? I may never know, because I didn't ask- a regret I will carry to my grave. What there WAS was excellent, though. I expect it's easy to overcook so small a thing, but the meat was juicy. I took my time with the stuffing, savouring its complexities. There was a good, earthy mushroom flavour, but also a creamy taste that I can't help but compare to blue cheese. The quinoa spilling out bountifully was buttery, and has converted me to the red variety permanently. It has so much great texture! It was a bit too bad that the winter vegetables were just the same cubed sweet potato that was served with the steak.

Many, many flavours mixed together in this teeny tart. Sweet meringue, rich chocolate, piquant lemon, boozy custard (YES), and the unusual floral taste of lavender. We took our time, enjoying all those layers. The crust was crisp and satisfying. Unlike a pie crust, it was much more solid, almost crunchy.

I have to guess that 'pavee' means 'brick'. This was such a dense chocolate cake, it took ages for us to nibble our way through. Made of a layer of heavy cake topped with a layer of mousse topped with a brittle dark chocolate crust, this dessert embodies richness. As someone who is not a fan of passion fruit, I was happy to find myself really enjoying the sorbet, and how it acted as a relief from the overwhelmingly chocolate wedge. The rosewater gelee was fun, and pretty to look at, but tasted of little but gelatin, with only the slightest hint of rose.

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