Mon Cheri worked in Yorkville for a few years and we wanted to take me to Sassafraz for some time now. It was a lucky coincidence that the restaurant decided to run a Groupon menu after the holidays so we jumped on the offer. Previously, we had subpar experiences with Winterlicious as well as Summerlicious menus. The Groupon special menu was in line with Sassafraz’s regular offerings and did not disappoint us in terms of food quality.
There was no obvious signage outside, we did not even notice the restaurant name written anywhere. The standalone Victorian house is definitely a landmark of its own. Do not let the small frontage mislead you – the building is very large on the inside.
Walking in, we felt like we are visiting someone’s living room. The café area was definitely casual and more lounge-like. The interior was a bit dated, but that added a certain charm to the setting. Our choice was the dining area which we were promptly escorted to through a side door.
On our way to the far end of the restaurant, we noticed that the demographic consisted of shi shi foo foo folk for the most part. The white banquette hall setting with roses enhanced the feeling. It seemed almost plain, trying not to offend anyone. We were particularly disappointed with the long tables making a private conversation challenging. The distance to a person at the next table was actually shorter than to your own date across. On the bright side, you can always befriend someone else’s date and chat with them. A large skylight pointed roof, loft-sized green wall and a waterfall made the setting quite pleasant.
The special menu allowed for quite a latitude of choice so it took us a few minutes to select. A glass of 2014 Nero d'Avola Italian red and one more of 2014 Pinot Grigio from Srerenissima were an easy choice. Good wines at $10 a glass was they were versatile enough to go with most of the dishes. Real candles all around and dimmed lighting created a romantic setting – we started feeling very relaxed and finally chose Braised Ontario Pork Belly with Spiced Pumpkin Croquette as well as Butternut and Acorn Squash Soup for appetizers. Ontario Cornish Hen with Truffle Sourdough Stuffing and Sturgeon on a Bed of Purple Quinoa sounded terrific for main courses. Although we usually skip the dessert, a Rhubarb Cheesecake plus some Beignets sounded irresistible so we ordered them as well.
Kicking back to relax after the most difficult part of the evening (making choices), we noticed a very common thing in restaurants - a wine rack exposed to plenty of light and potentially heat. It remains a mystery to us why so many places continue subjecting their wine to this kind of treatment. It really doesn't give a wine enthusiast a good feel on how they treat their wines.
Pork Belly with Spiced Pumpkin Croquette was a very elaborate appetizer both in terms of presentation and taste complexity. The Butternut Squash purée and Apple Garlic Jam nicely offset the crispy pork belly meat. At the same time, the side of pumpkin spice purée (with plenty of cloves and also lightly fried) was a bit bready and dry to our taste. It is definitely an appetizer worth trying mainly because of the rich meaty taste strongly enhanced by frying as well as the unique apple jam scattered in small pieces and adding a perfect combo of zesty sweetness to the dish.
The second appetizer was decisively less interesting, but, to give it credit, still very much worthwhile. The butternut and acorn squash soup was adorned with a swirl of calvados cumin yogurt and was furthermore topped with crisply sage leaves. These leaves definitely added to the otherwise ordinary dish, in our opinion. Also, the taste of cinnamon in there was not too overwhelming, for those sensitive. Ontario Cornish Hen with Truffle Sourdough Stuffing and water chestnut squash hash looked terrific with the food beautifully laid out on the plate. The chicken meat was a bit fatty, but that greatly contributed to the taste. We suspected also some walnut mixed in there. To top this off, Brussels sprouts leaves and very flavourful brown butter were hen’s companions. As a side, some lightly fried diced veggies occupied the corner of this plate. Cornish Hen was a very strongly positioned dish, full of flavour, nicely presented and wholesome overall. Well worth a try.
One of the priciest items on the menu was BC Sturgeon on a Bed of Purple Quinoa. It came surrounded by yellow radishes and green sauce painted all around. Even more ingredients piled up: saffron poached baby turnips, saved fennel and parsley emulsion. The fish itself is of an exceptionally high quality and there was plenty of it on the plate. So thick was the fillet that we found it somewhat dry towards the middle. On the other hand, the turnips garnish added a lot to the mix as well as shaved fennel accenting the palate. We found parsley to be an unwelcome guest here.
We seamlessly moved towards our desserts. An original Cheesecake with no bottom crust had a beautiful texture with dried rhubarb inside adding sour tanginess. The strawberry compote under, on the other hand, offset it with sweetness. A thin, sharp, dark chocolate piece was there to help the compote too. A well-made cheesecake is always a delight. A tiny macaroon was an adorable addition to the plate. The Maple Beignets, on the other hand, we found somewhat lacking. A sense of dried oil producing not that aromatic of a smell. These deep fried pastries with amaretto crème anglaise and butterscotch glaze could, potentially, work better with a dark coffee and not after a very filling meal. This dish honoured classic beignets, as opposed to trying to push and innovate this dish. It didn't compare next to the cheesecake.
Our waiter Giovanni was very pleasant and attentive. We were more concentrated on food so we were not overly talkative, but he could definitely keep up a conversation if we wanted to. We found Sassafraz to be touch too much of a formal, uptight experience for us (at least that day), not only the interior but also the customers contributed to that feel. Fortunately, it was an amazing food adventure. A French-Canadian cuisine with international hints to it, the menu was well balanced with enough choice to satisfy a wide variety of taste preferences.