Rakia Bar has taken over the space that formerly housed the Red Rocket Cafe. The industrial decor of exposed brick and piping remain but are now softened by prominent wood paneling and relaxed lounge seating. Although the new occupant does serve Julius Meinl coffee, the star of the show - as their name suggests - is the rakia. Popular in Eastern Europe, rakia is a fruit brandy commonly made with plum or grape although many other fruits can be used including raspberry, apple, and juniper.
My meal began with a small bread plate (not pictured) served with a rich dip made with pig fat. Soon after, a chilled apple rakia arrived. It is all about the pairing of food and drink here so accordingly, a mezza (small tapa) also accompanied the drink. The mezza provided small savoury bitefuls of cheese, cured meats, and pickled vegetables. The rakia was a remarkably fragrant and silky smooth drink that created a slightly surprising but mild wave of heat in the chest. This heat is characteristic of rakia and to accommodate everyone, the drinks come in three intensity levels: mild, medium and hot (represented by the thickness of a cartoon moustache on the menu). Several of the drinks also have fun names such as Mr. Tesla and The Hobbit and I'm told that the names are often homages to Eastern European figures and literary characters.
Next, I tried the Chevapi Trio ($15). It consists of three types of uncased sausages (venison, lamb and boar) that are all delicious and flavourful although the lamb was my personal favourite. The sausages come with cherry onion preserve, cultured herb cream cheese (similar to yogurt with a mild herb flavour), and Balkan-style flat bread.
For a main, the Duck Leg Paprikash ($30) is a rich seasoned dish of duck leg and breast.The duck skin is perfectly crispy while the meat is tender and juicy, literally falling off the bone. The duck is served with Hungarian egg dumplings called nokedli which are soft and slightly chewy, quite similar to gnocchi. Some baby spinach, summer squash and red pepper round off the dish.
For dessert, I decided on the Shne Nokle ($9) - more commonly referred to as "the floating island" in this restaurant. A mound of meringue is accented by berries (red currants, blackberry) and a thin lemon poppyseed crisp. The tangy meringue island itself is surrounded by a layer of sweet cream. Overall, it's a winning combination of sweet and sour, soft and crunchy that makes for a light, refreshing end to a lovely meal.
Now I couldn't possibly end my review without mentioning the top notch service. Our server was excellent - friendly, genuine, informative - and made us feel right at home. He shared some great anecdotes and provided us with a warm welcome into the world of rakia. At the end of the meal, he asked to put our names into what is essentially a notebook with dates, guest names and details on each guest's preferences. The idea is to hopefully personalize the experience of returning guests. Although I'm not sure how well that will actually work, it is a sweet gesture nonetheless.
Rakia Bar is a great place with excellent drinks and foods, providing an all-around enjoyable experience. It'll be a fantastic hangout spot once the streetcar track construction in front of it is finished - especially since there are plans for an outdoor patio next year. In the meantime, I'd love to head back to try their brunch menu which includes a duck neck sausage dish and a Scotch egg that was highly praised by our server.
Speaking of menus, I believe they are currently in the process of printing finalized versions but here are some slightly blurry shots of the current dinner menu. Unfortunately, I got distracted and forgot to take pictures of the brunch, dessert and drinks menu. Oops. However, off the top of my head:
-the dessert menu has about 6 items, all priced at $9
-drinks range from $6.50 to around $30
Rakia Bar Toronto
1402 Queen St. East
Currently open 7 days a week, 10am-2am
Serves brunch and dinner