We’d already had Fat Pasha’s hummus dressed with fried lamb sausage, olive oil and tahini, a “daily salatim” platter filled with garlic-fried tomatoes, smoky eggplant and an array of Israeli-style salads, a lifetime’s worth of pita, various pickles, several cocktails, most of a bottle of wine, one very potent serving of fig liquor, and half of a roasted, pomegranate and halloumi-smothered cauliflower head when the server showed up with a cruet of rendered chicken fat.
Maybe this was for the latke platter we were still expecting?
The fat was not for the latkes.
“Oh, right, the chopped liver,” one of my friends announced. She paused, her eyes bugging out. “We ordered the chopped liver too?” It sounded a little like a groan.
The server began drizzling the viscous, pale-golden liquid, a prized condiment that’s known as schmaltz, over a bowl filled with boiled egg, hard-fried bits of chicken skin, caramelized onions, radishes and nearly enough chopped chicken liver to feed a town of chicken-liver lovers to the end of the year.
She mixed as she poured, the metal spoon softly clanging against the side of the bowl. There was ceremony to the way she moved – a pride that said there’s more to table-side service than steak Diane and Caesar salads.
She had also brought a tray of challah toasts with her. They’d been brushed down with more of that schmaltz before being grilled. The smell was richly eggy and yeasty, smoky with a savoury top note of sizzling poultry. It began to perk us up.
Another friend went first, heaping one of the toasts with the silky-textured mixture. His eyes rolled back slightly as he took a first bite. He let out a satisfied sounding gurgle. Now we all dove in, and suddenly it didn’t matter how much we’d eaten already, how contented we’d thought we were.
Lesson one of Fat Pasha: There’s always room for Fat Pasha’s chopped chicken liver. Which isn’t so different from lessons two through 47, really. I could easily find room for anything Fat Pasha makes.
The restaurant, which opened this spring in the former Indian Rice Factory space, is a project of Anthony Rose, the chef who also runs Rose and Sons and Big Crow, farther east on Dupont Street. The menus at those two spots ply heavier, unapologetically fatty, salty and meat-focused American-style dishes (with a few European Jewish touches). Until Fat Pasha, vegetables had never really seemed like Mr. Rose’s thing.
That chopped liver notwithstanding, the new spot leans far more to the bright, spice and vegetable-derived flavours of modern Israeli cooking: to the sour-sweet tang of pomegranates, the punch of fresh dill pickles and the dusky warmth of couscous dressed with date syrup and harissa. The food here is the closest thing you’ll find in Toronto to the cooking of Yotam Ottolenghi, the all-star Israeli chef and cookbook author who has helped to popularize the country and region’s flavours in the past five years.
But there’s enough about the food, not to mention the warmth and generosity of the service and the feel of Fat Pasha, to make them distinctly Anthony Rose’s. That night with the chopped liver, the restaurant’s lush back patio buzzed with laughter and conversation as table-hopping patrons caught up with old friends between courses. Older couples from North Toronto shared tastes of what the menu calls “schmaltz fried rice” (it is far closer in reality to Egyptian-style kosheri, studded with lentils and pistachios and topped with vermicelli noodles) with the tattooed, American Apparel-clad strangers sitting next to them, while young kids ogled the splashing fish in the koi pond at the patio’s edge.
Mr. Rose has preserved the light touch and the easy nostalgia that can make his restaurants such a joy to visit. “Tasty Jew Food,” Fat Pasha’s Twitter profile announces. “For a good time, call 647-340-6142.” It is easily the chef’s best effort yet.
This is not a place to come as a couple. The portions, meant for sharing, are too large for just two. As a four, you could start with that daily salatim, with its sumac and harissa-spiced carrot salad, its red cabbage slaw studded with caraway, its soft, charred eggplant and those “garlic-fried” tomatoes, which aren’t so much fried as they are poached in olive oil. They pop open as you eat them, concentrated and refreshing and juicy, kissed with mellow garlicky depth.
As a four, you could get one of the hummus plates, also: the lamb shoulder version is spiked with mint and carrot. It is every bit as terrific as that sounds. (The pitas it comes with, however: boring. Toronto’s been spoiled with made-to-order laffas lately. Mr. Rose would do well to get on that train.)
The latka platter is a must. The potato cakes are fat and crunchy, creamy inside, a perfect vehicle for the mounds of smoked fish on top of them, which are wrapped in pastrami-cured salmon (it’s deep pink and sweet, coloured with pureed beets but still identifiably salmon). They’re topped with sour cream and briny-fresh salmon roe.
The roast cauliflower is also excellent. It comes as a whole or half head, leaves still on, baked until it’s dark on its outside, heaped all over with toasted pine nuts, pomegranates, sesame tahini and cubes of squeaky halloumi cheese.
There is always a fish special. We had the European sea bass one night, grilled whole and served under pickled onions, peppers and coriander – a deconstructed take on the Yemeni-Jewish condiment called skhug. The fish was dry from overcooking, a rare miss from the kitchen.
The grilled chicken thighs, slathered in a barbecue sauce made with pomegranate molasses, were an oddity here, far more American than Middle Eastern, and apart from that sauce, they just didn’t have enough taste.
That pomegranate sauce was a prime example, however, of Mr. Rose’s inspired commingling of international ideas and flavours, while still keeping the cooking planted in Israeli and Ashkenazi tastes. He spices one of his hummus dishes with (Mexican) chipotle pepper, and makes his tabouleh with (Italian) rapini. His chocolate babkas come goosed with Nutella and sauced with both maple syrup and shavings of sesame halva.
You should go out with those babkas if you’re a chocolate person. Or if you fancy something lighter, the milk and honey pudding, which is as finely made and airy as panna cotta, but without the gelatine texture, with rhubarb compressed in arak liquor, and toasted cornbread crumbs on top.
The masterpiece of the dessert card is the ice cream sandwich, a winking take on the traditional Passover matzo chocolate buttercrunch. Mr. Rose uses chocolate-dipped matzo crackers as the shell, which he fills with sweet cream ice cream. The Manischewitz jelly makes it, though: It’s at once sly and kitschy, endearing and instantly recognizable. (Mr. Rose has also done a house-made, barrel-aged Manischewitz vermouth, sold by the glass for $6 if that’s your thing.)
A friend of mine who grew up in a kosher household couldn’t stop marvelling as he ate that ice cream sandwich. “If that was what Passover tasted like –”
He smiled and took another bite.