Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Restaurant Review: Don Don Izakaya


Izakaya seem to be popping up all over Toronto these days, waxing nostalgic of the sushi trend that rocked the city a decade or so ago. I've always thought of izakaya as "restaurants that serve Japanese food that isn't sushi or ramen." Yes, my friends, despite popular North American belief, people in Japan do not eat sushi three times a day every day, because, like here, good sushi is really expensive in Japan.                         

Yesterday a good friend of mine, who had grown up in Japan and travels there regularly, treated me and my best bud to a dinner at Don Don Izakaya, in Toronto, located at 130 Dundas Street West. I had heard mixed reviews about it since it opened a few months back but had never had the opportunity to try it out myself. Yesterday I finally got my wish. 

Stole this pic from Toronto Life... please don't sue me.
The mood lighting is actually way better than this, my cellphone is just crappy.

Coming into the restaurant was pretty nifty. It has a funky interior lined with bamboo, and customers have the option of sitting at the bar or at thick wooden tables -- think picnic tables only more comfy and stylish. The whole design is sort of a hybrid of traditional and modern Japanese motifs that reminds me of the traditional-style Korean pubs I often visited in Seoul -- only Japanese, of course. When you walk through the door the maitre d' hits a taiko drum twice and says something in Japanese (probably along the lines of "We got a customer!") and the other waiters chime back with the classic restaurant welcome "Irashimase!" -- meaning welcome. The taiko drum was kind of fun, as the name of the restaurant is "Don Don," which is Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of a taiko drum. Betcha didn't know that! . . . or mabye you did. Anyway . . .

My best friend and I started with 710 ml bottles of Kirin, which is a malt beer from Japan and, to date, my favourite beer from that country. The friend who was treating us had Asahi Premium Dark, which I actually didn't know existed (I consider myself pretty worldly when it comes to beer, especially darks). The beer was tasty as usual.

The first thing I ordered was "Wasabi Tako" -- tako being Japanese for octopus. It was essentially raw octopus mixed with wasabi. Think wasabi peas except with squishy, wet raw octopus instead of processed peas. I loved it!

Next we had seared mackerel, which was REALLY good, followed by "Japanese-style" fried chicken (my friend's words, not mine), which was subsequently followed by assorted fried things that consisted of shrimp, pork, and sea cucumber, with ketchup on the side. 

Following that we had these black rolled things that were filled with pureed fish -- to die for; a miso-based soup with noodles, beef and mixed vegetables -- not the most exciting thing but still tasty; and finally grilled white fish with garlic butter -- really damn tasty! This was all served with a side of brown rice. Yummy tummy! Sadly it didn't dawn on me to take pics of everything we ordered 'cause I only decided to blog about the place halfway into our meal and all I had was my outdated cellphone for pics. However, here are some washed-out-looking photos of some of the food we got. 





The desserts were quite interesting, featuring a pudding that is apparently very popular in Japan, according to my friend (white plate, right), sesame ice cream (black bowl, bottom), and a green tea mousse with red bean and a dab of whipped cream (top). All of these were most flavourful and I was surprised just how much you could taste the sesame in the ice cream.

So, the verdict? Good! All the dishes were tasty, flavourful, and creative. The prices are not exactly cheap but are still quite affordable if you work and are not a poor student like me -- ranging from about $3 to $11 a dish (pretty standard for izakaya fare in Toronto -- think tapas). The staff were super-friendly and consisted entirely of Japanese young men and women (probably here on working holidays) for that extra authentic feel that us Western folks crave so much (this is supposed to be a joke).

Also of note is that the head chef and owner is Chef Daisuke, who owned and ran Sakura Kaiseki, which used to be at Church and Wellesley. It was also an izakaya but of a much higher quality and steeper price, at which I was fortunate enough to eat four times before it closed. The dishes at Don Don show flourishes of Chef Daisuke's expertise and creativity but seem to have been simplified to enable the many staff working there to recreate them quickly. Even so, I found the food to be delicious and up to Daisuke standard! Overall, a very enjoyable experience!

Oh . . . and the washrooms were spiffing!

Here's their website: http://www.dondonizakaya.com

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