A few weeks ago I’ve had the opportunity to try out another Japanese Tapa style restaurant located about a 5 minute walk from Dundas Square in Toronto. It’s situated right beside Chatime which has blown up in this city over the past year or so. The more famous and well known Japanese Tapa style restaurant in Toronto is Guu (which I reviewed here) so naturally this was going to be a restaurant where in my mind I would be comparing it to the high standards that was already placed by its competitor.
Like most restaurants downtown, if you are not taking public transit you will have to find public parking nearby. My friend and I found a Green P underground parking lot with a $8 weekend flat rate after 6PM nearby on Victoria Street. The restaurant is located at the top of the building so there will be a flight of stairs you will have to climb before you reach it at the top. A reservation was made before hand but it didn’t seem like we needed it even though it was a Sunday night since there were quite a few empty tables throughout the restaurant.
For anyone who has read my review about Guu or been there themselves, you will know that when you first walk into the restaurant you are immediately greeted by loud cheers and applause by the staff and patrons. Much to the same effect, instead of loud cheers and applause here you are greeted with a bang of the drum (pictured below) when you walk towards your table. Something is also said in Japanese by the host when the drum is gonged but the level of enthusiasm I found was minimal. Unlike Guu where you could clearly see the staff having fun with the guests from the shouting and claps and enthusiasm, here it just seemed like it was more forced and less genuine. However, this could be the preferred method for many as well for anyone who finds Guu to be over the top and too loud for their liking.
We got seated at the table over looking the kitchen and was given their menu to look at. It is a BIG menu. There are many food and drink options to choose from and they also have a smaller menu for their specialty dishes of the day that are not on the fixed menu. It definitely can be a little over whelming looking at all the choices but what was helpful was their “popular items” and “recommended” stickers laid throughout the menu to point you in the right direction.
While walking up the stairs to the restaurant we saw their poster advertisement of their new arrival “Polar Beer.” A creamy smooth frozen foam made of beer is put over the Sapporo which apparently helps keep the beer cold for 20 minutes. It’s not something you find everywhere so we just had to try!
Sapporo topped with a beer flavoured frozen foam - Cost $7.95
The first tapa we got was the Tako Wasabi. It’s chopped up octopus with a wasabi flavour to it. With not having much experience with eating octopus I must say I did enjoy this dish quite a lot. It’s served cold and the octopus has a tough texture to it but it was refreshing to say the least. It sits in a cold liquid base and the wasabi flavour really shines through.
Octopus, Wasabi - Cost $4.20
One of their recommended tapas was their Stir Fried Seafood Noodle. On top of the noodles are the bonito flakes which is a staple in Japanese cuisine. Bonito flakes (a.k.a. Katsuobushi) are dried flakes of fermented and smoked skipjack tuna. They are kept as dry as possible to not loose any of their flavour and when it’s served on top of a hot steaming dish, it begins to absorb moisture quickly where it will then begin to curl and shrink giving an impression that it is moving on its own. The fish is not alive and completely dead so no need to worry about that. Besides the very cool food illusion of the bonito flakes, I found the noodles to be ordinary at best.
Seafood, Garlic, Bonito Flakes - Cost $8.90
My favourite tapa of the night came in the form of the DONDON Special Black Croquette. There is minced up shrimp inside their special outer shell of black breadcrumbs, which is then fried and served with ketchup. Although the look of it screams out that’s burned to a crisp, it really isn’t as it seems to have been the second food illusion of the night created by their black bread crumbs. The shrimp filling inside was warm and delicious and was easily my favourite dish that evening. It’s labelled as their popular item and I can see why. Comfort food at its best.
Bread crumbs, Shrimp, Ketchup - Cost $7.00
Some much needed meat was needed in our meal so we opted to get their 5 Skewers Combo which consisted of chicken, beef, pork with green onion, asparagus bacon, and king oyster mushroom bacon skewers. There were two sauces for us to choose from, salt and teriyaki and the one we went with was salt. The skewers were grilled right in front of our eyes. I found the chicken skewer the worst as it was completely dry. Albeit not as dry as the chicken, the beef and pork were not that much better. The meat did not have a lot of seasoning on them making them taste quite bland. The best skewers in my opinion were the ones with the vegetables wrapped in bacon.
Chicken, Beef, Pork with Green Onion, Asparagus Bacon, and King Oyster Mushroom Bacon - Cost $8.00
We ordered one of the tapas off of the Chef’s Special menu. Unfortunately the name of this dish slips my mind and I forgot to copy it down but if I had to name it something it would be “One of the most unappetizing and unpleasant dishes I’ve ever had in my life.” The tapa is basically grilled squid and it became one of the worst things I had ever eaten, and I’ve tasted a lot! I don’t think there was any seasoning on this so it was left completely tasteless and dry. The texture was incredibly tough and chewy to the point you would need a good 15 seconds to get it down. With the combination of the above it is a dish surely to avoid.
Chef’s Special: Grilled Squid - Cost $4.80
The last tapa we got was their Ginger Fried Chicken, another popular item off the menu. At Guu we had their dish called the karrage which is almost the identical version of this so I knew going into it what to expect. This is another dish that under delivered. Calling it fried was an understatement as the chicken was very damp and soggy. The crisp and crunchy skin was not to be found and the store bought mayonnaise left much to be desired in a dipping sauce.
White Chicken, Garlic, Ginger, Mayonnaise - Cost $8.00
I knew that going to a restaurant like Don Don Izakaya would have me compare it to one of the best Japanese Tapa style restaurants in the city since they operate in such a similar fashion and serve the same type of food. Out of the 6 dishes we ordered I really only enjoyed two of them. Some of them were just mediocre at best and there is that one dish I wish to completely erase from my memory. I also wished that they put in a little bit more time and effort into their sauces and not just rely on store bought condiments. We’re not just eating some McDonald french fries here but some high end Japanese tapas.
In almost every aspect Guu is the clear winner for a Japanese tapa dining experience in Toronto. Both restaurants are similarly priced so if you just want to try a new Japanese tapa restaurant, Don Don Izakaya may be the place to go. After you have already gone once though, I’d say after that just stick to Guu.
(416) 492 - 5292
Monday to Thursday (11:30am to 12:00am)
Friday (11:30am to 1:00am)
Saturday (5:00pm to 1:00am)
Sunday (5:00pm to 12:00am)
The Everyday Foodie Report Card
Overall: 69% Everyday Foodie Satisfaction