Opened its doors merely a bit over a month ago, Don Don Izakaya is a new addition to the izakaya craze in Toronto. Now, when I first saw its press release and discovered that chef Daisuke Izutsu is the head chef at Don Don, I was ecstatic. Chef Izutsu was owner/chef at Kaiseki-Sakura (now closed) and I was utterly blown away by his tasting menu. I have to say, it was quite the experience.
After reading several negative reviews on Don Don since its opening, I felt surprised and disappointed at the same time. Unlike Don Don, chef Izutsu personally put together every dish himself back at Kaiseki-Sakura, so that may be a contributing factor. But with that said, Kaiseki and Don Don serve an entirely different type of food (traditional omakase vs bar food), so they can’t really be compared to one another.
When you first enter the izakaya, the hostess hits the taiko drum, and the entire staff gives you a warm irrashaimase. At this point you may or may not feel embarrassed, but no worries because everyone receives the same, extravagant entrance. The menu is extensive and filled with photos, which can be pretty overwhelming for some (especially if you’re not familiar with izakaya food). Don Don offers the typical bar-type foods such as fried chicken, skewers, fried vegetables, sashimi, salads, and mayonnaise on top of many of the dishes they serve. Portions are small, but they’re meant to be served with a group of people so that everyone gets to try everything on the table.
Black croquettes: breaded potato cake with shrimp and cod paste, coloured with squid ink ($7). Texture wise, it’s a little crispy on the outside with a very mushy interior. To be honest though, I wouldn’t have been able to tell what ingredients were used if it wasn’t for the description in the menu. It simply tasted like a regular potato croquette to me. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t love it.
Tako Wasabi: raw octopus salad marinated with wasabi ($3.50). Not chewy but quite firm. I would’ve liked if the pieces weren’t so petite because if you’re not good with chopsticks, then that’s going to be a problem. The wasabi was overpowering for me, but if you enjoy the texture of raw octopus and the spiciness of wasabi, then this might work for you. It didn’t do it for me.
Wasabi flavoured seaweed chips ($3). Crunchy yes, but overly chewy. I like crunchiness, seaweed, and wasabi mayo, but this fell short on its delivery.
Ginger Fried Chicken ($6.80). Moist, tender, and piping hot – yes! Finally a dish we actually enjoyed!
Soy Milk Tofu ($3.50). Well okay, it was a recommended dish, but I couldn’t see how it was special. Smooth and a bit sweet from the light soy sauce. It was decent but it didn’t stand out.
Soft Hoppeta-yaki: grilled chicken with mashed potato, bonito flakes, pickled ginger & otafuku sauce ($.8.50) I was looking forward to this dish when I saw it on the menu, but it was underwhelming. The chicken was soft, but flat and tasted like fish. There was too much bonito flakes on top but the pickled ginger provided a sharpness that was much needed.
Atlantic salmon and egg salad ($6.50). This was probably the most disappointing dish only because it seemed so promising. I love salmon, boiled egg, and not to mention, bacon, so this had to be a win. When you take the first bite, you realize the egg yolk mixture is very thick, a bit sour, but overall the taste was unpleasant. The bacon strips on top were cold and thus, lacked the crispy goodness of bacon altogether.
Cheese Potato Pizza: Potato, bacon, garlic, butter, asparagus, and parsley ($7.50). I give them credit for the topping on top as it was flavourful and tasty; the garlic really helped. The potato “crust” at the bottom, however, was not crispy and soft, but tough and reminded me of cold McDonald’s fries.
Hanpen Fish Cakes ($6.80). One of the better dishes of the night! Crispy exterior and a delicate, slightly rubbery interior. Tasty and I wouldn’t have minded gobbling up all 4 pieces.
Beef Skewers with salt ($3). Not bad; juicy, smokey, and best of all, not tough. Natural beefy goodness!
Skewers combo: pork & green onion, asparagus & bacon, beef, oyster & mushroom & bacon, chicken ($6). Decent but not extraordinary. I had the pork which was uber fatty and asparagus that had a nice bite. I didn’t try the chicken but I think my friends said they were dry.
Green Tea Mousse: matcha, milk, red bean, and cream ($4.20). Texturally speaking, this was not a mousse. It was more like a gelée – dense and rubbery. The matcha was extremely strong and you taste that bitterness on your tongue at the end. I’m not complaining because I like matcha, but it might be too much for others. The red bean was a bit sour and the cream helped to balance the bitterness.
So as you can tell, I wasn’t too thrilled writing up this review of Don Don. Even after hearing negative comments about them, I was still secretly hoping that the food really wasn’t as bad as they say. It’s disheartening, but I prefer Guu. I hate to make comparisons when it comes to restaurants, but since you’ve probably tried Guu before and to give you a better idea, it might help if I say that Guu has better tasting food. I probably won’t be returning to Don Don, but if I hear about any positive changes in the future, then I might change my mind and give them a second chance.
130 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON M5G 1C3