Before everything went to hell in a hand basket this week, the Dotytron and I took advantage of some Momma D babysitting service and went out for dinner. We took one for the team and tried the new izakaya that had opened up on Dundas, DonDon Izakaya. We went in knowing it was a risk, given that Guu not only has the izakaya district of our hearts cornered, but is also pretty much our favorite restaurant, regardless of cuisine, in Toronto.
Reviews on Yelp had been mixed. I was heartened by the fact that the place was crawling with Asians (I almost always trust an Asian person's opinion of food over almost every other ethnicity - in Toronto, a place filled with young Asian couples and groups of Asian friends is a good sign indeed), but as it turns out, that hope was misplaced.
The space is nice enough. The staff, all of whom seemed to be Japanese, are like, the younger, less hot, less cool cousins of the Guu staff. Part of the joy of going to Guu is ogling the Japanese eye candy (see previous posts re: my Guu boyfriend). The crew at DonDon are not ogle-worthy. Awwww...poor guys. Now I feel bad for saying it. The atmosphere is considerably less raucous than at Guu - the servers still shout at you but the vibe of the room is just...off. No one is giving themselves over to the experience...it was like a concert where everyone is one their phones or sitting their butts in the seats and not engaging with the act.
Overall, the menu featured way less stuff we wanted to eat, and the dishes we ordered were mostly okay, with only one standout item. The food was missing the love and the care.
Tako wasabi is one of our favorite dishes at Guu, where finely chopped raw octopus is mixed with wasabi and served with little sheets of nori for turning into spicy raw octopus seaweed cigarellos. Here the tako wasabi was cut a little too big and served a little too warm.
This was egg salad mixed with raw salmon, stuffed into a smoked egg. It was a nice little bite, but it had been prepared way in advance and the bacon chip was cold. Cold bacon is never appealing. I feel like if you ordered something similar at Guu, it would have been made a la minute.
This dish was the ONE knockout. "Black Croquettes" - little creamy potato cod fingers coated in squid-ink panko and fried. So good! The insides were fluffy and light and creamy. This was so good we ordered another round.
They kind of do a Japadog type fusion hot dog thing. This was a pork wiener (with a very unpleasant, mushy texture) topped with a cold kimchi-based relish. I think if everything had been warm, this would have been better. As it stood, the vinegariness of the kimchi and the competing temperatures didn't coalesce into a proper fusion dish.
This was advertised as a pork belly bun - a la Momofuku. It wasn't pork belly, the bun was a little soggy from oversteaming and then sitting. If it had been pork belly and the bun was piping hot, this would have been a good dish. As is...it was meh.
This was chicken and mashed potatoes and bonito flakes. Another dish that had a good underlying concept that was undone by the shoddy execution. The chicken was a little flabby, but the mashed potatoes were divine (I suspect they were instant).
A teriyaki hot dog. Here the hot dog was all beef and had a better texture, but it was still overwhelmed by the lack of subtlety in the teriyaki toppings.
Ahhhhhh...hamachi sashimi. Impossible to eff up. Impossible not to enjoy. Why isn't there funding going to making sure that yellowtail can be farmed? Huh? What's up with that?!? If we can invest billions into oil sands, then surely, hamachi farming should be equally prioritized.
Kushiyaki (stuff on sticks!) Bacon wrapped asparagus, bacon wrapped oyster mushrooms, grilled quail eggs, chicken, and gizzards. I prefer my kushiyaki with just a sprinkling of salt. So good. This dish had a really nice, smoky flavour that enhanced the fattier items (like the bacon stuff).
This was supposed to be sashimi that was lightly grilled over a hay fire. This was awful. Here you have butterfish and tuna sashimi that was RUINED by the greasy flavour of the smoke. It tasted the way burning butane smells. If any of you have a grill, and have ever oiled the piece of food you want to grill and then had the oil burn over the hot heat and leave a greasy, blackened slick of burnt oil film on the food - that's what was on these beautiful pieces of fish. We couldn't even choke this dish down. It was sad.
Soy tofu. Silky, custardy, served with a seasoned soy. I prefer this dish warm.
Dessert was a nicely executed creme caramel for me and a matcha red bean thing for the Dotytron.
At one point, we saw the owner talking to another dude, and I turned to the Dotytron and asked, "do you know what language they're speaking?" He listened intently for a minute and then turned to me and shook his head. That's right. The owners of DonDon are CHINESE PEOPLE (they were speaking Cantonese). This is a classic case of Chinese people ripping off and trying to cash in on a successful business model. Sometimes, this works. Like, say, in AYCE restaurants. In this case, the attempt to replicate Guu but cut corners failed.
In the end, I'm glad I took one for the team. Technically, the "team" in question consists of MHui and her hubby, whose unbridled enthusiasm for Guu matches ours. At least we can relegate this place to the "never again" pile.
Sigh. There's nothing I can do...I only want to eat at Guu (sung to the tune of Hootie and the Blowfish.)