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Don Don Izakaya

The special black croquettes

There are restaurants that are difficult to describe in one sentence. They balance (sometimes successfully) between doing different things for different people. This is clearly not the case with Don Don Izakaya which is about uncomplicated fun at a louder-than-normal volume.

It took a couple of false starts but it seems restauranteurs have figured out the right sort of izakaya for Toronto. At both Guu and now Don Don loud greetings combine with modestly-priced, small plates of delicious salty food to fuel appetites for more drink.

On my first visit to Don Don I happened to sit at the bar beside two gentlemen who had a friendly conversation with head chef Daisuke Izutsu (the former chef-owner of Kaiseki Sakura). With eavesdropped menu recommendations at my disposal and the experience of two visits I think I’ve been able to hit the menu’s highlights.  (more…)

Review: Wvrst

In a world of acai berry shakes and “steamed veg on the side” it takes stones to open a beer and sausage hall like Wvrst on King West. Equally, in the world of Google, intentionally misspelling your restaurant’s name–that second letter is a v and the restaurant’s web site demands the name be pronounced “verst”–is about as useful as subbing numbers for letters. But with high praise from my brother who lives in the neighbourhood I traveled down there (and went back) to give it a shot.

The Wvrst menu of sausages and fries. Click on the image for a version that can be zoomed.

The Wvrst menu of sausages and fries. Click on the image for a version that can be zoomed.

Distilled to its important components the menu is excellently simple. Just sausages, fries, a few wines, and a lot of beer. No salad, no grilled chicken wraps, and not even onion rings.

That being said there is still a vast opportunity for a sort of masculine tuning of every order. The sausages either come on a bun (white or whole wheat) or served currywurst style in a suprisingly fragrant tomato-based sauce. With the first option they get a choice of two of the four toppings (caramelised onions are good, sauerkraut isn’t pungent enough). (more…)

416 Snack Bar

416 Snack Bar menu

Happiness is living in an age where addresses that used to house a Burger King are being turned into Japanese izakayas and the gringo-ised TexMex joint Johny Banana becomes the comfortable 416 Snack Bar that is earnest about serving good food.

On a visit last week we pulled two stools up to the central bar and did our best to eat a sizable hole out of the menu. The 416 Snack Bar menu seems to change pretty frequently but the photo above is where it stood on our visit. Food highlights were the two spieces of breaded, deep-fried pickles a.k.a. “The Fried Thing” ($3), napolitano pizza pocket ($4), and the latkes with gravlax ($5). (more…)

More Woodlot

This weekend for a very special occasion ten of my family members gathered around the communal table at Toronto’s Woodlot Restaurant.  This was my first visit since the very early days in mid-November so I had an opportunity to see how the food and service are evolving.  As in-house baker Jeff Connnell told Kelly Jones for an article in Good Food Revolution the menu at Woodlot ebbs and flows with the seasons and availability of ingredients instead of resetting on a predetermined timeline.

The excellent bread is baked in the house-built wood oven

The porchetta, lamb tart, and lasagna are gone for now and the venison in the pie has been replaced by chicken and ham hock.  Luckily, the size of our group meant that we ate family-style and I got to try many of the new dishes. (more…)

Points of Comparison

It’s pretty easy to identify the top and bottom restaurant in a particular group of ten but how do we distinguish between the rest?  What are the controls and the markers?  An easy, though not very accurate measure, is to only consider one dish that they all have in common.  In my younger, innocent days that was my dedicated modus operandi.

At first it was Caesar salad.  I ate every combination of romaine lettuce, bacon, croutons, and dressing I could get my hands on.  It being the late nineties –also therein lies my defense, I was seventeen or so–that was an easy task to accomplish.  Also in my defense there are few salads as savoury as Caesar’s combination of  parmesan cheese, bacon, and worcestershire sauce and let’s not forget that when properly prepared this salad has the stones to include raw egg.  I was also really into the adult control that could be had in directing exactly how much black pepper I wanted dispensed from those giant grinders. (more…)