Momofuku Daisho, Toronto.

April 2014.

Chefs don’t come much more celebrated and influential than David Chang. I remember reading of his wildly improbable New York 12-seat impossible-to-reserve original Momofuku with the same kind of awe I used to reserve for three star Michelin restaurants in France. For some reason he chose Toronto to open a branch plant. It’s quite some factory.

The venue sits in the shadow of the 65-floor Shangri-La Toronto condo and luxury hotel, connected to it and containing its swimming pool within the five-restaurant glass cube poised slightly eccentrically on a concrete base with a huge elaborate stainless steel sculpture at street level, all smack in the middle of Toronto’s downtown and financial hub. There are on various of the three floors a noodle bar, lounge, tasting bar, dessert venue, and full-scale restaurant. We opted for Daisho, the latter. It offers the same type of options as Momofuku Ssam Bar in New York: you can order in advance a special dish for the whole table of four or more, here including lobster, pork, and beef done three different ways. Our choice for a table of four was the beef short ribs.

Straight off the third-floor elevator we confront a businesslike Asian-Canadian welcome and are shown to a lovely plain table right by the massive glass side of the room. Above our heads glass facing onto the street extends up for three stories, but there is a two-story cubic object occupying most of the middle of the immense larger cubic restaurant space. I was immediately bewildered by a smell of bleach which being incongruous in the circumstances was stealing my attention from the restaurant aromas. Obsessive cleanliness? Less-than-meticulous rinse job on the floor or tables? I felt the table surface carefully but it was only after the server explained that the cubic solid encroaching into the center of the (I’d say) 35-foot-on-a-side cube was the hotel/condo swimming pool that I realized this smell’s source. After that it was easy to ignore. The room is spectacular but, unavoidably these days I’m afraid, very noisy.

The serving staff could’ve been three or four people straight off the street they were so après postmodern. One guy in a black suit, multiple tattoos including a lightning bolt down from one ear, lavish hardware, and long blonde hair one-sided Iriquois-style fey and not-unpleasantly histrionic, somellier a twentysomething normal Toronto white boy in black jeans and a light blue dress shirt over a red T-shirt colloquial and relaxed, knowledgeable about the wine list and happy also making suggestions about the food, and the main waiter fortyish and very serious in unremarkable street shirt and pants. The mildly disorienting impression was of getting the job done pleasantly and easily. No hint of attitude, arrogance, ceremony, or hurry.

We started with the seafood platter. Raw oysters, king crab legs, ceviche, and prawns all cold and perfectly tender, beautifully presented, ideally accessible, and more than enough. Quickly-described very variable sauces and condiments tasty and amounting to geometrically numerous flavour combinations. We drank a very nice Sonoma pinot gris and began to worry about having ordered too much food. The sommelier had recommended the buns (pikora, pickerel, and burger; “on a day off I would just come in here and eat five or six of each”) and they were pillow soft with two rich contrasting flavours each.

Not so great were  some of the vegetable items. Kimchi (Korean fermented vegetable side), primarily apple and cabbage, tasted to me one-dimensional (straight vinegar for example) and chili incongruous on the apple.  A bit better were a delectable amuse-geule gently-dressed cucumber and a roasted brussels sprout. Both of these were tasty but on the level of an ordinary Asian bistro.

We were surprisingly still pretty ravenous when the piece de resistence short ribs arrived sliced and separated from nine-inch rib bones on a huge platter with fish sauce, kimchi, and bean sprouts. After tasting it I asked for salt which was cheerfully produced on a little plate. The beef was warm, quite red and tender, looking more like a heavily marinated seared steak than something cooked for hours, but just delicious with its light soy and ginger flavour. The fish sauce in a little teapot was a perfect accompaniment but tasted to me not like fish but like a lightly reduced chicken stock plus… something else. There was plenty of meat to go around and I gorged unabashedly, but ignored the accompanying vegetable which seemed, like the other kimchi items, simple-flavored and pointing us in a direction of healthy natural roughage and antioxidants in which of course I have no interest. But the meat was a perfect silky succulent and welcome variation on good old short ribs.

We had a three-varietal red, mainly syrah, from southern France, fragrant but insubstantial.

My overall impressions were 1) strange. A spectacular but unusual space with that wierdly ominous disguised swimming pool overhead, unprecedentedly transparent service but completely untraditional, and unconventional treatments of several dishes, most of the main substance exquisitely prepared and delicious, but accompaniments often strictly in the “not-for-everybody” category, and finally not for me. And 2) expensive. Four people, two bottles of wine averaging $70 each, customary 20% tip: $720.

So the verdict is mixed. For that price I want to be completely delighted and although I pretty nearly was, we didn’t prepare ourselves for and probably should have understood that we were getting one extremely prominent guy’s capable and trendy but quirky take on fine dining. I wasn’t a full convert. I wouldn’t mind trying the tasting menu or noodle bar, but would have a much closer look at specific menu items before I went. Food split 9.4 (seafood platter, buns and short ribs)/6.4 (everything else). Service 8.9. Ambience 8.6. Value 5.0.



About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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