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dondon izakaya

It's early, what with the restaurant only being in the process of a soft opening, but has anyone been to this Dundas/Bay joint?

Though I'm a huge fan of both Fin and Guu, I work at University and Dundas- if Dondon's good, it'd be hella-convenient. Plus it's fun to say: "Dondon".

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  1. Since nobody's asked yet I will. Japanese or Chinese owned?

    2 Replies
    1. re: TexSquared

      Beats me. Place just opened.

      From what I can see from Facebook, whoever's running the place (or just the FB page?) is fluent in Japanese.

      1. re: TexSquared

        Toronto Life had a little write up about this place a while ago. There are 3 owners, one of whom is Japanese. But it's the chauffeur service that's intriguing.
        http://www.torontolife.com/daily/dail...

      2. Here's a very early positive review from a private New Year's party:

        http://confessionsofaneater.wordpress...

        Apparently Daisuke Izutsu is the head chef! (previously Kaiseki Sakura)

        2 Replies
          1. re: Wench Foraday

            Thanks for that bit of information. This place should succeed.

          2. Food looks good, competition is always good for rising the standard. I will be there soon the next time I down a few southern tier ipas, good drunk snacks.

            The decor is, how shall I put it lightly, high quality chinese bootleg eames chair good. It looks different but at the same time just like Guu.

            2 Replies
            1. re: aser

              "high quality chinese bootleg eames chair good" That may be my favourite decor description of all time. :)

              Looking forward to trying this place. My favourite meals in New York are at the many izakayas and robata grills scattered throughout the city. So the more, the merrier here in TO.

              1. re: aser

                I went last night.

                It's too early to judge the food and service, which have the usual opening kinks to work out. The room was beautiful though, especially when you think of the mess that was One Up.

              2. I ate here tonight. Great decor and friendly young staff. Not as loud as Guu but still boisterous. Attentive and helpful service as expected for a new place. Favorite order was the mackerel in miso (although not a fan of all the bones). The Japanese dog was tasty but not as good as Japa dog in Vancouver (also the bun was excessively charred...bread is delicate, watch the heat). The salmon seared over hay was interesting (think sashimi with strong smoke flavor). Most of the skewers I had were disappointing (no special sauces; mostly very bland and flavorless). For example, the skewered quail eggs were boring. Avoid the grilled gizzards which were horrific (I like gizzards but these were flavorless and very difficult to chew...anyone like their gizzards cooked medium?). You go to izakayas for the yakitoris no? I was going to try the desserts but decided to stop the show at this point. Overall, a mediocre first impression foodwise.

                I would rank my izakaya experiences to date as follows, starting with best: Tokyo, Vancouver (including Guu), Toronto/Guu (surprisingly not as good as Vancouver version), Toronto/Fin Izakaya, and now DonDon (menu needs a lot of work).

                2 Replies
                1. re: mad4hops

                  Is this open to the public now? What are the prices like?

                  1. re: szw

                    Yes it's open but I would avoid it until word of mouth reports more consistent good eats. Prices are on par with other izakayas here but I would not pay one cent for food that does not satisfy me at some level.

                2. I'm always excited to try any new Izakaya in town. I mentioned heading down to my family when my daughter commented that her friend just went a couple of nights ago. Her remark after the meal ' Don't Don't'. Food kind of rough, not even as good as Fin Izakaya!
                  Now, I'm having second thoughts!!

                  1. We ate there recently and found that the food portions are quite small but the food quality (ie fresher fish) is generally a bit better if comparing to Fin. Although they cannot really do yakitori properly though (burnt chicken!). The gizzards we had were alright though. It is impossible to get filled up. The kushiage set is expensive at $12...we ordered that coz I haven't had any before. The room is very nicely decorated though, probably costed a lot for the reno and is the reason why in general it is more expensive? The prices are similar to Fin / Guu but portions are smaller. Not sure if I would go back.... but I would go back to Fin coz it's much closer to home.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: tyatt

                      Your chicken was burnt. My gizzards were undercooked. Sounds like inconsistent grilling to me. Yakitoris need to be expertly grilled and seasoned to perfection. At one place in Tokyo, we did the whole chicken yakitori style. Each skewer came presenting a different part of the bird, each time tasting better than the last. The beer was flowing and we didn't want to leave. That is how Izakayas are to be experienced folks.

                    2. In fairness to the joint, they haven't been open two weeks yet- they haven't even hard-opened to this point.

                      IMO, it's too early to have a proper opinion about the place at this point. Give them a month or two to get their act together, and then let's see where they're at.

                      And yes, the irony's not lost on me, since I was the person who asked in the first place. :P

                      1. is their menu available online anywhere?

                        are there veg options here? i went to guu on bloor awhile ago and the only things i could eat were sweet things or feep fried things. everything else had meat or fish (or dashi), etc..

                        1. Toronto Life has posted some photos. Looks nice. Head chef is Daisuke Izutsu, formerly of Kaiseki Sakura.

                          http://www.torontolife.com/daily/dail...

                          Facebook page:

                          http://www.facebook.com/DonDonIzakaya

                          1. Has anyone been that can comment on the depth of the Sake list? I see the Toronto Life article says they have 60 different kinds and I am wondering if there are any gems in there?

                            1. so I went.......won't be rushing back.

                              Service, 1 yr visa students are well meaning, but really don't know how to serve. We were seated by the hostess (I think one of the owners) and then left unattended for 10 mins. All dishes arrived w/i 2 mins of each other, not staggered at all. We were there at 9 so the kitchen was not busy at all, hence the deluge. Better if BOH communicated w/ each other to stagger the plates. Then again, the mentality there is to bang it out asap, to survive the rush.

                              At one point, all the FOH staff went to the back room to sing happy birthday for a group. That's cool, except you should leave one or two servers around in case customers need them. Or at least so that nobody walks out on their bill unpaid.

                              They let customers play w/ the taiko by the entrance. Let's just say some people are more annoying than others.

                              We had six dishes....

                              ochazuke - It came tepid (bain marie holding it was not hot enough). Dashi was weak, bowl was too small for the contents, not enough liquid considering how much rice they gave us.

                              smoked bc tuna - It's albacore, served with sea salt and garlic slices. One end piece was left uncut, no clue why they felt it was ok to serve it as a rectangular chunk. Otherwise, decent taste.

                              fried seaweed chips - good idea, poor execution. The seaweed was too thick, it was chewy even though it was fried. Wasabi mayo was nice, but should be served in a ramekin for dipping rather than drizzled.

                              pickled veg & fish - menu doesn't describe what fish it was, the dish had a nice tang to it. Pickeled pearl onions cut into rings on the mandolin. A solid dish.

                              fishcake - very good, excellent even. This is a fobby dish, you have to like reconstituted fishball texture to enjoy this. It was very light, fluffy, bouncy. A winner.

                              karaage - they were warm at best, these things should be burn your mouth hot. I saw the cook pre-frying a huge batch afterwards, at about 10pm. Not sure what their double frying technique is, but it's not working. It needs to be cooked less on the initial fry as the 2nd fry is far too short for it to be only warm on the plate.

                              It just wasn't good enough, I'll stick with Guu and Ematei for downtown.

                              1. So...

                                Basically jump on the Izakaya bandwagon (late), shamelessly rip Guu's format off, and add insult to injury by bastardizing the art of Taiko while you're at it. Then again, they used to smash a gong when you entered the Mandarin so I guess they didn't steal all of their ideas from Guu.

                                Most of the food I had was far from horrible but unmemorable except for maybe the Warayaki style Hamachi which was nice. Absolute fail was the order of Pork Buns they served. All cold bun, dry lean pork, not legit. Was hoping the Black Croquettes would be tasty however they where surprisingly one dimensional.

                                The Sake list is extensive only because they've decided to include almost every pedestrian Sake available in Toronto as opposed to having a more selective list. The only bottles not often seen here are the Mantensei, Otokoyama, Nanbu Bijin, and Wakatake Onikoroshi. If you're a fan of any of those they have them by the glass (3oz pours) and serve them at optimal temperature.

                                This year will bring a bunch of really exciting restaurant openings when it comes to Japanese cuisine and the competition is going to get a lot stiffer. I'm disappointed that Don Don isn't better. I mean, why rip a restaurant off in your own backyard? At least ape something south of the border like The Burger's Priest did.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                  GUU is not "original" its a rip off of sucecessful bunch of restaurants in Vancouver, which were a rip of the chain of sucessful restauarants in Europe which were a rip of the original Japanese so nothing is "stolen" from Guu that Guu has not stolen from someone else anyway.

                                  Tell us more about "This year will bring a bunch of really exciting restaurant openings when it comes to Japanese cuisine and the competition is going to get a lot stiffer." what is opening??

                                  1. re: ParkerQ

                                    In fairness, Guu isn't a ripoff of a successful bunch of restaurants from Vancouver- it's one of the successful bunch of restaurants from Vancouver, which has opened a franchise in Toronto.

                                    That notwithstanding, I've been to Don Don three times now and I'm not impressed. When I go to Guu or Fin, I'm consistently astounded by the quality of the food (as far as I'm concerned, they're on par). Don Don: not so much. And since it's so close to my office, I really wish it was better than it is, but it isn't. It's unremarkable.

                                    Still, they've only been open a month and these things take time. No doubt that over time, they're going to find their legs and tweak both their staff and their menu. Fin sure did. I'll go back in 6 months and see if Don Don's any better. But for now, I'll stick with Fin and Guu, in that order.

                                    1. re: ParkerQ

                                      Guu is one of the original Izakaya installments in Vancouver and they helped make it so popular with their 4 locations and excellent food and service. They are far from being a rip-off!

                                      For me, the big opening on the horizon is Kingyo from Vancouver. They have been looking for the perfect Toronto location for almost a year now. The food is phenominal!

                                        1. re: justsayn

                                          Are we allowed to talk about that? Guess the cat's out of the bag now however, there are still a couple cats in the bag ifyahknowhateyemean, wink, wink.

                                          All joking aside, can't wait for Kingyo. They absolutely destroy in the Izakaya category and they have a dream-team behind the Toronto location. Sure bet.

                                            1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                              Curious, how do you know all this?

                                              Any clues as to how I might find out on my own about the other Japanese openings?

                                          1. re: ParkerQ

                                            Right, right, and everything's been done before and there's no such thing as originality blah, blah,blah. You clearly lack the element of fact in your argument above so I can't reply seriously or with a straight face.

                                            All I'm sayin is Don Don...man...even their name-tags look like poor imitations of Guu's. It's a small thing, I know, but it says a lot about the two in comparison, there's just no heart. No heart.

                                        2. I went with a group of friends and we had an amazing time. The energy was great - very upbeat, staff were friendly, and the owners came by to talk to us. They were quite charming. The place started out 1/3 full when we got there around 5, but by the time we left, it was a full house. It's loud with all the shouting and such, but we could still have a conversation within our group. I would say, this is a place for drinks with friends as the primary, and some food on the side. Just like a Japanese style pub should be. Or any pub for that matter.

                                          Don't get me wrong, I love the food at Guu. Being from Vancouver, I hoped and hoped that the izakaya scene in Toronto would pick up and finally we got Guu and now a few others. But we go to Guu for the food. Not so much to linger and hang out with our friends. The waiting in line part doesn't help, nor does the feeling of being rushed because more customers are close behind.

                                          I have also been to Fin several times. The food is good, but not totally a destination place. There are no standout dishes, and the food was described by the owners as 'homestyle Japanese' which to me was not like the izakaya experience. While you can definitely linger and chat, the atmosphere is not very lively.

                                          It's unfortunate that the food at Don Don isn't comparable to Guu. We had several dishes and most were decent. Sorry, I don't know the names, but the black roe, shrimp croquettes were apparently good (I don't eat shrimp, but my friends reported this), the chicken, potato, asparagus and cheese dish was very tasty and had good textures, the grilled beef, chicken karaage, and grilled fish were good, but the hot dog bun in the Japanese hot dog was indeed overly charred as others have reported. Also, the teriyaki beef was cold. I really hope they can work out the kinks in the food timing and temperature. Food aside, as an overall experience, I would say it's great fun.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: ukers

                                            My friend went and had the same comments as most here. Busy, fun place, but food was not horrible but still on the bad side. Would not return.

                                            1. re: szw

                                              I went to don don on Thursday night. The place is nicely decorated. I have heard that they spent over $ 1 million on the renovation. Unfortunately, foods is as bad as Guu. I went there because I am a big fan of Daisuke Izutsu. I often took my family to Kaiseki Sakura before it was closed last year. Menu selection in Don Don is limited. They do not even have Negima. 5 small pieces of mussel(frozen, not fresh) costs $6.20. The Jaja beef was a joke. 4 pieces of very low grade beef(tasteless of course) on a hot pan costs $10.50. I ordered a 3 oz citrus wine and it took ages to arrive. Then, it turned out to have a lot of lot of ice with less than 1 oz wine. It costs me &10.50 again. The bills came up to $162.60 before tax for 3 of us. Actually, I was a bit surprise as I walked in the entrance at the ground floor seeing Daisuke smoking next to the door. Should he be busy working upstairs. Then, the whole night I did not see him working behind the kitchen bar counter but just walking around the restaurant, not even talking to his kitchen staffs. The other owner Tony Wong was there too, carrying food/dishes to tables. Not a very good sign. What a major disappointment.

                                          2. I'm going to pipe up and be a dissenting voice in this thread -- I really liked this place. We went with a group of 7 on a weeknight, and it was packed, and everyone unanimously agreed they would easily return. The place has a really nice decor, fun vibe (hey I like the drum, regardless of who "invented" the idea) and the service was really friendly and efficient throughout the night. I was impressed that over several hours of chaotic ordering by 7 people that not one single drink or dish was forgotten or incorrect. I suspect some of the negative early experiences were a result of the place getting up and running and working out kinks.

                                            We ordered food from almost every part of the menu, and most of us tried a bit of everything. The japa-dog imitation was a hit, and it was barely charred at all, not the least blackened as others described previously,. The beef sausage itself had great flavour. The pork kimchi dog was also enjoyable, though most of the flavour there was in the kimchi itself and the pork dog didn't add much. The pork belly buns were tasty: but I found the pork wasn't as fatty and flavourful as it could have been and the overall ratio leaned towards too much bun, so they weren't Momofuku delicious, but they are certainly acceptable substitutes until Chang comes to town!

                                            We also tried a variety of other things including deep fried mushrooms, some blow-torched mackeral sashimi, potato and shrimp croquettes, a bizarre dish involving rice and cheese, and various grilled meats on sticks. Everything went down easy and was the perfect sort of stuff to chow down on with beer and sake, which I think is really the point of a place like this. Even the desserts were better than I would expect from a Japanese restaurant.

                                            Is Don Don the best restaurant in the history of all time, faithfully recreating every detail of authentic Japanese izakayas? No. But it's a fun place with decent food, and contrary to what I read above it didn't seem abnormally expensive for what you get. In comparison to Guu, my opinion would be that the food at Guu is a little bit more refined, but the atmosphere at Don Don is cozier than Guu, which is a nice space but quite cavernous. All in all, I look forward to returning to both places and I'm happy to see a variety of places like this opening in Toronto. And the packed house on a weeknight seems to indicate that a lot of other people like it, too.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. Was hungry when we walked past this place. My faulty memory banks said the CH consensus was to give it a pass. Took a quick look at the menu, saw a bunch of stuff that looked tasty so I ignored my faulty memory and went in. Good thing I did. The space isn't like Fin Izakaya. It's not as expensive and not as fancy, and in actuality, reminds me of the casual yakitori joints on St. Marks in Manhattan, especially since we were seated in front of the grill.

                                              Had chicken and beef skewers, ginger fried chicken, black potato croquettes, tako wasabi and tuna carpaccio. The chicken and beef skewers could've used more flavor, but a shot of soy sauce helped it along. The fried chicken and potato croquettes go into my memory as stuff to order again. The tako wasabi was salty and sinus clearing, and the tuna carpaccio was floating in a flavorful sauce and topped w/ crunchy fried onions (I think).

                                              To set your expectations, think of it as a bar w/ some tasty food to share, cooked by Japanese cooks that yell occasionally, while you work your way through the shochu list.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: GoodGravy

                                                I rarely bother with food boards any longer - used to be very active on EG. That said, personally, I like this place much better than guu. Food and atmosphere. I am glad this place only does a small amount of the silly yelling that guu does. And this yelling is not something I have seen on my months of travel throughout Japan after many trips there. I think they are both good but I find don don closer to something you would experience in Japan. The recent thing I noticed was the asahi on tap. Having recently been to the hakata asahi brewery, this was very nice to see

                                                I like the seafood Doria ( sic), the spices shrimp and okra - even though I am not a huge fan of okra- and the grilled items - meat and veggies. It is much like sakagura in NYC for those that have been there.

                                                I have been going with some bay street colleagues after work during the week and they all love it.

                                                1. re: milestoburn

                                                  Really?!?! I find this place to be the polar opposite of Sakagura. In fact, if I where to compare it to another restaurant I would say that it's like Sakagura only the complete opposite. The food, drinks, and atmosphere are at the ass end of the barometer compared to Sakagura.

                                                  Where in Japan do they smash a Taiko drum as you walk through the door and then leave your table unattended for 20 minutes?