Dasha – A not-so-contemporary take on Chinese cuisine
|Location||620 King Street West|
|Dinner for two with drinks||$150|
Last year, I was a thrilled to hear that Michelin-starred Chef Akira Back was opening another Toronto restaurant, still hot on the trails of his namesake establishment at the Bisha Hotel. His freshest venture, Dasha (Honeycomb Hospitality Group), claims to serve spectacular cocktails and a vibrant Asian-fusion menu. If that wasn’t enough, you could head upstairs to flex your vocal chords in the karaoke bar.
I ventured to Dasha shortly after it opened to see if it lived up to its claim of being the “newest and most unique modern Chinese restaurant and karaoke bar in Toronto.” With reservations booked up on most weekends and weeknights, my guest and I opted for a 5:30 p.m. reservation on a wintry Friday. Although Dasha is on King Street, it’s tucked away from the street at the base of a condo building, making it a little compliqué to find (both my guest and I followed the limited signage).
Once we arrived, we were mesmerized by the mystical ambiance — dark wood, red accents, gold-gong light fixtures and Chinese lantern motifs were aplenty, but my eyes were drawn to le bar. Constructed like a traditional Chinese home with a distinctive roof accented by pink neon lights, it was truly one of the most unique bars I’ve laid eyes on. Although it was early, the restaurant already had a lively vibe.
Our server stopped by our table and suggested we try a signature cocktail to ease into the soirée. At first glance, the cocktail menu was full of fruity concoctions with whimsical names like Green Goddess and Butterfly Sour. The cocktail menu was eclectic, and I could tell that a lot of creativity had been put into it. Take, par exemple, the Zen Garden, which was delivered to our neighbour’s table atop a stone garden and dry ice, eliciting several oohs and ahhs as the drink was poured table-side. I was curious to see if the cocktails would put BarChef to shame or if it was all just smoke and miroirs.
To transport my taste buds to warmer temperatures, I ordered the Halo Halo ($15) — a light and fruity cocktail that fused jackfruit, ube, pomegranate, tequila and coconut milk. It wasn’t love at first sip as the fatty coconut milk overtook the other flavours, detracting from how its original description implied it to be. My guest’s drink, the Jade Palace, was worth its $25 price tag. It was refreshing and the right amount of sweet. A massive green ice cube was covered with St. Germain, yuzu, lime and a healthy splash of prosecco. When we slurped all the liquid up, our server suggested ordering a glass of prosecco to top it up. An up-sell, peut-être, but it was worth it.
Chef Back is known for his contemporary interpretations of Asian cuisine, but when I looked at the menu, I wasn’t necessarily convinced. The Kung Pao Chicken ($16) seemed no different than that at other Chinese restaurants — same with the Hot and Sour Soup ($7). Many of the descriptions seemed like a similar version of what you’d find at a Chinese takeout joint, sans the posh setting.
Although our server suggested at least four dishes pour partager, we opted for three to start and planned to reassess as required. From the rice and noodles, we selected the Chow Fun Stir Fry ($14), which was a greasy bowl of wok-fried sa ho noodles and prawns, with a few vegetables. What j’adore about Asian cuisine is the range of flavour profile we don’t often see in North American cuisine. I craved more depth, and wasn’t finding it in this dish. Other than the generous portion size, there wasn’t anything remarkable about this bowl of lifeless noodles. Desolée.
We were told that one of Chef Back’s favourites was the Angry Chicken ($16), so, naturally, we thought this would impress. The “angry” component of the dish comes from the spicy Sanpei sauce and Szechuan peppers. The chicken is slathered with the sauce as well as with white sesame seeds, green onions and peanuts. While the taste was nothing mind blowing, I appreciated the creative presentation and edible “nest” in which part of the dish sat.
We were tempted by Chef’s famous traditional Peking Duck (full, $99; half, $50) when we heard it had been roasted for two days; however, another style of duck captured our attention. The Black Truffle Duck ($49) was a half duck with a side of signature black truffle sauce. Although the wait between our previous dishes and our duck was far too long, the duck’s just-crispy skin and deliciously tender meat erased the minor frustration. This was a dish I couldn’t replicate at home, and I had hoped to see more of that on Dasha’s menu. We were so full from the previous two dishes that we only ate about half the portion. C’est dommage, because it was the highlight.
From the unique ambiance to the delicious cocktails, Dasha is certainly a place to be seen for a fun night out — and perhaps some off-key singing after warming up with a few cocktails. If you recall what Spice Route (now closed) was like in its heyday, Dasha is no different. Go to sip, sing and absorb the ambiance. Unfortunately, there was ample room to improve when it came to la nourriture — it failed to meet my expectations for a truly contemporary Chinese experience.
Mme M. xoxo
La rubrique de Madame Marie
1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
2 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
3 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
4 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
5 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.