Location: Thornhill, Canada
Address: 8159 Yonge Street
Time of visit: Dinner on a Saturday in March
Dahn, a known restaurant amongst the Korean population in Toronto, is one of the few that offers a set menu. Akin to a tasting menu, except served family style, it's popular in Korea but hardly ever offered in Toronto. Having tried the typical casual Korean dining establishments, my friends and I agreed we had to expand our palettes. So, Dahn's set menu seemed like a great way to start.
The dinner menu costs $39.95 per person and has to be ordered by the entire table to be served. Given there are so many courses, in order to keep this review to a reasonable length, I'm going to only briefly comment on each.
To start came a bowl of red bean porridge. Is it normal to serve something so heavy to kick off a multi-course meal? It was very thick and its gelatinous consistency makes it very filling so I only had a couple of bites to save room. It was bland and really no depth in flavour – this is no grits from Acadia. I would have liked it to be hotter and perhaps have a sprinkling of fresh herbs on top to wake up the dish.
We were intrigued with what the "waterly kimchi" would be. As soon as you see it, you realize the description pretty much explains everything. The presentation lacks colour and appeal since what arrives looks like pieces of turnip in dish water. Served cold, the "broth" is essentially the preserving liquid used to marinate the radishes. The soup tastes slightly sour and salty and could be refreshing in the summer. But, not a hit at our table as it gave the impression of drinking diluted pickle juice.
The daily salad looked appealing and colourful. But, wasn’t anything spectacular given it consisted of ice burg lettuce, grape tomatoes, mandarin segments, a homemade blueberry dressing and oddly a single maraschino cherry. Not being a fan of fruit based salads I wasn’t a fan of the dish but one friend found the dressing good. Personally, I felt this dish didn't add much to the experience and Dahn should consider getting rid of it and making the following course larger.
The chilled bulgolgi salad was much better and one of my favourite dishes. The thinly sliced beef was well flavoured and had just the perfect amount of sweet and salty. I loved that the marinade had micro pieces of garlic and shallots throughout. Additionally, the crisp green beans at the bottom of the salad were unexpected and went really well with everything. I could have easily just made a meal out of this dish.
Next came a dish of cold seared tuna. The fish was cooked well with a great evenly seared ring. But, I found it very bland as there was no notable crust and too little ponzu sauce topping the tuna. Perhaps there was a flaw in the order of serving the dishes; I would suggest serving this mild flavour tuna before the flavourful bulgogi dish.
The following japchae or Korean glass noodles was one of the best I’ve ever had. I liked that they were less cooked so that the texture held up and didn’t cause the noodles to stick in a mound. Additionally, the sauce had a great spicy undertone that added a little punch to the noodles.
Another popular dish followed - Korean pancakes. There were two flavours chives and mungbean.
- The chive pancake was a beautiful colour but lacked texture as there no actual pieces of chives in the batter.
- Meanwhile, the mung bean version was much tastier with pieces of green onion throughout and a crispier crust.
The deep fried marinated pollock was tasty but didn’t seem very Korean as was covered in a sweet chili thai sauce. I liked its presentation in an edible bowl and deep frying the fish bone to add a decorative element. Dahn gave a generous portion of fish so it was more than enough for the three of us.
More fried seafood followed with shrimp and pumpkin tempura. The batter was very crispy but was too thick for my taste. I certainly wasn’t expecting tempura at a Korean restaurant but then remembered their cuisine is influenced by the Japanese given Korea was occupied by Japan for a while. I would have liked if they cooked the prawns another way since we had just been served deep fried pollock.
Korean barbeque followed with a platter of beef! The assorted barbeque is a meat eater’s dream with cuts of flank steak, sirloin, short-ribs and marinated flank. The sirloin and marinated flank were definitely the highlights. I would have like to have trade in the regular flank and short-ribs for a few pieces of kalbi instead. I enjoyed the tradition of wrapping the beef in pieces of lettuce and topping the wrap with thinly sliced shaved onions.
After all this food you finally get to the “main”. Here, you get to choose from three options - chilled noodle soup, hot noodle soup or nurling (some rice dish). We thought it was a shared plate like all the other courses so opted for the chilled noodle soup as we heard it was most popular. But, it turns out each person gets their own dish; so, we would have rather have one of each so we could see the differences.
At first I was weary of the chilled noodles as they arrived looking like they were in the waterly kimchi broth again. But, it was less sour, and after a few bites really started to grow on me. The best part was the texture of the noodles – they were very different from anything I’ve ever had and had a great al dente bite. Next time I would like to try to hot version instead as found the cold soup a bit strange. However, the dish was a great contrast after having all the heavy fried foods and barbeque beef.
The meal ends with a plate of fresh fruits (cantaloupe, strawberries and orange segments) and a choice of tea or coffee. I opted for the traditional Korean cold tea which is prepared by brewing tea leaves with fruits, roots and other grains. The result is a strongly flavoured beverage that doesn’t really resemble tea anymore. Ours tasted like it was infused with mandarin orange peels and too sweet for my liking. But, it could be that by then I was absolutely stuffed and just couldn’t handle a bite or sip of anything else!
I liked the restaurant itself – larger and cleaner feeling that most of the uptown Korean establishments. Plus, they have private rooms that you can close the door at if you want some alone time with your companions. The staff is friendly and there are so many food choices available. Their menu consists of many “favourites” (done better than most) and some more traditional offerings that I haven’t seen elsewhere. Ultimately, I would definitely return to Dahn, albeit next time I’d just order off their a la carte menu.
Overall mark - 7 out of 10
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Gastro World's Grading System
- Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
- 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
- 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
- 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
- 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
- 10 - absolute perfection!