The weather was incredibly nice in Toronto this weekend, so JH and I dragged ourselves again out of winter migration and headed over to little Italy to try out Doma.
Hidden just off of College Street on Clinton, Doma is a French-inspired Korean restaurant headed by Paul Kim, a Korean chef who trained in French cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu. I had been meaning to try this place for months for the very reason that I have never seen Korean cuisine fused with French technique before, but for whatever excuse – mostly reclusiveness related – the opportunity did not come up until now. The restaurant has been only open for four months, but it has since received a lot of positive reviews, so I was excited when the day of the reservation rolled around.
- Mood – I started another new med on Friday night, so I woke up on Saturday feeling incredibly high-strung. I felt angry-irritable for most of the day even through out the walk there, but the dinner with JH and the ambiance of the restaurant helped to simultaneously calm me down and raise my spirits.
- Focus – Korean-French fusion.
- Craving – Chef Kim’s Duck in Two Ways.
- Feedback from the husband – He enjoyed the meal. We had our favourites, and not-so-favourites (which I will detail in a bit), but I think overall, it was a positive experience. We left the restaurant full (but not dying), and enjoyed the nice, long slightly chillier walk back home.
When JH and I stepped into the restaurant, we knew we had been in this exact spot before – for its predecessor Acadia – so the surroundings felt familiar.Every restaurant in Toronto (especially on the Ossington strip) feels like a dark, long narrow hallway. Doma on the other hand is a decently sized space. It would actually be a really pretty off-the-beaten-track place to host a private party or a really small wedding. I think its (relatively large) patio opens up in the summer, so it will open up the restaurant even more.
The space is gorgeous – minimalistic overall with rustic furniture, antique finishings, and very feminine decor and design touches. I loved the floors especially, which were patterned with white black-bordered hexagons. You could tell that a lot of thought went into each decor touch – from little baby bottles of baby’s breath on each table, to either a wooden or black chair patterned or paired to each table. I also loved how the natural light fell on all the tables in the front because of the restaurant’s big windows. Mind you, at this time of year we needed to eat dinner at 5PM to get that natural light before sunset. But, given these days JH and I (well, mostly me) tend to fall asleep earlier, this was not really an issue.
Onto the service, our server was a really nice woman with funky red-rimmed glasses. She answered all our questions without skipping a beat, made great recommendations where we asked, and sought our feedback when it just seemed right without being too overwhelming. Everything came out with good flow and timing. Overall, we could not ask more from service.
Finally, the food. The menu is small, but they do change it each month to adapt with different seasonal ingredients, and smartly, to draw interested customers back for new dishes. They are currently on their fourth menu iteration. The menu on our visit consisted of six mains and two desserts. You can order a la carte, or opt to do a tasting menu consisting of all the dishes on the menu. We did the math, and it made more sense for us to do the tasting menu since we basically wanted to try everything. Unlike other tasting menus we have been to in the past however, the meal comes out family style versus an individual dish per person. Partially because I like to take my time to photograph dishes, I would have liked to have my own dish so JH could start eating first. However, JH knows the drill at this point, and has become really patient whenever we go to restaurants (especially when by ourselves). Anyhow, we got through the process, and I worked fast enough that it did not really affect the temperature of the dishes.
In order (and with our comments), we ate:
- The Amuse Bouche – a vegetable stuffed ‘hotteok’ (korean pancake) with maple butter. I never really have much to say about amuse bouches unless it really explodes in your mouth and causes a serious surprise. Otherwise, you kind of just pop it in your mouth to open your palate, and move on. We did not really have that much to comment on this. It tasted like a mini pancake, like the ones they sometimes throw in for free as a part of the appetizer array at Koreatown restaurants.
- Eggplant and Tomato ($13 a la carte) – This was JH’s favourite dish, mostly because he loves kimchi. It was a grilled eggplant with a tomato tartare, white kimchi, chilli, and garlic scape. On the side was a charred eggplant puree, and gochujang aioli. It reminded us of a bruschetta. The tomato, kimchi and gochujang flavours worked really well together. The dish was served lukewarm, but I think this worked well, as it made the dish feel pretty summery.
- Grilled Octopus ($20 a la carte) – This is one of their signature dishes that they keep on the menu even if the other dishes rotate. The octopus is sous vide for six hours, and served amongst a coleslaw with a cucumber granita and pickled mustard seeds. It is a refreshing dish, and I liked the pops of mustard. I wish the octopus could have been a bit more tender, but all in all, JH and I are not really octopus people. For that fact, we probably did not appreciate this dish as much as other people who do love octopus would.
- Roasted Cauliflower ($15 a la carte) – This was served with quinoa, mugwort leaves, roasted pepper chutney, soy yuzu glaze and gojuchang dressing. This felt like a simple dish, and I think that in order to appreciate it, you have to make sure you spoon all the components together in one bite to really get all of the flavours. I loved the tanginess of the yuzu, so I wish the dish had a bit more of that particular glaze.
- Duck in Two Ways ($26 a la carte) – Another signature dish on the menu. This was our server’s favourite dish, and ultimately mine as well. The duck breast was cooked absolutely perfectly. The combination of the duck with dumplings, foie gras infused duck jus and cauliflower puree made this such a warm, earthy comfort food dish. The dish was also stunningly plated. (To note, Chef Kim’s plating was actually beautiful all-around.)
- Korean Herb Crusted Fish ($26 a la carte) – This dish was really beautiful. It looked like a row of lily pads. The fish almost seemed camouflaged underneath the various sauces and herbs. The dish was served with a ‘doenjang’ hollandaise, warm lentil salad, ginger and pea puree. The ginger was gelatinized, and because JH loves ginger, he wished there was more of it. Once again, I wished the dish just had a bit more sauce. Perhaps, with sharing dishes, one person ends up stealing all the sauce, and so the other person eats incomplete components. I am not blaming JH, but I felt like the ‘needs more sauce’ thought kept on resonating in my mind with each dish (though sometimes too much sauce can interfere with the integrity of the ingredients).
- Sticky Pork Ribs ($24 a la carte) – This was a delicious dish as well. I kind of wish the ribs were de-boned. I guess because of the fact that this was a tasting menu (and ‘elevated food’), I would have liked not to have a plate full of bones. However, this was a really minute criticism. It was also the last course of the meal, so having a plate full of bones did not really actually matter. I loved the spicy rice cake in this dish. Ddukbokkie (spicy rice cakes) is one of my favourite korean dishes, so I just wish there were more than two pieces. The polenta needed salt on its own, but when you eat it with the mushrooms, rapini, and spicy rice cake, everything tastes delicious. Case in point, for all of these dishes, you need to make sure you get all the components on your spoon for the particular bite. The ribs were garnished with deep-fried rice paper. This was an interesting concept, and JH thought it tasted like buttery popcorn. I just thought it tasted like butter.
- Desserts ($10 each) – The desserts were a mugwort and red bean mille-feuille, and rice-cake rolled ice cream. The rice cake was dyed with beet, and the ice cream came in flavours of condensed milk, nine grain and black milk tea. None of the desserts were particularly sweet. JH and I both liked the condensed milk roll. The ice cream rolls came with some crisps, so the texture of the dish was really nice with the soft ice cream, chewy outer layer, and crispiness of the garnish. The mille-feuille was also good, but felt a little less special in comparison to the ice cream roll. The portioning might have been smaller than if ordering a la carte, but I probably would not have paid $10 each for these desserts.
All in all, despite the ‘little-here-and-theres’ and the fact that I did not really like the idea of family-style-sharing, JH and I had a lovely meal, and found it to be a good experience. They asked us to allocate two hours for the meal. I think we finished just under at around 6:50PM. The cost of the meal was $65 per person (pre-tax/tip), which I think was reasonable given the amount of dishes we had, and the ingredients used. As noted, we had calculated that to order the entire menu, it would have cost $144 (versus the $130). I am not sure if portioning would have changed substantially, but we were happy to do the tasting menu. At the very end, Chef Kim came out and talked to each of his customers. He was a very soft-spoken kind-looking man. He told us that he had worked as a sous chef in some Toronto restaurants (Nota Bene, Buca), and then went for training in French cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu. We congratulated him on the beautiful space, and what we thought was a really lovely meal. Given the change in menus monthly, JH and I would consider coming back. The food and service in entirety was good, so we hope that they do well.
Other Little Details
- Doma – 50 Clinton Street;
- We sat by the window in order to get natural light (facing the bar), but as the night progressed it got a little bit cold from the draft. The table next to us asked for the heat to be turned up.
- There are coat hooks by the table for winter coats and bags;
- There is no dress code, though I asked JH to wear a polo shirt versus his normal dirty t-shirts;
- Casual vibe, but a bit of a romantic atmosphere; closer to the end of our meal they started to play some light music (pop/R&B) quietly in the background; they also dimmed the lights;
- They specialize in French-inspired Korean cuisine;
- Parking – there is street parking around Clinton; Green P Parking on College;
- Accessible off the College streetcar.