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Introducing: DonDon Izakaya, downtown’s new spot for authentic Japanese bar food

A healthy strike of the taiko drum greets each customer (Image: Gizelle Lau)

When we first told you about DonDon Izakaya last summer, it was slated for an October opening, but as such things go, it wasn’t until early January that the Japanese restaurant opened quietly after nearly 10 months of renovation. Located on the second storey of an unassuming building at Bay and Dundas, DonDon took over the space once occupied by One Up Restaurant & Lounge. Despite the slightly inauspicious upstairs location, it’s already drawing customers (the big wooden entranceway probably helps), but not quite the mad lineups of its izakaya forbear, Guu—a least not yet.

The team behind DonDon includes Tony Wong, Kazu Maruyama, Mitsuaki Nagasawa and head chef Daisuke Izutsu, previously chef and owner of Kaiseki Sakura. The predominantly Japanese ownership and staff aim to offer a truly authentic izakaya experience: a haven where local office workers and residents can unload after a long day. When each guest enters the bar, the hostess strikes a traditional taiko drum, which sets off a chorus of greeting in Japanese (the staff have a warm-up before each service to get their voices going). Inside, the walls are made of long interconnected bamboo stalks, while Japanese murals adorn private zashiki-style rooms for larger parties of eight to 20. Behind the bar, you’ll find dozens of giant sake barrels as well as bottles displaying DonDon’s long list of 60-plus sakes, shochus and plum wines. Hard-to-find sakes like Nanbu Bijin Ginjo are offered by the bottle, and nearly 20 types are offered by the flask. The bar also offers traditional Chu-Hi shochu cocktails like honey lemon sour, grape fruit or aloe ($5.50).

The menu offers typical izakaya foods like skewers of grilled chicken, quail’s egg or asparagus and bacon ($3 for two skewers). There’s also a range of Japanese food you’d more commonly find at home, like a black croquette with potato, shrimp and cod ($7) or the DonDon-style Caesar salad with pie crusts instead of croutons and runny egg yolk ($7.50). The sashimi and sushi are made warayaki-style, i.e., smoked over the flames of burning hay (from $11.90). Shabu-shabu ($7.20) and homestyle hot pot ($25) round out the menu, along with Tokyo-style hot dogs ($5.20) for west-coasters looking for a Japadog fix. Oh, and perhaps in anticipation of Momofuku’s arrival, there are pork buns too ($8).

DonDon Izakaya, 130 Dundas St. W., 416-492-5292, www.dondonizakaya.com

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