There are many reasons why you might enjoy traveling. Maybe you like immersing yourself in the local culture and learning more about the area’s history. Perhaps you’re looking for a change of pace and scenery, escaping winter in favor of sandy beaches and sunny climes. Or maybe you like to eat. I like to eat.
In addition to gawking at Niagara Falls and walking through the shark tank at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, we also sampled a little of the local culinary scene during our recent trip to Toronto. And easily one of the biggest highlights in that regard was our visit to DaiLo Restaurant, officially located in Toronto’s Little Italy neighborhood.
DaiLo, which literally translates to “big brother” in Cantonese, is described as an “Asian brasserie” with “French-inspired Chinese fare.” Basically, it’s one of these places that derives its inspiration from dim sum and other Chinese dishes and attempts to “elevate” or “reinvent” them with a bit of modern flair. It reminded me a lot of places like PiDGiN or Forage in Vancouver, attempting to showcase creativity and uniqueness as its defining characteristics.
Dishes here are meant to be shared. You can go a la carte, where smaller dishes are about $15 and larger ones are $30+, but you’re better off going with the tasting menu. “DaiLo’s Choice” is $65 per person and its like the “omakase” you might find at some Japanese sushi restaurants. Our server asked us a few basic questions about preferences and indicated that we should expect about five or six courses. We ended up with much more than that.
After a little amuse bouche, we were treated to these delectable crispy octopus tacos. That’s not a regular corn or flour tortilla. It’s not the Chinese pancake that comes with Peking duck either. That soft taco shell is actually made from jicama and made for a very light, delicate, and delicious bite. The inclusion of pork belly made it super savory too.
Understandably, my three-year-old daughter didn’t really count as a “person” for the tasting menu at DaiLo. (I’d be pretty upset if they charged $65 for her.) Even so, she got special treatment in the form of this Asian-inspired Big Mac. Yes, that’s McDonald’s Big Mac sauce under that bao. An interesting surprise, to say the least.
Curiously, one of my favorite dishes of the night had no meat at all. Call me a sucker for these sort of things, even if I self-identify as a meatatarian at heart. The pumpkin dumplings are immediately reminiscent of butternut squash ravioli, but this came with shaved truffles and a white rabbit glaze.
Yes, white rabbit. Like the iconic candy. Combined with a soy buerre blanc, these dumplings were sweet and earthy and oh so satisfying. I couldn’t imagine eating more than a few bites of this though.
There’s something magical about deep frying an entire fish. The fried fish was served with a variety of condiments for dipping. Slowly picking my way through the cheek meat was a delight, though getting through the little bones in the spine took a little more effort than I would have liked.
As far as plating, the star of the night had to the smoked duck, which you can also see at the top of the post. Topped with a red pepper jam, the duck arrived pre-sliced for easy consumption and wasn’t overly smoky. The accompanying root vegetables and fiddlehead ferns made for a wonderfully colorful spread.
After a palate-cleansing white rabbit sorbet (there’s that candy again!) which we thought was our dessert, we were served our actual dessert: a kasu white sugar cake (bak tong gou; kind of like a spongy rice pudding) topped with shaved coconut and a caramelized sauce with sea buckthorn. Yes, we definitely ended up with more than five or six courses in total, each more intriguing than the last.
DaiLo Restaurant is located at 503 College Street in Toronto, Ontario. While $65 a head (plus drinks, taxes and gratuity) isn’t exactly affordable as an everyday meal, it’s actually a decent value for the occasional indulgence. I recommend going with DaiLo’s Choice (and going with at least a couple of other people) to sample as much of the menu as possible.