Fellow board member Jay Shampur and I dined last night at DaiLo in Toronto, a restaurant specializing in New Asian cuisine. Dai Lo is the brainchild of chef and Toronto native Nick Liu. While there is a touch of fusion to the cuisine, it’s really more of an incredibly upscale and extremely flavorful update of authentic Asian cuisine. In a couple of cases of my tasting menu, there were even loving tributes to North American style “Chinese food” which I’ll get to below. This year, they ranked 15th on the Canada’s Best 100 restaurants list. On with the delicious food:
The opening Amouse Bouche was a Tom Yum Custard . Thai style Tom Yum soup broth was transformed into a delicate egg custard dressed with a butterflied poach shrimp and smoked cherry tomatoes. So right away, you see and especially taste the idea of new Asian. It has all the traditional flavors you’d get in a classic Tom Yum soup served in a completely new way. Amazing opener.
Our first dish was the Smoked Trout Pomelo Betel Leaf. Ccold-smoked trout, lemongrass, shallot, nut crumble, crisped rice puffs and coconut caramel dressing sit on a large lime leaf which you wrap everything in and eat.
With this came the amazing Crispy Octopus Taco. Perfectly seared and tender octopus pieces, red braised pork belly, sambal aioli in a jicama shell you all roll up together and eat like a taco. Another quick note here on New Asian cuisine. While the ingredients, idea and presentation are fusion with obvious evocations of Mexican cuisine, the flavors themselves are still 100% Asian. Whereas a true fusion cuisine would IMHO actually incorporate some Mexican flavor influences. Again, there are certainly touches but this is all 100% Asian cuisine in flavor.
Next up was the 5 Spice Foie Gras Torchon Cakelet. A Chinese turnip cakelet evoking the kind you’d find in a Dim Sum was topped with a slice of Foie Gras Torchon and laced with 5 spice powder, hoisin, chili and black vinegar flavors.
Next was one of signature dishes of Dai Lo, the Deep Fried Watermelon. A large chunk of deep fried watermelon is surrounded by bean sprouts, basil leaves, pickled melon rind and pork floss. Now on it’s own, the dish is fresh and flavorful and not sweet at all. I personally didn’t find it very daring in terms of flavor, but the concept of it alone is a great risk for mainstream eaters. However, when I combined it with the leftover glaze of the previous dish, the fried watermelon just sang.
This was followed by another Dai Lo signature dish, the Filipino BBQ Pork Belly. Filipino style barbecued pork belly is dressed with atchara papaya, sawsawan vinegar, arare, and a sweet banana ketchup glaze that you pour over the pork belly. Absolutely delicious. So good I’m giving it to you from two different angles.
Next up was the Potato Foam. This was essentially a thick soup made with foamed potato puree and flavored with black truffle, compressed white peaches and caviar.
The next two courses were also served together, the two signature dumpling dishes on Dai Lo’s menu. First was the Hakka Brown Wontons. Pork and shrimp filled wontons were dressed with toasted sesame oil, house xo sauce, and almond crumble.
Second was the Dumpling Pissaladière, a carmelized onion dumpling dressed with black vinegar gastrique, brown butter crust, mushroom dashi butter, black olive, and black truffle.
The main course for our tasting menu was Deep Fried Red Snapper. A whole red snapper was deep fried, served and deboned and fileted tableside.
This was accompanied by three side dishes. The first was a Sweet Crab Fried Rice dressed with a honey hoisin sauce on the side, puffed rice and black truffle.
The second was a Roasted Swiss Chard topped with roasted elephant garlic and served in roasted garlic sauce.
The third and final side dish was Lobster Hoisin Noodles.
Two desserts rounded out the meal for us. The first was a Fresh Jackfruit Sorbet.
The second was a delicious Caramel Bruleed Rice Pudding.
We did have a couple of wines with the dinner. The first was the Remi Leroy Brut Champagne (Not pictured). Leroy specializes in making Champagne in a natural wine style, or as close as he can get to it. This one is 54% Pinot Noir, 46% chardonnay. It is unfined and unfiltered. It’s a very crisp and very light Champagne and is quite different from heavier house style Champagnes which tend to have more texture. A very serviceable and tasty Champagne, but this will be quite different from what you are used to. The best way I can describe it is that it’s a Pet Nat version of Champagne.
Our second wine was the Clemens Busch 2016 Marienburg Falkenlay GG Riesling. This was a richly textured Riesling with ethereal qualities, but it was also quite closed and required a decant to really sing. Really good stuff.
Although Jay has been to Dai Lo many times and I have been there as well for drinks as our mutual friend Japhet works at Dai Lo as the head bartender, this was my very first time actually eating at Dai Lo. It was absolutely delicious and I fully intend to return. Big thanks to chef Nick, bartender Japhet and floor manager Jeff for taking care of us last night.