Joanne Kates reviews the marvellous mashups at new downtown hot spot Doma
Doma hits the nail on the head with its French-inflected Korean food
Marvellous mashups are all over the Toronto food scene, but none of the others are quite so exciting as Doma. Who could have thought up French-inflected Korean food? To my palate it’s a bit of an unlikely marriage, given the reliance of Korean food on heat and kimchi, as against France’s more nuanced gastronomic minuet.
But Doma hits the nail on the head. They start with an amusebouche — a tiny pot of vichyssoise that’s a cross between mousse and soup, all air and savour.
Doma lives in the funky little space just up from College on Clinton, where once was Acadia and then Red Sauce. It’s now a pretty plain white room, with little in the way of glitz or glamour. Same self-conscious downscale mindset applies to the servers, whose modus operandi seems to be that less is more. With such iconoclastic food, one does want to know what’s in it. As each course is set down, I ask these questions to the several servers. Do they think they’re cool for not answering?
If the food were not so fabulous, I might not want to go there. But I do. Again and again and again. Even the apparently pedestrian turns scintillating here. Waldorf salad, the ho-hum
refuge of ’ 50s housewives, has pizzazz to spare, thanks to perilla (a mint-like herb) leaf powder and perilla seed aïoli jazzing up the impeccably crisp celeriac and green apple with superbly candied walnuts.
The Korean kitchen appears in konyak, wonderfully scented jelly-like noodles tossed with super-tender grilled octopus, cabbage, sweet peppers, crispy pear, seaweed powder, lightly pickled fat mustard seeds for tang and small dots of cucumber granita (!) to refresh. This ain’t yer normal kimchi spicing.
Uhsun mandoo are Korean dumplings usually served with a sauce of soy, vinegar and chili. It gets a splendid cross-cultural remake, morphing into ravioli stuffed with scallop, red snapper and prawn, the soy chili appearing in gossamer beurre blanc punctuated with a river of sweet onion purée and small dots of pale green fresh pea purée. A side of grilled radicchio offers the bitter that the sweet needs.
But nothing grabs the eye more dramatically than kalbi bourguignon. Two great national beef dishes. Hard to see where the twain might meet. Apparently the beef is marinated in Korean spices. Doesn’t taste it. Kalbijjim is Korean beef stew. Bourguignon is the great French beef stew, long simmered with red wine, onions, carrots and potatoes. Two different takes on beef. The Doma version is straight up bourguignon to my taste. And I love it. Escoffier could not have improved this rendition.
We’re back to Korean French fusion with rhubarb and ginger — puckery rhubarb sorbet atop gingery crumble with supersmooth rice pudding. This is a pink ’n’ pretty shout-out to spring. Which ends any minute at Doma. They change the menu the first Tuesday of every month, keeping a few popular items (uhsun mandoo? kalbi bourguignon? grilled octopus?)
We’d be sad about the demise of the spring menu, but that’s not a good choice. Better to leap into anticipatory joy about what magic the Doma kitchen will send forth in homage to summer’s bounty.
Clockwise from top: chef-owner Paul Kim, kalbi bourguignon, a trio of uhsun mandoo