No. 18: DaiLo
503 COLLEGE STREET, TORONTO, ONTARIO
CHEF NICK LIU AND HIS BUSINESS PARTNER, FRONT-OF-HOUSE MANAGER AND SOMMELIER, ANTON POTVIN, HAVE CREATED SOMETHING ENTIRELY UNIQUE IN THIS BOISTEROUS PAN-ASIAN BRASSERIE.
DaiLo is a Cantonese term of affection that translates loosely as “big brother” and shows respect for an elder. And though elders are certainly welcome, it’s a hip young downtown crowd that packs the place every night, and has done since it opened in 2014. A busy, centrally located and dimly lit bar anchors the main room in style and spirit. Decor is vintage chinoiserie with touches of 1930s Chinatown gangster—all ornate metals, mirrors, pastoral murals and colourful accents. The food, by contrast, is completely and assertively modern.
Watermelon is rendered nearly unrecognizable with a Liu makeover that begins with compression, then batter and a deep fryer, and ends with being served hot and crisp, with its pickled rind and a scattering of shredded pork. A fantastic new-Asian pseudo taco features crisp-fried octopus and braised pork in a crunchy and refreshing shell of paper-thin jicama. Whole trout is soy-glazed and fried crisp, then artfully presented in full still-life glory on a platter with nam jim (dipping sauce) and green curry. (It’s meant to be eaten bones and all.) Pork and shrimp wontons are Hakka-style (Liu’s mom and grandmother are Hakka Chinese via South Africa) with toasted sesame oil, house-made XO sauce and almond crumble. The smart menu is long and entirely worth exploring. Just remember: everything goes with truffle-fried rice, and Potvin knows what you should be drinking with it. Service is casual, but professional. The mood is upbeat, and so is the noise level. The bar upstairs offers an abridged menu and cozy nooks for quieter conversation (though not that quiet).
Tuesday to Sunday
5:30 PM until 11:00 PM
NICK LIU BY RICK O’ BRIEN, Smoked Trout on Betel Leaf BY Dave Gillespie, Restaurant interior by mat fabijanic