“Dosanko” is a new Japanese restaurant located within the ever evolving area of Strathcona. And following the wonderful new murals in the area will eventually lead you to their doorstep. Although you might need a second look as it’s exterior isn’t all that ornate. Simple all black plaint and a neatly printed sign, that speaks to their uncomplicated cooking style.
Inside, the restaurant has that Gastown vibe, wooden floors and wooden furniture paired with red brick walls and exposed beams. Rustic and purposefully aged. The place is kept dark with several strung up lights in large spheres and uncovered bulbs. They set the tone of a more romantic night. However, having a child themselves, the owners also considered date night; and have made it possible with a shelf-barrier dividing the restaurant into two, which contains a play area with a sofa and toys to keep any guardian comfortable and any child entertained.
But for this closed door event, we spent all our time in the main dining area overlooking their handsome bar stocked will with wine, beer on tap, and of course, plenty of sake.
I was delighted to have been invited to this media tasting, otherwise I don’t think I would have ventured this far for their homestyle Japanese; and that would have been a shame considering how great of a gem they are. When it comes to a media tasting: plating and portion size may be gussied up and/or paired down, and the service will usually be top notch. Though I can at least paint you the most accurate image when it comes to the food and the setting, as how I interpret it. But as always, these are my opinions and you need not take them as fact. Unless you have my exact background, have lived my exact experiences, and we possess the same tongue; no one can truly taste and appreciate as you do.
They have been open since July 17th of 2017, which is actually the birthday of one half of this husband and wife restauranteur team. He takes care of the kitchen and she owns the front of the house, but both contribute to the menu, hence the fusion flavour pairings below. This restaurant has been in the works for a while. They spend two year creating and refining many of their dishes. Our chef’s goal was to open up his own restaurant before he turn 40, and with a couple of years to spare, he has achieved this. And given how great everything tasted, I can see longevity in their future. Most notable is the fact that 99% of all that they offer is made in house and from scratch. This includes all of their spice mixes, vinaigrettes, sauces, and even the specialty salt that they feature quite often.
Our menu was a curated selection, allowing us to get a taste of the breath of the kitchen’s ability, as well as some item they have already noted as their hallmarks.
The first two were seasonal items with fresh produce and bold flavours coming together for cooler plates. Helpful in combating against the warmer weather, and the fact that they don’t have air conditioning.
The “Stoney paradise Heirloom tomato salad” was one of our Chef’s favourite dishes. He couldn’t stop talking about these tomatoes from Kelowna and how they were the sweetest he has ever had. With them he paired pickled Walla walla onions, sourced from the same farm, shiso (a Japanese leafy herb), and homemade ricotta cheese. I love tomatoes, and these WERE some of the finest I have enjoyed. Firm and juicy, with just the right amount of sweet. By contrastive and bold extension the pickled tangy onion makes the dish pop with acidity. I would have only liked some more seasonings, and some more salt from the ricotta, to help pull everything together.
A group favourite was the “Koji cured ham with peaches”. “Koji” is a type of mold used in Chinese and other East Asian cuisines to ferment food. This includes soybeans for soy sauce and bean paste, and the saccharifying of rice, grains, and potatoes in the making of alcoholic beverages like sake. It gave the ham the same properties as prosciutto. Except that prosciutto is aged for 6-8 months, whereas with koji made into salt, you only need two months worth of curing to get this similar effect. The end result: some of the most velvety pieces of ham I have ever had. Tender slices with just the right amount of fat. It even tasted rich like prosciutto, except only mildly salty. Together with the peppery leaves and the sweet fruit, you have a classic pairing of salty and sweet.
Next is a typical Japanese salad used as an appie: “Kimpira burdock”. This healthy assembly of fibrous, julienned burdock root and carrot is a classic meal start. Although, I would have preferred it as a side, a clean way to cleanse the palette between dishes.
I am not usually a fan of tempura, but “Dosanko’s” offering was light, and the twist in using koji salt as a dip instead of the typical watery tempura sauce kept each piece airy. They use organic vegetables that kept their crisp texture through the deep frying process. Yellow squash, zucchini, rainbow beets, tomato, yellow beans, purple daikon, and multicoloured carrots. They even tempura-ed the cilantro garnish. The koji salt really gave it each piece its flavour, and like salt it draws out its natural flavour. I would recommend this dish just to try the koji like this.
The restaurant often purchases whole pigs, using every part of it, from cured ham in our appetizer above, to the rue in the curry below, and in this “Pork belly tonkatsu”. Originally this menu item allowed you to pick your pig part and the kitchen would make your request into a perfectly crispy, gold brown fritter. However many of their customers didn’t like how much fat that using a heritage pork created. So the solution was to only offer it made using pork belly. Here the pork is sous vide and marinated in more koji until tender. Then it dredged and given a bath in hot oil. The result is some delicious pork paired well, with some of the nicest sushi rice I have ever had; and the perfected sauces that pulled both together. The dish comes with a side of rice and three sauces/seasonings. You grind the sesame seeds up and add them to the tangy brown sauce. To it you can also add some mayo for a creaminess or use it as a change of taste as needed.
The “Hiyashi chuka” is their housemade cold ramen noodles. Its toppings vary based on what is seasonally offered and available on the day. The shredded chicken is a standard topping, prepared sous vide vide for maximum tenderness. Today we also had it served with their housemade kimchi, that wasn’t as spicy or as vinegary as other kimchi I have had. The pickled daikon gave the bowl a refreshing tang, the corn its sweetness, the shredded cabbage some crunch, and the cherry tomatoes some pop and juice. The noodles tasted like the sum of their ingredients, clean and delicious. I would love to see their take on hot ramen with broth, which I do prefer.
My favourite of the night, and the one our chef claimed was his, was the “Saba”. This is housemade miso marinaded white fish, prepared straight forwardly with mirin, sake, garlic, and ginger. It was light yet rich, savoury yet sweet. It had it all and they all sat comfortably with one another on your tongue. The only downside preventing me from ordering it again is the excessive number of tiny bones you have to pick out between bites of moisture fish. I am not a fan of working this hard to eat.
As mentioned above, their curry over rice used pork rue, made from the left over pulp from their pork belly tonkatsu. This gave the curry a lot more depth. But it wasn’t the sweet Japanese curry I was expecting, instead this smelled and was seasoned more like Tex-Mex ground beef. But the melted cheese did give me the creamier texture I was looking for. As a whole, it was delicious and I wish I had more just thinking about it now.
As a learning piece we were also given a sample taste of fermented rice. This is basically mouldy rice fermented with ground up koji. It looks like cauliflower florets and it tastes like Chinese herbs with a slight sweetness.
To wash that down we were served some of tastiest desserts I have had in a while. I adore their “matcha and white chocolate mille crepe” for its chewier texture, which i somehow cakey for a crepe. It is thick and dense, making your bites all the more decadent. More like sheets of lasagna noodle than light pancake. And like majority of their dish before this, it was the perfect amount of flavour, always feigning on the lighter side. It had a great matcha flavour, milky from the white chocolate, but not too sweet and bitter to start. I liked the peaches on their own, but didn’t really feel like they matched the rest of the plate.
And I couldn’t decide if I liked it or the “Cherry tart” better. This was a beautifully done pie with a buttery crumbly crust, luscious vanilla pastry cream; and perfectly tart, pitted spartan cherry halves. On top of the cherries being locally sourced, the honey used in this comes from their neighbours at “Humanity honey”. This honey in particular comes from many hives all around Vancouver. But the honey on the pie will rotate as new batches are purchased.
I am not a fan of chocolate in general, let alone the bitterness of dark chocolate in this “Chocolate passion torte”. But what I did like was its texture. It felt like sticky fudge under velvety cream. Dark on dark with the light mousse flavoured in passion fruit paired with fresh blueberries to brighten the slice up.
We then all shared a “Coffee and condense milk jelly parfait”, with the appropriate length of parfait spoon. I liked the jelly and would have preferred them as is with a little cream. Here the fluffy whipped cream gave the dessert a more interesting mouth feel, and like the jelly it wasn’t too sweet.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Some standout comfort dining. I really liked the variety I got to try and how clean it all was. A great place for homestyle Japanese food with a western take. And with a good amount of rotation on the menu you can visit them often and always be trying something new. Don’t deny your cravings.