What's the vibe
Toronto continues its reputation as a hot-bed for big-name Asian chefs, with Akira Back opening his second restaurant in two years. Following hot on the heels of his eponymously-titled Japanese eatery inside Bisha Hotel comes Dasha – this time, taking inspiration from modern Chinese cuisine and North American palates.
Dramatic flair is the order of the day, with many of the dishes and drinks arriving at the table in a flurry of theatricality. The result is a fun and festive dining destination that could make for a great ice-breaker (literally in the case of some of the cocktails) on a first-date or an Instagram-fuelled night out with a group of friends.
The decor at this 9,000-square-foot space (from Solid Design Creative) tucked down an alley off King and Portland, carries on this theme with a tongue-in-cheek nod to the kitschy pagodas of North American Chinese restaurants. But in addition to the trademark red chairs, green lights and paper lanterns dotted around the restaurant, Dasha has gussied things up with a sweeping staircase that Princess Kate would be proud to descend, plus a completely open kitchen and a moody executive lounge in the back.
Once you're liquored up, head upstairs to one of the five karaoke rooms and sing your heart out to one of the 60,000 songs on offer.
What to drink
This ain't your standard bar rail. The drinks program here is a showstopper, with enough pizazz to shift your attention away from the usual yawny glass of wine or bottle of beer (though that's there for you if you change your mind). The names of several cocktails sound like fancy spa treatments – choose from the Zen Garden; a mix of Remy Martin VSOP, soursop, blood orange and rhubarb which arrives smoking on a bonsai tree's front lawn; or the Ember Island, aka a mint julep doing a good impression of a sunbather in the middle of a sandpit.
We absolutely loved the Jade Palace, a sweet but balanced blend of St. Germain, yuzu, lime and sparkling wine, which comes with a luminous green lychee ice cube (looking eerily like Homer Simpson's uranium rod) that melts as you drink. Thirsty? Just ask your server for a little Prosecco top-up.
What to eat
With a Michelin-starred chef at the helm, we were expecting fireworks at the dinner table, and Dasha delivers with a mix of flavourful, modern-Chinese plates with a healthy dose of Japanese influence. While it doesn't tie itself to a specific regional cuisine, the menu veers slightly south with recognizable North American Chinese classics like kung pao chicken and sweet and sour ribs. In that respect, what chef Akira Back is doing isn't particularly groundbreaking – however, it's his treatment of these dishes that elevate the meal above the typical takeout experience.
Dasha is Chinese for "mansion," so it stands to reason that the menu here is family-style. If you're feeling hungry, order a handful of mains and sides, and wait for your helpful servers to deliver dishes in a steady stream as they're ready. We kick-started things with dim sum, opting for the steamed har gow which arrived à la Beyonce in a plume of dry ice. Next, we devoured the crispy salt and pepper prawns, served on a bed of deep-fried panko crumbs that you're definitely going to want to snaffle too.
Peking duck, roasted for 48 hours, is available by the half ($50) or whole ($95) and although guests don't need to preorder, it has been selling out most days. Mongolian beef is given the all-star treatment, with a truffle dressing recipe from none other than Mongolia, slathered over the 16 oz prime rib.
Dessert isn't on the menu just yet, but when it arrives in the coming weeks, you can expect something equally 'extra' from the kitchen. But if you need a little something sweet, the Ember Island's biscuit-crumb beach and single Rolo chocolate should tide you over.
Dinner and drinks for two: around $120.
620 King St. W., 416-601-0662; dashatoronto.com