Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Momofuku Daishō: Elegant Large Format Feasts

David Chang’s Daishō, located on the third floor of the spectacular bento box of four restaurants in the modern Momofuku glass cube complex adjacent to the Shangri-La Hotel - also home to Momofuku Noodle Bar, Nikai & Shōtō - Daishō specializes in shared plates and large format family-style feasts. Completely encased in glass, the room’s vaulted ceiling is dominated by a grand finned structure made of oak, which not only brings warmth to the minimalistic space but serves as an elegant beacon along University Avenue. With its fabulous views, soft lighting, friendly professional service staff, superior wine, sake and dinner menu, Daishō must certainly be one of the most elegant, hip and satisfying dining experiences in the city.

Daishō's vaulted ceiling is dominated by a grand finned structure made of oak, 
which not only brings warmth to the minimalistic space but serves as an elegant beacon 
along University Avenue

The interior features lots of white and black oak, handcrafted Maruni "Hiroshima" chairs 
and bar seating, as well as handsome "Excel" floor lamps and chandeliers from RBW

Along the periphery of Daishō's modern 80-seat dining room, are a number of smaller tables surrounded by hand-crafted black Maruni Hiroshima chairs, while in the heart of the room are a series of white oak benches nestled at communal dining tables, and in the prime southeast corner, a large Chinese-style round table that seats 10. Natural light spills into the airy space by day, while at night the room is softly illuminated by retro-modern 'Excel' chandeliers from Rich Brilliant + Willing. The sparse decor reflects founder David Chang’s low-key esthetic that he crafted at his three Manhattan restaurants. "Similarities are the goal. We wanted to implant the New York DNA and let is grow from there," says Chang. None of the restaurants are fancy or pretentious. Servers wear faded T-shirts and you often eat with your hands. Chang's recipe seems to be working. The Noodle Bar was packed when we arrived; Shōtō with its nightly tasting menu of 10 or more plates for $150 plus $80 for drink pairings was full; and Daishō was coming alive when we left at 9:30pm!

Daishō is located in a soaring glass cube overlooking bustling University Avenue

Of all the Momofuku Toronto concepts, Daishō has the most extensive menu, with large format meals for parties of four to ten guests and à la carte sharing plates ranging from about $10 up to a whopping $125 for the Raw Seafood Platter. Menus change often based on market availability and are inspired by the diversity of Ontario's native ingredients and relationships with local vendors and suppliers. Large format feasts include dishes such as Bo Ssam at $240, Salt & Pepper Nova Scotia Lobster from the Bay of Fundy for $250, Beef Short Ribs at $220 and a 65-day dry-aged Beef Ribeye for $600 for six to eight people! Amazingly, the evening we were dining, at least 3 of the tables were tucking into platters of lobster and one splurged on the $600 ribeye. Although walk-ins are accepted, reservations for dinner Monday to Saturday are encouraged, in particular for the family-style courses — in fact, with only one ribeye available per night, advance planning is essential.

The Daishō daily changing menu

Seated at one of the smaller tables along the soaring 3-storey bank of windows overlooking University Avenue, we started our meal with a pre-dinner cocktail and nibbled on a complimentary plate of crunchy pickled cucumbers. Our server suggested ordering three main dishes each plus a series of appetizers, which we did. We began with Raw Scallops with melon, basil and bacon and one of the specials for the evening, Roasted Rice Cakes with dried seafood, guanciale, octopus and chili threads, which was fabulous. Gloriously chewy and full of rich flavours, it was absolutely excellent with the Wild Striped Bass we also ordered — my favourite dish of the night.

Daishō's Hendrick's Gin Martini with a 'twist'

Complimentary pickled sweet and salty Kirby cucumbers with peppers

A BC Rosé Pinot Noir from Joie Farm in the Okanagan Valley

Q-Water is produced in-house at Momofuko, reducing the carbon footprint 
for providing carbonated and distilled water to customers

Raw Nova Scotia Scallop with shaved melon, bacon and basil with cilantro garnish

My portion of the raw scallop dish

Gloriously chewy Roasted Rice Cakes with dried seafood, guanciale, octopus and chili threads,
one of the special dishes offered on the menu this evening

Wild Striped Bass with pepperoncini, fried clam and chili jam in an aromatic broth

McGee Farms Hanger Steak served with puréed red kimchi sauce, ginger scallion sauce, 
onions and bibb lettuce

One of our main dishes was the Hanger Steak from McGee Farms, which was served with a puréed kimchi sauce, ginger scallion sauce, roasted caramelized onions and bibb lettuce for wrapping. Recommended by a friend as a 'must-have', we found the steak somewhat disappointing compared to the other flavourful dishes. The Secreto Ibérico Pork, a favoured cut from the back leg of acorn-fed Iberian pigs, the meat was lean, lightly marbled with a rich flavour. Served with a small bowl of peach chutney and a tangy mustard mayonnaise, this dish was also designed to be wrapped in bibb lettuce and enjoyed as a finger food. The two vegetable dishes we ordered were exceptional — Sugar Snap Peas with xo sauce, lily bulb, snow pea leaves and delicate Maitake Mushrooms with panko, Pok Pok lemon vinegar, Monforte Toscano cheese and garnished with a vibrant watercress sauce. Maitake, which means 'dancing mushroom' in Japanese, is commonly known as hen-of-the-woods mushroom in North America. Panko crusted and dotted with soft earthy Monforte Toscano cheese, made by Monforte Dairy outside Stratford Ontario, this dish was light, delicious and beautifully cooked.

Sugar Snap Peas with xo sauce, lily bulb, snow pea leaves

XO Sauce is one of those quirky, strange Chinese sauces. The seafood-based sauce was created in Hong Kong in the 80s and called XO sauce to make it sound prestigious and exclusive — like XO (extra-old) cognac! The sauce which is made from dried scallops, dried shrimps, garlic, ginger, Chinese sausage, crushed dried red chili and oil, was truly outstanding on the sugar snap peas.

Maitake 'Hen-of-the-Woods' Mushrooms tossed with panko crust, Pok Pok lemon vinegar, 
Monforte Toscano cheese and watercress sauce

Kunan Farms Secreto pork with peach chutney, mustard sauce and bibb lettuce

A little serving of Secreto on bibb lettuce

For dessert, we had to try the rich, buttery and luxurious triple cream La Sauvagine Cheese from Quebec, which our server said was "positively oozing." Served with warm sweet pretzel bread from Petite Thuet and dried plums, the cheese was perfectly ripe and disappeared in seconds. Also, having heard so much about Momofuku's famous Crack Pie, we decided to try a slice and see what all the fuss was about. Anyone who's taken a bite of this Milk Bar best seller immediately knows the reason for it's sassy name. Rich and salty-sweet with an buttery oatmeal cookie crust and sweet, gooey, butterscotch flavoured filling, after one bite, it's impossible to stop. We shared on slice between the three of us, and it was heaven. In fact, the whole evening was tremendous. Daishō is all about understated luxury that somehow feels effortlessly cool. Next time, I'll come with a large group of friends and try some of Daishō's festive large format dishes, like the $270 five-lobster dinner or $125 fried chicken for six — Yum-Yum!

La Sauvagine, a rich, buttery and luxurious triple cream cheese from Quebec, 
served with a sweet warm pretzel and dried plums

A slice of Crack Pie, one of Momofuko's most famous desserts, 
served with whipped cream and powdered sugar

As we were leaving around 9:30 pm, Daisho was beginning to fill up

David Chang

Momofuku Crack Pie
Serves 10-12

Oat cookie crust:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
9 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
5 1/2 tbsp packed golden brown sugar, divided
2 tbsp sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar
1 tbsp nonfat dry milk powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
6 1/2 tbsp heavy whipping cream
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
Powdered sugar, for dusting as garnish

For the oat cookie crust, preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13 x 9 x 2-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper; coat with nonstick spray. Combine 6 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until light and fluffy, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, about 2 minutes. Add egg; beat until pale and fluffy. Add oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Turn oat mixture out onto prepared baking pan; press out evenly to edges of pan. Bake until light golden on top, 17 to 18 minutes. Transfer baking pan to rack and cool cookie completely.

Using hands, crumble oat cookie into large bowl; add 3 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar. Rub in with fingertips until mixture is moist enough to stick together. Transfer cookie crust mixture to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Using fingers, press mixture evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie dish. Place pie dish with crust on rimmed baking sheet.

For the filling, position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Whisk both sugars, milk powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add melted butter and whisk until blended. Add cream, then egg yolks and vanilla and whisk until well blended. Pour filling into crust. Bake pie 30 minutes (filling may begin to bubble). Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Continue to bake pie until filling is brown in spots and set around edges but center still moves slightly when pie dish is gently shaken, about 20 minutes longer. Cool pie 2 hours in pie dish on rack. Chill uncovered overnight.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; keep chilled. Sift powdered sugar lightly over top of pie. Cut pie into wedges and serve cold.

Chinese XO Sauce
Makes 2 cups
Recipe from Momofuku by David Chang

1/2 cup dried scallops
3/4 cup dried shrimp
1/2 cup garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 cup country ham, chopped (or use Chinese sausage)
1/2 cup grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
1 tbsp crushed dried red chile

Place the scallops and shrimp in a medium bowl and cover with at least 1/2-inch of water. Cover the bowl and let sit overnight. Put the garlic and ginger in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Empty the contents into a bowl. Drain the scallops and shrimp. Place the scallops and shrimp in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the scallop and shrimp to the garlic and ginger. Finally, mince the ham or sausage in the food processor. Keep the ham or sausage separate from the rest of the ingredients. 

In a 12-inch sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat for a minute or so. Add the ham and stir occasionally, for about 3-4 minutes until the meat begins to crisp. Add the chile and cook, while stirring, for another 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low and add the remaining ingredients to the pan. Let the sauce cook over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is stuck to the pan. The sauce should dry out and turn a deep golden colour. Remove from heat. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator. It should last for months.