My next favourite new restaurant wouldn’t exist either if Chang hadn’t closed Daishō and Shōtō. Former Shōtō chefs Peter Jensen and Jed Smith, along with Jensen’s wife, Ann Kim, opened this spot last fall on a drab stretch of Lansdowne. (Jensen was also part of the opening team at Grey Gardens.) The trio didn’t spend a fortune on design—the bar is painted beadboard, the floor lino, and decoration consists of an LP stand and a jungle of potted plants. That and the low-key location frees Donna’s to be a little weird, a little improvisational and not worry too much about answering to investors with a mass-appeal burger.
Instead, they’ve created a menu of reclaimed classics like a smørrebrød of sprats with watercress and curls of horseradish; a Welsh rarebit of kohlrabi, Worcestershire sauce, Guinness and cheddar sauce; sole, oven-cooked on the bone, in a bath of harissa-reddened butter; and a stew of braised duck legs, tomatoes, olives and curly parsley that I could happily eat every night of the week. A great salad is a tough thing to make, especially one as terrific as persimmon and roasted squash tossed with quinoa, fermented chili, lime juice and plenty of cilantro and mint.
They serve a panna cotta in a dollar-store bowl, made deliciously unforgettable by a drizzle of honey-and-apple vinegar and orange marmalade. And they proudly wear their influences—Danish cafés, English hotel restaurants, Thomas Keller and, in a snack of fried chilies and cracked peanuts, the Momofuku paradigm. What they’re ultimately up to is home cooking—but prepared with the inventiveness and care of chefs who’ve worked in some of the best kitchens in the world.
Donna’s, 827 Lansdowne Ave., 416-536-1414, donnas.ca