I was expecting an outstanding restaurant when I visited Donna’s at 827 Lansdowne Avenue. After all the three chef/owners have an undeniable pedigree, being alumni of Momofuku and other well-known establishments. Toronto Life Magazine gave them a number two spot, on their top new 15 best Toronto restaurants.
After trying to find some legal parking in this part of town, we entered this “flea market chic” or maybe just “flea market “ space, with worn linoleum tiles that had seen better days. The restaurant seats about 30, with mismatched lighting, chairs, dishes, plants and cutlery, and a communal table next to the open kitchen. Assuming for guests without reservations. Mustard tables, and hard wooden banquets. They have a real open kitchen, which emits all the odours and smells. The fire alarm also went off that evening, and I am told it happens often. Oh, and someone’s hair caught fire at the front of the restaurant, where they place some candles, but I digress.
Dining here is a homey, casual, unfussy, and moderately priced experience. It is like eating at your aunt Matilda’s where there are hits and misses. Some things are creative, others leave a question mark for me. The lamb liver toast was interesting and the salad was light and tasty. The braised duck, with olives and pine nuts, was more liquid than protein. The rice and miniature shrimp was very soupy. The quinoa with squash and potatoes was interesting but missing the menu promised persimmon. I certainly didn’t see any on the plate. My favourite dishes were the locally made sourdough bread with creamy butter, which had an $8 surcharge, and the warm rice pudding with rhubarb and pistachio.
There are a few craft cocktails, spirits, beer, ciders, and a fair selection of wines, but none that I was familiar with.
I am a fan of casual eateries, but I was expecting the caliber of a Brother’s or Skippa, and I feel that Donna falls short for the top 15 list. To be in the top 15, you need something to set you apart from the others. If it is comfort food, then it should be comfort food that makes you feel good. For me, Donna missed the mark.