Strip mall businesses are often difficult to identify especially from busy corridors like Merivale Road. Dao has signage that helps curb that problem, although at first you’re not precisely certain what the stylized lettering spells. Once you enter however you are transported into a space both futurist and minimalist, with the design sensibility of a sci-fi show art director who’s been moonlighting. How wonderful that we can enjoy this beautiful space.
Dao first opened in July of 2021 and has set its standards fairly high, with a unique food licensing business model based in part on a relationship with the producer Pablo in Japan, and matching their remarkable pastries you’ll find that their coffee is really rather superb as they’ve partnered with one of Canada’s finest roasters, HATCH out of Toronto.
If you are someone interested in coffee culture you’ll straightaway recognize that a few of their baristas really know their stuff and that the pour over equipment used is topflight, such as the Hario V7 carafe (Japan) and the Fellow Stagg Pour Over Kettle. Their carafes sit on scales to provide the precise hot water to ground coffee ratio for that perfect cup. The last time I saw this level of coffee geekiness was in Portland, Ore. and we should welcome it here.
Dao are also the only shop in Ottawa to offer Cho Kwok Lat, the chocolate of award winning Toronto Chocolatier Chris Kwok and Daango Macarons and Cakes by former pharmacist turned 2021 Master Chef winner Christopher Siu whose creations are wowing the public at his shops in Scarborough and Toronto’s Kensington market.
Savoury squares of perfectly buttery croissant pastry filled with satay beef or tomato mushroom are certainly worthy of your dollar, and their Japanese Curry Chicken pastry is one of the most memorable and satisfying snacks in years.
As a Euro Asian inspired cafe, Dao also provides a deep beverage menu of coffees and natural flavoured teas that will leave you muttering “Bubble Tea. What’s that?” Think of it as a new mantra and a new way to enjoy dessert beverages in 2022.
But let’s talk about the Basque Cheesecake. I’ve certainly never seen this offered in the Ottawa/Gatineau market and it’s long overdue. The cake itself appears much darker than the New York versions most North Americans consider cheesecake, with a centre that’s collapsed. The cake itself is less dense and unadorned but because it’s so similar in every regard to the German cheesecake my mother made every month, I find it simply perfect. Much less sweet and more texturally interesting than the North American versions, it’s an experience that returns me to my childhood.
Less sweet appears to be a theme here and it’s about time that cafes offered artisanal creations that have not only qualitative integrity but are proportionately expert. I’ve enjoyed many of their delights and pastry after pastry Dao delivers and I don’t begrudge what I will call their “Proud Pricing.” It costs something to provide the public with this level of international aesthetic and such high standards in what it offers. It is worthwhile therefore, if you’re the owner, to ensure that your staff deliver on your vision. Time after time however, too many of the staff don’t have the answers to any of my questions.
There also needs to be a better understanding of how to package these pastries as the world is once again in a take-away mode. Today I purchased a gorgeous creation in the shape of a tangerine ($7.50 before tax) only to find a wreckage inside the box because it hadn’t been properly secured. Questions abound.
Ultimately these are problems with ready remedies and can be seen as the usual growing pains almost all ventures see in their first year. Ottawa both deserves and needs the excellence Dao demonstrates and despite a few glitches, I’m a dedicated customer.
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