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Friday, March 12, 2010

Doma - Modern Japanese/Korean in Franklintown

Complaining about sushi in Philly is a favorite pastime of local foodies, but a bigger shortcoming is the city's sparsity of Japanese cooked food. Most restaurants offer some non-sushi items, but that section of the menu is rarely the focus. This really doesn't make any sense: in Japan, there are restaurants that specialize in many types of food, and Japanese people eat all kinds of food in restaurants, not simply slices of fish. So we were excited to see the menu for Doma, a new restaurant near 18th and Callowhill streets that featured many cooked items from Japan and Korea.

That said, Doma also has a sushi bar and features many raw-fish items, so it's not so different from other places around town, but the number of interesting items from the kitchen is much larger. The owners of this place have run Shiroi Hana in Center City for many years, so the sushi component is a pretty obvious thing to export, and that restaurant offers more cooked items than many places do, but it's a pleasant surprise to see some modern dishes from both Japan and Korea available at Doma.

We've finally been seeing lots of Steamed Pork Buns (pictured above) around town, and not a minute too soon.  This version is one of the best we've had in Philly, featuring delicate bread, and satisfyingly meaty, crusty pork. The menu says it's braised pork belly, but it seemed more like roasted pork shoulder - still plenty of fat for richness, but substantial, and nicely caramelized.  I could have used a touch more of the sweet sauce, or even a dollop of Kewpie Mayo, but even as-is, these are pretty high in the ranking of pork buns in town. There's even a version with mushroom, rather than pork, for the vegetarians.

For more rich porkiness, there's a Bo-Ssam appetizer that serves that braised pork shoulder in lettuce leaves for wrapping, and you can toss-on a raw oyster for more extravagance. I preferred the the buns, but these were good too...

There's not a lot of Okonomiyaki being served around town, so we were pleased to find it here, and this version of the savory pancake, enlivened with bacon, drizzled with sweet sauce and mayo and bristling with bonito shavings was hearty and satisfying.
Hamachi Kama was a simple broiled fish neck, but was nicely moist, with a good char flavor.
White tuna, wrapped in wonton skins and quickly fried were a pleasant special appetizer called Tuna Lolipops. Nothing too thrilling, but nicely crunchy and light.
Another special that night - deep-fried Soft-Shell Crabs were very nicely executed, with a light, tempura batter.

We also sampled some cold appetizers, starting with an elegant Hamachi Crudo.  It's kind of funny to see the Italian term "crudo" in a Japanese restaurant, and this isn't too different from a new-style sashimi, with a tart marinade and a dose of chili spice. But whatever they choose to call it, it was tasty...

Ironically, the sushi platter that one of our party ordered failed to impress. It had good variety, and decent quality fish, but overall just seemed blah.  In all fairness, this visit was on one of the first days they were open, so they may not have been fully up-to-speed, they were not very busy yet, and perhaps they hadn't fully-stocked the sushi area.  We'll certainly give them another shot. a degree, we don't even care...  We are more interested in the other parts of the menu anyway.  Of course one always hopes that everything on the menu is good, but in this circumstance, we're perfectly happy to eat other things here.

Like the Ankimo, a monkfish liver mousse of sorts.  This one, served with wasabi-cured roe and a sweet ponzu sauce, was quite nice.

The Uni Trio featured three presentations of fresh sea-urchin, one atop shredded daikon, another atop firm tofu, and a shooter that featured a raw quail egg and sake. The uni itself was good, although I'm not sure these particular contexts improved it much, they didn't ruin it either...  The exact components of the trio are likely to change day to day.

We'd filled-up enough on starters that we didn't even make it to the dinner entrées, but we couldn't leave without a Hot Stone Bibimbop. This traditional Korean rice dish had good ingredients, but didn't crust-up all that much, one of the best parts, so maybe the bowl wasn't quite as hot as it could be. This version isn't going to give the traditional places up on north 5th street any real competition, but it was still very tasty, especially after being dosed with spicy gochuchang pepper sauce.

There are several more appealing-looking large dishes, like Kalbi, Tonkatsu, Salmon Shioyaki, and even dinner bento boxes with a variety of items.

So we have plenty of motivation to return, to try things we didn't, and also to get more of those pork buns!

1822 Callowhill St.


  1. Oh good, a restaurant that figured out that there's more to Japanese food than sushi ;) Thanks for posting!

  2. Anonymous7:23 PM

    This place stinks

  3. It's not very helpful to just say it stinks, can you elaborate?

  4. Wow! All that food looks so amazing!