Biiru,Montreal

Posted: February 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

Biiru | Type of cuisine: Isakaya-style (Japanese bistrot food) | Addr: 1433 Rue City Councillors, Montréal | When: 20-02-2015 19:00 | URL: http://biiru.squarespace.com/ |

RAMEN SOUP

 

 

I ordered their sole ramen offering, a ramen made of chicken and pork. The broth not too dense, but which lightness is still packed with character, meaning it is not of the watery kind that so oftently abound in most ramen places in town . This is easily my second favourite Japanese-style ramen,in Montreal, second only to ramen Misoya on Bishop (although, a recent  ramen I had at Ramen Misoya was disappointing), but keep in mind that Misoya’s noodles and ramen have nothing to do with this one at Biiru. Let’s set the record straight: this ramen did not have the technical complexity/depth of a benchmark ramen, especially when compared to the very best ramen of Tokyo (for eg, Fuunji-) , but to my palate, it was more flavoursome (though it goes without saying that you should not  compare the incomparable….my rating of Fuunji is in the context of the world class ramen standards that Fuunji pertains to, whereas my assessment of Biiru is in relation  to the ramen standards found in Montreal) . It was..actually…far more delicious and had better balanced seasoning than at the average ramenya of Tokyo. What the average ramenya of Tokyo had, and that you’ll actually virtually not find in Montreal, are noodles  (the thin wavy noodles of a ramen like this one at Biiru, while not bad at all, will still pass as normal/just ok compared to some of the noodles found at most ramenyas in Tokyo) and chashu of  superior quality .  No other ramen in Montreal, apart the finest that I had at ramen Misoya (by now, I ate 4  times at ramen Misoya. While the first two  ramen were dazzling, the last two were subpar in comparison) , have impressed me as much as this one. A delicious broth. 8/10

Chicken skewers were hard to fault,  meaty with a superb kiss from the grill. In Quebec, it is hard, nowadays, for a restaurant to have the priviledge of using charcoal (they do not have charcoal at Biiru), but that —as well as the observation that the pieces of chicken were not as chunky as I wished —  was pretty much the only quip I could raise. Still, what matters is that the food was…again and again…delicious, which is sadly a notion that plenty of restaurants seem to have lost these days. 7.5/10

The   gyoza are among the fine ones  I had in Montreal,  the dough timely steamed, the consistency properly soft, the crispy bottom (served side up as it should) boasting superb grill marks. I did not try the accompanying sauce. Clearly a kitchen that knows what it is doing. 7.5/10

Those 3 items with a bottle of Asahi cost$40, which is relatively (by Montreal restaurant standards) reasonable, especially in light of the quality of the cooking (not life shattering, perhaps,  but way better than at most isakayas in town).

I went back the following weekend, for lunch (the pros, cons, bottom line and what I think days later section have been updated accordingly) :

 

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Picked the most popular of their items (according to most online accounts and the restaurant’s staff), the pork ribs. On the bright side, the portion was sizeable, the meat tasty enough. But the ribs I was having lacked heat (do not get me wrong: it was not cold, but lukewarm and lukewarm does not make exciting ribs…) and this is an instance when charcoal grill would have worked plenty of magic (but forget charcoal, it’s a pain for new restaurants in Montreal to have charcoal). Not bad, but far less impressive than, say, the finer pork ribs I had at Kazu (Kazu uses charcoal) as it needed meatier/bolder mouthfeel. An offering  like this relies heavily on timing: for eg, the feeling that the pork ribs was freshly grilling on the grill…just minutes ago. Which is not the impression I was getting while sampling those pork ribs. Again, given the apparent popularity of their ribs, my serving was perhaps an exceptionally subpar one. Still, I can only talk  for what I have experienced with and this one I have ordered …well, they did not nail it. 5/10

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Then the beef and cheese skewer. Basically, a ‘clin d’oeil’ to fondue (this, like to hear this or not,  is perfectly in the spirit of neo-Japanese Isakaya cooking style, btw, the same way that neo-Japanese cooking trends took ramen, not a long a time ago,  and made ramen burgers out of it) — cheese fondue surrounded by thin slices of meat, served as a skewer in this case. When you’ll read the ‘bottom line’  and ‘what I think days later” sections, you’ll notice that I do appreciate their relative creativity (relative to this kind of food, Isakaya-style food in Montreal)/personal twists and went to the extent of stating that they (the twists) do work, in general. The beef and cheese skewer is a good example of just that (the quality cheese timely melted to a perfect smooth consistency, the meat and cheese combo logical, for sure, but well executed). It can definitely pass as more Western-style than Japanese as the taste leans towards western flavors, but again this is a twist on Isakaya-style cooking, so I am not expecting traditional Japanese flavors in every single bite. This, without knocking any socks off (I personally prefer a big chunk of beefy /juicy grilled meat ;p), was still done really well (I can see many eateries getting such logical and simple combo of ingredients…wrong).  7/10

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The best  item of the lunch was the skewers of freshwater eel (unagi). Like most people, I find praises and raves suspicious. To the contrary of the most, I am not afraid to express my enthusiasm. As ever, I have no clue if that eel is as consistently as great as the one I was sampling on this lunch, BUT this eel, this eel I was having on this lunch, this eel  is the best eel that I ever had in Montreal. A spectacular (by Montreal standards) piece of quality unagi  with glamourous texture and superb consistency (neither too firm, not too soft, just the right balanced chew), the tsume sauce not as intensely flavored  as sometimes found in Tokyo but tasting great and expertly executed (not cloying, having carefully measured density) . One by which I’ll judge all other servings of unagi in Montreal    10/10

So, the lunch did not alter my initial appreciations of Biiru as, for a second meal in less than a week, I found no issue regarding the cooking (except, obviously, for the pork ribs of this lunch…which, at an Isakaya…I’ll admit…should NEVER  fail to leave an impression…). There are, obviously, items that I found superior than others, but since this is the reality of most restaurant meals, what matters to me is that there has always been –up to now — an item that stood out (the eel on this lunch, the ramen of the last meal, etc).  Excellent service on both instances.

 

PROS: (1) They take some risks with their propensity for occasional creative twists, and that will inevitably backfire at times. But the twists  seem to generally work (2) Up to now, the ramen — again, leave Japan aside, remember that you are in Montreal—  as well as the freshwater eel.

CONS: (1) The chicken’s skewers tiny quantity of meat in relation to its price  (2)the pork ribs of my second meal (3) the impression, for now — — that the grill  is a bit ‘timid’ in its duty to dazzle (the chicken skewer was nice,but it could have been  better with bolder grilling flavor ) .  Perhaps my picks did not give it (the grill) a chance, so  I’ll focus on this aspect next time  I go there.

Bottom line: Biiru will certainly not impress the old school Isakaya hardcore fan who wants his cooks ( I do not think that the cooks are Japanese, but it does not matter…they know how to cook!!) and food  to be absolutely genuinely Japanese (they sometimes enjoy adding their own twists) , but I couldn’t careless as the food here is generally enjoyable, the place fun/animated . You want Japan,then go to Japan! As simple as that. That said, items like the ramen I had, the freshwater eel, the gyozas were prepared in proper Isakaya-style cooking (with their twists, perhaps, but fitting the theme of Isakaya-style cuisine in the context of Montreal – they basically just  add new ideas to make the whole experience more fun and better adapted to the local clientele, which, btw, is exactly what many new-gen Isakayas in Tokyo are also doing).

What I think days later: If you are unreceptive to new ideas, then I doubt you will get the point of a place like Biiru as their  kitchen brigade, while keeping the seasonings/core flavors as Japanese as Isakaya-style cooking can possibly taste in the context of Montreal, will not shy away from embracing some unique / locally-adapted twists (for eg, using the classic quebecois cheese curds in the ramen). I am myself very  conservative  when it comes to food, but when your twists do generally make sense, which is the case at Biiru, then I am a fan. Furthermore, I really hope that I was not wrong in suspecting that there are no Japanese cooks (this is based on what the medias have reported) at Biiru as I have always maintained that you do not need to systematically  come  from the country which food you are cooking, you just need to have a great undertanding of that cuisine and a good palate as demonstrated by the cooks at Biiru. I have to confess  that I initially found their  online  popularity (plenty of  raves from food bloggers and journalists) to be very suspicious, but that  I was pleasantly surprised, once I ate their food, that such a place  that seems to have been really well marketed….. was not …….resting on its laurels /surfing on its fame (a miracle ..in Montreal, mark my words!!) , it is also delivering — in light of what is to be realistically expected from this sort of eatery in a city like Montreal — good food (good, no benchmark as obviously, it would be naive to expect wowness from casual Japanese-style bistrot cooking continents and oceans away from the motherland….). Now I hope that the next time I retry those pork ribs (I’ll give it a second chance), they will  be as memorable as I keep hearing. I also hope, that next time, the grilling part will finally get a chance to dazzle…

 

Restaurant Damas, Montreal

Posted: February 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

Restaurant Damas | Type of food: Syrian (Classic with a refined touch + their own  twist) | Addr: 5210 Avenue du Parc | Phone: 514-439-5435 | Date and time of the meal: 02-02-2015 20:00 | URL: http://www.restaurant-damas.com/

Restaurant Damas has been around for several years and quickly won the heart of plenty of local foodies as well as most  food journalists. Perhaps one of the few great success stories of the local food scene’s recent history. To appreciate Levantine‘s cooking, you need to understand its core elements: for eg, yoghurt is  not just a notion for dessert. I took time to mention yoghurt because this is one element that a non initiated palate may find completely different from everything that has kissed its tongue,and –decades after Levantine’s cooking made its way to the West —  you could still see online comments about people who are shocked to find  yoghurt  mixed with meat. Well, that is one feature  of Levantine’s cooking. And then,you do, of course,have the olives, the leaf vegetables, plenty of creamy textures, the lentils,the chickpeas, etc.

That restaurant Damas was offering good looking food, that I knew. All I needed was to sample it  and see how my appreciation would fare against the online raves on  restaurant Damas.

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Started with a fattoush, which featured quality ingredients that were freshly cut. The salad being certainly one legit version of fattoush —you have all the components of a fattoush (pieces of toasted flatbread, seasonal veggies) —  , with — when compared to some of the traditional versions of the fattoush that I had before —  the observation that  they do not ‘push the envelope’ on the seasoning front (for eg, I had fattoush , prepared by Syrian   grandmas, which sumac seasoning was somehow more noticeable and/or the sourness of the pomegrenate more  expressive). Other main difference compared to some of the traditional versions I had: the refinement (there was  a certain level of care that went into the presentation) . There was also a health conscious mind behind that salad as it was not salty.  So, a fresh / healthy / almost western-friendly (which, for me,  is not a reproach, btw) take on the traditional fattoush  I had before. Nothing to fault, here. Good 7/10

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Pursued with the fried akkawi cheese, nigella seeds, and tomato mint salsa – lots of finesse in the execution as the quality cheese (enjoyable lactic freshness ) had perfect sear,  not a hint of off-putting greasyness, the overall featuring fine ingredients (by our local standards, though — and that’s the only way I could see how such dish could be improved — I can imagine how dazzling this would have been with freshly picked ingredients on the shore of the Mediterranean sea ;p). Very good 8/10

 

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Then came the fabled  lamb shank, which again … as everything I had on this evening…was done properly (they certainly know when fire, in the braising process,  should start and when it should stop, they certainly know how to prevent  their meat from getting dry, and if expressions like ‘fall off the bone tender’ or ‘moist’ are clichés to you, well they were certainly features of that lamb shank, too ;p), tasted fine –though not as dazzling as what I kept hearing….not the fault of the restaurant, should I stress, as my palate does not perceive this sort of seasoning —this was some perfectly  legit Syrian seasoning for lamb shanks, btw – as exciting (certainly NOT unexciting neither). Still, this was good as there’s hardly anything to fault here (even the Freekeh – I picked the ‘Lamb friki’ dish — was cooked as it should, meaning seasoned judiciously, and cooked the way Syrians usually do, which is similar to cooking a pilaf – the wheat grain cooked to ideal consistency, meaning not over nor undercooked, but to the right chewy sensation that most Syrians came to  expect from most freekeh-based dishes). The side of yogurt and cucumbers stood as fresh as it gets.   7/10

Service: Before I went there (my first visit at Restaurant Damas), I heard mixed reviews about the service and I was curious to find for myself. The service, on this specific evening, was approchable and sociable at the same time. It was certainly not too formal, which is what I prefer.  Nothing that I could  complain about, although it is worth noting that I am Francophone, they are Francophones, so the communication was flawless. Still, they also can converse in English as I saw them exchanging with Anglophone customers on this evening.

Pricey, as widely reported? It’s a place that offers some touches of (relative ) luxury (wine / mineral water /couple of luxury ingredients such as the wild shrimp from the coast of Senegal), so clearly, if you do not keep the bill in check, then your bill will remind it to you.

PROS: Unless I force my imagination otherwise, I can’t picture  this kitchen failing at delivering food that’s done properly. Exciting food? That I do not know.  Just remember that you can’t carry your definition of ‘exciting’ everywhere you go…as elements such as the seasoning  used in X type of cuisine may be behind that definition. Food done as it should? Absolutely.

CONS: 1. They  do not need to use  luxury ingredients (filet mignon,shrimps from Senegal) for this type of food, meaning food that generally relies on the advantages of slow cooking,  marinating meat, etc ….though I gather that the luxury ingredients are there to justify the higher price-point. With that (the price-point ) in mind, I suggest you stick to the tasting menu as it will pass as more cost-effective (than ordering  à la carte). 2.I don’t understand why, as a solo diner, I can’t indulge in the tasting menu that’s advertised on the very first page of their menu. My waitress kindly explained that it’s for two persons, thus way too much for a solo diner. But it’s the job of a restaurant to adjust their tasting menu to a solo diner (this is not an issue at plenty of restaurants). She tried to accommodate me, but the alternative options were not as interesting as that tasting menu.

Conclusion: My experience was a bit different from most online accounts –>  most have  raved about the most flavorful lamb shank they ever had in Montreal, the best fattoush, etc. Taste is personal, different cuisines mean different ways of flavoring food, a lamb shank can be dazzling one day and forgettable the next day depending on the supplier and so many other factors, your preference for a specific  type of cuisine may define your assessment of what’s flavorful or not, and  with all of that taken into account, on the strict aspect of the flavor, I still have to say that  I had far more flavorful lamb shanks right here in Montreal. Which, again …has nothing to do with Restaurant Damas and should take nothing away from its  lamb shank: it was tasty, seasoned as Syrians do usually season their lamb (though not boldly, which make sense as this kitchen focuses on the refinement of their cooking)  and certainly timely braised, its quality irreprochable and indeed, one of the fine pieces of lamb shanks of this city (just not the most remarkable  I ever had in Montreal).  For me, not  really in my top 10 in Montreal  (which seems to have been the case of most online reviewers of this place), but definitely –from what I’d realistically expect from a Syrian restaurant in Montreal —  a kitchen that can cook , and that does it  with care.

What I think days later: A satisfying meal, good  ingredients as well as a kitchen which work I certainly can’t fault, but  my meal at Restaurant Damas  did not ‘float my boat’ because nothing knocked my socks off…I can only reiterate that between a flawless meal with everything done well but nothing standing out (the case of this  meal I was having)  and a meal that is in general average but with one or two moments of brilliance,  I prefer the latter over the former. And YES…just in case you ask, I am a huge fan of / and am familiar with  Syrian cuisine since a long time. And NO, my experience with Syrian food is not limited to tasting it in the West.

Where: Restaurant Hot Africa
Type of cuisine: African
Addr: 4959 Chemin Queen Mary,Montreal
Phone: 514 734-5052
Date,Time of the meal : 16-1-2015 19:00

Africa is the continent where I was born and grew up, so it is natural that I have spent my entire life enjoying the nuances of its various regional cuisines both on the continent itself as well as abroad. Still, I am realistic enough to know what I should expect from African cuisine in the West, so do not count on me to expect the unexpected, meaning that I’m reviewing this place with, in mind, the standard of African cooking that I am accustomed to in Montreal.

Hot Africa is located close to station Snowdon (approx 5 minutes walk away), the decor as unassuming as it gets (do not expect luxury here). Their cooking  takes its inspiration mostly from Western (for eg,they had the foutou available on this evening)  and Central Africa (for eg, the Ndolé).

Braised bass was hard to improve upon, by any restaurant standard that I can think of, its fresh maritime flavor, fabulous texture of the flesh  and dazzling taste reminding how the pleasure of eating is oftently found in the simple things done really well . In theory, it is not hard to braise a piece of fish but I wished some of the highly rated restaurants in town could prove this right. On many of those supposedly ambitious tables, I would rate a piece of fish executed this well with no less than a 10/10…a feature that happened perhaps just once or twice in 15 years. And of course, the ambitious tables do not serve an entire fish (which they did here), but a slice of it  …at twice the price of the entire fish I was having on this evening). The rice was nicely perfumed, tasted great  and cooked properly. I have no clue if  that fish is as consistently stellar day after day as it was the case on this specific evening, but what I was  having was dazzling! 10/10

Ndolé  is one dish that I enjoy a lot whenever I can try it. The leaves were cooked enoughly long to allow their aromas to fully express themselves, the texture creamy as it should, the sweetness from the crushed peanuts balancing nicely the natural bitterness of the leaves. They applied faithfully the traditional recipe and those in the know will remind how the prep for the Ndolé can be a pain.  This was as good as your Ndolé gets in an African restaurant in Montreal. Good. 7/10

My only quip (??) , with the food,   is actually not really a problem, rather a matter of personal taste: the grilled goat (6/10) prefer my grilled goat with more chargrill flavor, the consistency chewier (theirs was very tender), the meaty flavor bolder (theirs was refined in taste). As for the fried plantains, they were as satisfying as everywhere else in town (there is no such thing as exceptional fried plantains in Montreal restaurants — for eg, forget the refined looking plantains that may come out from the kitchen of a gourmet destination).

I was lucky to have shared this meal with African dining companions who are friends who know their food really well. Some wished the plantains were sweeter, others observed that they had better Ndolé and braised bass but not in Montreal (me too,but again, as stated earlier on, I am comparing this meal to African meals I have enjoyed in Montreal).

Pros: Genuine African flavors

Cons: the almost ‘hole in a wall’ feel of the place + the service on this evening lacked a bit of warmth

Conclusion: Over a decade ago, Montreal did host one of the finest African tables that I can think of,  Souvenirs D’Afrique on Mont Royal street, now closed since a long time. Years went by and no African restaurant in Montreal got close to the standards of Souvenirs D’Afrique. HA gets nowhere close neither, but the food tastes generally good, the flavors are genuine and the braised bass tells me that this kitchen is not amateurish.

What I think days later: African restaurants in Montreal have rarely disappointed me, in terms of the food..I mean. Yes, they are not at the level of the best African tables of Paris, to take an example, and many African tables in the USA have impressed me more, but they usually do what they have got to do, meaning keeping the flavors as genuine as African flavors can taste like —  oceans and continents away from Africa. My prefered  African table in Montreal is nowadays Le Nil Bleu, which offers Ethiopian refined cooking in elegant settings , but never miss an opportunity to try any of the unassuming African tables that we have in town. They can   deliver satisfying  (by Montreal standards) African food, too, which is a feature that HA is certainly  capable of.

***I went visiting Tokyo in November 2014. Tokyo was, indeed, the world class food destination that we’ve all heard about. My recent Tokyo restaurant reviews: Tofuro, Sushi Oono , Fuunji , Sushi Mizutani , Sushi Sawada , Dons de la Nature , Umaya, kagurazaka Ishikawa.

***On December 13th, I went to dine at Fenetre sur Kaboul, an Afghan restaurant in Montreal and the overall experience was good, by local standards. My review here.

***I recently discovered another great grilled chicken spot in Montreal, Monteiro on Jean Talon. Charcoal grilling is always half the battle, there is no denying it, and their homemade secret sauce is delicious. I personally found this to be as equally great as the chicken at Romados, but again…food appreciation is about perception, so hardcore fans of Romados will probably disagree. Regardless, this is one of the finest grilled chicken  of this city.

***My current top 3 restaurants in Montreal remains  Le Serpent/La Chronique/Au 5e Péché. La Porte was in that top 3 but they have moved to Val David.

***The city of Val David is fortunate to host the restaurant of one of this province’s better Chefs: La table des Gourmets. Expect great cooking that’s consistent in its delivery and quality as Chef Thierry Rouyé is a true  artisan Chef, meaning he is cooking for real in his kitchen when you dine at his restaurant.

***All the major local food journalists in Montreal  have recently communicated their picks for what they’ve valued as this year’s top restaurants in Montreal and its surroundings. Some of their picks have obviously nothing to do with effective cooking skills. It will be interesting to explain to someone who priorities talent how come La Chronique, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon, Au Cinquième Péché, La Table des Gourmets, Jun I  do suddenly stop to feature in a ‘Top restaurant of the year’ survey?  Why should the work of a talented kitchen brigade be ignored simply because there are other new restaurants in town?? What if the former is still better than any of the latest restaurants? Is that food journalism or just following new trends? Furthermore, some of  those food journalists feed our cynism because they seem to  believe that by enjoying special treatment (being recognized and personally fed by those Chefs ), they are conveying a reality that the most could benefit from. As BS as it gets. This whole food journalism thing is becoming such a circus that nowadays I read the reviews of only Sarah Musgrave, Marie Claude Lortie, Thierry Daraize and Gildas Meneu. I find most of the other food journalists motivated by interests that have nothing to do with informing us about the reality that awaits the normal/anonymous diner that we are supposed to be.

Fenêtre Sur Kaboul – Restaurant & Salon de Thé | 901, rue Rachel Est – Plateau Mont-Royal Montréal |
Phone: (514) 522-6851 | Type of cuisine: Afghan | When: 13-12-2014 18:00 | URL: https://fr-fr.facebook.com/fenetresurkaboul

This was a meal with a friend who is not a foodie, therefore a meal devoid of the distraction of photo and note-taking. I’ll try my best to convey my impressions of this meal based on the mental notes I made.

The restaurant boasts  a simple classic white tablecloth’d decor, with white and a bit of red as the dominant tones. They also have a pretty dimly lighted section which serves as a tea room.

My dining companion had the  “Homemade Ash” soup. I did not try it but she was pleased with the depth of taste of the soup  and added that the noodles were properly cooked to the bite, the tomato flavor appetizing. From what I could see, the texture was  also superb.

I had the   manto dumplings which was filled with beef on this instance. The beef of great quality, the dumplings timely steamed to ideal chew , the spices not too bold in their expression as Afghan food does not lean towards agressive  flavors,  but this was judicious seasoning. 7/10

She picked the kofta kabob. The ground beef beautifully marinated and by beautifully, I mean nice enticing aromas. The basmati rice nicely cooked and perfumed. How refreshing was that to see …finally…on the Montreal restaurant scene…a true sizeable main course as, these days, main courses in our local restaurants are so meager in quantity. 8/10

I went on with the Kaboul Kabob combo, which featured the excellent kofta kabob that she ordered, delicious morsels of quality lamb, and flawlessly grilled chicken breasts. As ever, for my taste, charcoal grilling (which is the grilling method here) is half the battle. Flawless and exquisite grilling, indeed.  8/10

I took no desserts, but she ordered the Shire Yakhice cream, of which I had a scoop. The country where I was born is known to produce one of the finest vanilla of this globe, so it was hard for the vanilla aroma of this ice cream to impress me, but the ice cream still managed to dazzle with an enticing rose water fragrance. A delicious ice cream, and not one of the  ordinary sort. Furthermore, you should see the size! Such sizeable quality ice cream at only $6, well  …haven’t heard of such thing for years, in this city. 8/10

Bottom line: Fenêtre Sur Kaboul  was not a restaurant that was on my radar. My dining companion wanting to be original (her words, not mine), she turned down the usual possibilities of sushi/ Italian food/steakhouse (I suspect that all the great steakhouses/Italian/French bistrots/Sushiyas that are reviewed on this food blog and which count among this city’s finest…would actually pass as a pile of unoriginal food destinations to her ;p)  , lol, and came up with this choice on the sole basis that someone else has recommended it to her.  So, I went with no expectation  and it did not disappoint as everything was technically well executed, the service excellent, the restaurant itself barely decorated but  pretty (especially the tea room section), the prices fair (finally a restaurant where you can have a nice and tasty filling full meal for two at more or less $70, a rarity in Montreal nowadays), the ingredients  fresh and of good quality (by local restaurant standards),  and here’s a place where you can bring your date.  I am not denying the fact that it is not rocket science to cook a soup,make some dumplings and grill some meat, but then you’ve got to do  it well and that is what they did. A long time local foodie friend whose taste I trust is telling me that in Montreal, for  Middle Eastern food, Damas is her favourite restaurant. I am looking forward to  try restaurant Damas, but for now, as far as I am concerned, FSK nicely represents food of the Middle East in Montreal. I doubt it will knock your socks off, which is not its intent anyways,but it is certainly a good restaurant doing what it needs to do seriously.

 

 

 

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Tofuro  is a chain of restaurant serving all sorts of food (soba, sushis, grilled chicken, misc Japanese bistrot food). I went to the one situated in Ginza .

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I picked a bowl of hot Soba which featured perfectly thin delicate noodles. I usually prefer thick soba noodles, but this was soba of flawless technique, the noodle impossibly refined, the broth having balanced seasoning.  I won’t hide the fact that this was a bit too gourmet for my taste as I am fonder of the mom and pop type of soba noodles that abound in Tokyo, but that should not detract from the observation that Tofuro’s soba was superb. 9/10

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The yakitori (grilled chicken) was another showcase of the high level of cooking technique found under this roof, with meat of fine quality and flavors that can only come from an inspired kitchen of talented cooks. Miles away from the poorly executed , oftently dry and tasteless, grilled chicken that can be found at plenty of bistrots. Superb yakitori offerings with not one single flaw to be noticed. 8/10

The service was also of really high standard.

Pros: It is rare to find a ‘jack of all trades’ (they do not specialize in one type of food) that does virtually execute pretty much everything flawlessly. I am not implying that Tofuro is exceptional. What  I can tell you,though, is that few restaurants can do as much …this well.

Cons: perhaps  such  refinement will not be the cup of tea of someone looking for rusticity

My verdict: 8/10 (Category: mid-level all-rounder isakaya/soba/yakitori in Tokyo) By reading reviews of local foodies, I realized that they tend to not like their chain restaurants that much, a recurrent trend  a bit  everywhere around the globe. But I could not care about feelings and perceptions. Chains or not, what matters to me is the food and how great it fared to me. Tofuro’s display was one of superb and consistent high level of technique. A place like this could easily remain in the top5 of Montreal’s finest restaurants for years and yet our top 5 is nowhere close in terms of consistency ( I ate 3 times, at Tofuro,within 1 week. Tried lunch and dinner and the  technique was great and  flawless on each instance).

What I think weeks later: Obviously, it would be irrational to expect a ‘jack of all trades’ to showcase the sort of homey/artisan feel that’s more appropriately the affair of a ‘specialist’ (sushiya, dedicated soba place, ramen ya, etc), but finding an all-rounder that does execute pretty much everything flawlessly, and oh, btw…at such low cost, with actually …quality produce, everything homemade, with such level of consistency, well …that is no ordinary achievement by any restaurant standards.

Sushi Oono –
Address:  1F, Nanou Building, 7-2-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Date and time of the meal:  Saturday November 22, 2014 18:00 (Dinner)
Michelin stars: 1
URL: http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130101/13024790/

***Here are the elements that my overall rating will take into account: (1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered  (2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping (3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip (4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best).

Sushi Oono (1)Sushi Oono was one of the two ultimate (the other one was Sawada) sushi meals of this trip. By then, the other Sushi shops that I have tried have been Sushi Mizutani, Sushi Sawada, Sushi Sho, Sushi Iwa, Sushi Aoki  and Daisan Harumi. At Sushi Sho, Sushi Iwa, Sushi Aoki  and Daisan Harumi,  I was with a tour guide so I spent most of my time talking to the person rather than bothering about reviewing my meals but I’ll still provide my opinion about those meals. I know some people hate comparisons and indeed, comparing is always an exercise of imperfection, but such is the nature of any opinion anyways and at the end of the round, unless the matter does not interest you or you are trying to play the ‘diplomat foodie’, you still have personal preferences. And preference, like it or not, that implies comparison.

Quick recap on the sushi shops visited during this trip:

So, Sushi Mizutani was the benchmark Sushi shop of this trip, Sawada was my preferred Sushi meal (eventhough some aspects of the food did not float my boat, but again food appreciation is subjective/personal so consider that when you peruse my review).

Sushi Sho ages his seafood and I was curious to see how I would appreciate it…alas, my palate got to the conclusion that although some seafood are fine when you age them (tuna, for eg), most could have been more exciting in mouth without the aging method (I know, it’s supposed to be the opposite, but for my palate that theory is at its best on paper), especially for sushis. I was born and raised in a fishermen village of the Indian Ocean and I do have fond memories of people rushing to the shore to avoid missing the freshest pieces of seafood that those fishermen were so proud to have snatched from the ocean floor just moments before and I am trying to imagine myself telling to my fella fishermen ‘hey Buds…take all your time…there is no rush..anyways we’ll age your seafood instead of enjoying it in its freshest state so you may as well let it rest for a while on the boat…”’….. A long time ago, aging seafood was indispensable by necessity, but that does not mean you should age all seafood. You need to know what seafood truely shines when aging it and that is where my problem lies: not ALL seafood are at their best when aged!!! Naturally, fans of the fad of aging fish won’t like to hear this kind of opinion but as loud as they are, we’ll have to agree to disagree whenever they will cross my path.

Daisan Harumi: interesting focus on the historical and educational importance of the sushis as I had fun learning a bit more about virtually everything that was flirting with my palate. Surprisingly, the flavors were not as ‘challenging’ and ‘old fashion’ as I was anticipating (for eg, no overly strong /brutal flavors, etc). When I was in Tokyo, I thought my meal at Sushi Oono was better and I was not that impressed with my meal here, but with time, it’s Daisan Harumi that is winning my heart. Daisan Harumi is not competing with the highly refined sushis of Sawada or Mizutani, it is not even trying to challenge Sushi shops of his rank (for eg, mid range Sushi shops like Sushi Iwa and Sushi Oono), but that does not matter as it is has its unique identity, doing things the way it deems worthy of its very own standards. The freshness of some of the seafood at Daisan Harumi did, at times, brought back memories of my tender childhood growing up on the shores of the Indian Ocean (minus the full-bodied maritime flavor of seafood fished in warm waters, obviously). Therefore, a very special place for very personal reasons.

Sushi Iwa: the most refined sushis of my mid range Sushi shop experiences in Tokyo, for now, and the best of that category, during this trip, for me. Some online accounts argued that it was good but not at the level of the top tier Sushi Shops of Tokyo. Well, that is comparing apples to grapes as Sushi Iwa is a mid range Sushi shop (second tier) establishment.

-Sushi Aoki (Ginza): the tastiest and preferred sushis of my mid range Sushi shop experiences in Tokyo, for now.

The review of Sushi Oono:

Sushi Oono (one of the better rated Sushi shops of Tokyo –with a score of 4.15/5 — on the major local restaurant rating web site Tabelog http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130101/13024790/) came as an alternative to Sukiyabaki Jiro in Ginza + Sushi Saito (impossible to book for the normal diner / by normal diner I mean any anonymous/normal person who calls a restaurant and wants to book a seat without the need of having contacts, or being a regular patron, or having the status of a poster-diner, etc), as well as Sushi Yoshitake (willing to find an availability for me but the schedules did not match).

The food ->

Sushi Oono - See eal-Sea eel was excellent both in flavor and texture. Nicely sourced and paired well with the judicious quantity of fresh grated root wasabi that it was flavored with. 8/10

Sushi Oono - Uni-Sea urchin (uni) is of the tiny type (as so oftently found at  most Sushi shops in Tokyo), those I was having being decent (the taste of the sea urchin, dazzling at Sawada, great at Mizutani and sublime at the other Mid level Sushi Shops I tried in Tokyo….were muted, here), no more. A top Sushi shop in Montreal, on a good day, can surprise with far better uni, trust me. 6/10

-Squid – Tenderized enoughly for palatable comfort, while allowing enough chew to remind ourselves that this is squid, not a mousse (friendly reminder: be careful when you assess the texture/consistency of seafood….as tenderness or firmness does not mean the seafood is better or not…knowing how your seafood tastes/feels/smells like in its natural state will help avoiding many inaccuracies). For this level, Good 7/10

Sushi Oono - lean tuna

-Tuna: there was no otoro (fatty), but just akami (lean) –picture that’s on the left — and chutoro (medium-fat) tuna on the day of my visit…the lean tuna was great,but it was easy to find great akami everywhere else. Chutoro featured decent texture, the quality fine enough. 7/10

Sushi Oono - CrabCrab – Sizable portion but very ordinary crab,dry, lacking the exciting crab flavor I am expecting at this level. 5/10

Sushi Oono (3)

Mackerel- Fish of good quality for the standing of its Sushi shop. The Chef keeping it fresh and almost unaltered , no obvious extended work of the flavor apart a subtle flavor intensity coming from the GENTLE curing of the fish. Newer generations of diners seeking excitement might call this ordinary, but Sushi is not a show, it’s fish that you either source well or not, slice well or not, season well or not, nothing less, nothing more. Was that exceptional sourcing? No. Exceptional sourcing was what I have enjoyed at Sawada. Was that good sourcing? YES. For those who are curious about the subject, this meal was just slighly superior to a Good Sushi shop in the US/ Very good Sushi shop in Canada, certainly not vastly better ( I do not understand some of the online suggestions that the mid and some of the lower range Sushi shops of Tokyo are far better than anything found outside of Japan…well, I would not systematically bet on that) 7/10

Sea snail had limited flavor,  its typical natural chew kept unaltered . I prefer sea snail with more maritime flavor, but such feature depends heavily on the natural habitat of the seafood. This was still decent.  6/10

Sushi Oono - Gizzard chad

Gizzard shad – Precise with his knife skills, the fish fine in quality. I had spectacular examples of the Gizzard shad during this trip, and this was not one of those, but still….Very good for the standing of this shop (nice sourcing, timely cured) 7/10

Sushi Oono - Octopus and abalone Octopus and abalone were both served at the same time:

Octopus – Same principle as with the squid, they have tenderized it not too much so that enough of the natural chew of the octopus remains present. Not bad, tasty enough,just not as dazzling as at other places I have tried during this trip  6/10

Sushi Oono - Cod milt-Cod milt was ordinary, not the best, not bad neither but I had creamier, tastier ones in Tokyo during this trip (to my Canadian fellas who might find this too exotic, not to worry…cod milt is not disgusting at all, it can be very enjoyable actually…not akin to foie gras as some have suggested…more like scrambled tofu). 6/10

Abalone – Good, rather than excellent, timely steamed to a consistency balancing between the firm and enough tenderness for proper chew.7/10

Sushi Oono - Plum custard-Plum soup egg custard: balanced flavors, the custard executed  properly. Good rather than delicious / exciting (some versions of this, tried right here in Tokyo,  at lesser eateries, were far more delicious) 7/10

Sushi Oono - Miso soupMiso soup was of the fine sort, with balanced seasoning (not too salty) and tasting good. Having had my share of misosoups in Tokyo, most of the finer kind, you realize that food is just a question of perception, often times, as people whoclaim they have tried miso soups in Japan, then in Montreal, would add that those in Montreal get nowhere close to those in Japan. Well, that is wrong. A great bowl of Miso soup in Montreal is as good and taste as authentic as the good bowls I have just enjoyed here in Tokyo. Anyways, a really good bowl, this one at Sushi Oono 7/10

Sushi Oono - Tamago-Tamago (in its cake version) featured good texture but lacked the fresh eggy flavor and enjoyable sweetness (it was bland) that I prefer and that was better expressed at the other Sushi shops 6/10

PROS: his pickled vegetable items were very enjoyable (there were plenty of those in between their sushi servings). I found the pickled items to have been the strong point of this meal.

CONS:it is the same problem as everywhere else in Tokyo…..it is hard for the mid level Sushi shops to find the finer produce that a top tier Sushi Shop like Sawada or Mizutani can get.

It would be flawed to compare Sushi Oono, a  1 star Michelin  and mid-range  Sushi shop  to top range  Mizutani and  Sawada, alas …even within the mid -range shops,  I found my meal at Sushi Oono a bit too safe /clean / linear. If there is one thing I  dislike it’s a performance that  errs on the side of caution (no bold seasoning, no spectacular marination, no outstanding curing technique, etc).  I appreciate that Sushi Oono is doing well enough for a mid-range sushi shop in Tokyo, but I am not exactly enamoured with such overall non risk-taking experience.

(1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered – The work of the rice at those high-end sushi shops of Tokyo is serious, but no more,meaning the sourcing is good, the rice cooking achieved with care but none of those sushi rice standing as spectacular as what some of the raves may suggest. So at Sushi Oono, there was no exception to that rule: he would flavor most  of his shari with a blend of white based vinegar, one of last sushi  had its rice  flavored with red vinegar on this evening, the consistency more hard than soft, but pleasant in mouth. No bold seasoning of the rice. The rice is of course of good quality, but its flavor very discrete so that the fish pairs well with the rice   (2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping – No bold seasoning here. Nothing spectacular neither. Just good sushi rice that does not taste strong so that both the fish and the rice do combine well together   (3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip- great knife skills for a Sushi shop of its standing. Work of textures and control of temperatures were flawless during this meal, the sushi enjoyed at proper body temp  (4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best). Sourcing was decent, not a highlight as it was oftently the case at most Sushi shops of  the 2nd tier level.

Sushi Oono (2)

Verdict: 6/10 (Categories: Second tier Sushi Shop in Tokyo, Mid range Sushi Shop in Tokyo): At Sushi Oono, I was extremely lucky on the dining experience front as the other patrons were super friendly, the Chef humble and the overall experience highly enjoyable. It is on the aspect of the food that I felt I needed to get a bit more for my money , especially in light of the reputation of the house (in the top 10 Sushi Shops of Japan, etc). Virtually everything was fine (decent quality of the tuna, decent work of the rice), but no more (no outstanding work of the flavor of the mackerel, no outstanding quality of the produce, etc) . That said, it’s not a reproach to Sushi Oono at all as in general, I found that the Sushi-shop ‘system’, in Tokyo, regulates itself by clearly allowing the 1st tier Sushi Shops to have access to fish that the second tier will have to fight really hard for. Kinda logic/expected, indeed.