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/ |
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) :
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
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
The best item of the lunch was the skewers of freshwater eel (unagi). Like most people, I find praises suspicious. Ironically, to the contrary of most, I am not afraid to express my enthusiasm and do look forward to just that (when you are paying with your hard earned money, it goes without saying that you should expect nothing less than praiseworthy food). 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 benchmark (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 –by Montrealrestaurant standards – highly enjoyable ramen of the initial meal, as well as the freshwater eel – just leave any expectation based on what you have enjoyed in Japan aside, remember that you are in Montreal— .
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…