Hong Fan Tian Restaurant (also known as KanBai) – Montreal

Posted: December 19, 2013 in michelin star restaurant
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Hong Fan Tian Restaurant (also known as KanBai) – Montreal
Type of cuisine: Szechuan cuisine, Cantonese, and Hunan
When: December 17th 2013 19:00
Addr: 1110 clark Montréal, QC H2Z 1K3
Phone number (514) 871-8778

Hong Fan Tian Restaurant (also known as KanBai – Hong Fan Tian is the name that  appeared on my bill) is widely acclaimed as the latest top Chinese restaurant in Montreal. They have a branch downtown Montreal near the Mg Gill Ghetto,  but I heard that the cooking is better at the original restaurant on Clark, in Chinatown, which is where I went.

The place is modern looking, indeed, and  my main waitress Yaoyao was very helpful in helping me  selecting my food.  One item that many food journalists and food bloggers seem to have enjoyed a lot is their  sautéed morsels of lambs (sautéed in pepper and cumin). $15.99 Tasty enough, with the meat properly  sautéed, not as way too salty as I have read from some reports, to the contrary the seasoning was well balanced, though I found this to be a light  / just decent-enough version of the far more delicious and ‘saucy-er’  indian lamb curry. So think of the Indian lamb curry, without the sauce and with the morsels of lamb than are thinly sliced and sautéed with pepper and cummin. Not bad,  but not  exciting neither.  6/10

Their Sautéed cabbage (Szechuan style) $8.99 is largely  considered as one of their most exciting  dishes. As it’s typical of Szechuan cooking, star anise was used to sautée the cabbage. Stunning sautéed cabbage is something not impossible in ethnic cooking.  To my surprise, this was some ordinary sautéed cabbage, far from being bad, but I had far more delicious  and memorable cabbage-based dishes as plenty of ethnic restaurants even here in Montreal. One problem  being that they were limited by the average cabbage we found here in Montreal. 5/10

Eggplant ($11.99) was the best item of this evening. The eggplant  itself is  your usual standard long Chinese eggplant, but it was properly cooked in a pleasant oyster sauce. Enjoyable classic dish, executed. as it should.  7/10

All in all, it is hard for me, based on this meal (I chose three of their most famous items) to understand the  current shower of praises. They must be doing something great, I am sure, or perhaps the real happening is at their other branch (the answer to this will come next, at the bottom of current review) , and/or perhaps there are better items that the three that  I chose (heard that the pork tripes are particularly delicious, but I went with what seem to come up as their better offerings) , but for now this would hardly qualify among the Chinese meals I have enjoyed the most in Montreal. I don’t even have to think about Asia to find meals that have impressed me more: right here, my meals at places like  Kam Shing (Côte-des-Neiges) , Tong Por (Ville Saint-Laurent), or even Ruby Rouge  (Chinatown — though I don’t agree with claims that their dim sums are the best you’ll get in town) have left more pleasing souvenirs on my mind. I know, they are not all offering the exact same Chinese regional  items but in cooking, you do not need to have two items of the same kind side by side (You just need to practice a lot  at home, with what you are going to assess, as well as sampling various versions of it at places where it originated so that you build realistic expectations) to get to your personal and subjective assessment  of a kitchenPersonal overall score of my meal at Hong Fan Tian Restaurant (also known as KanBai) in Chinatown: 6/10 

***couple of days later, I tried their branch on 1813, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest. Here too, the décor is modern, with the exact same black, white and red tones . The place looks even more contemporary than its main branch, with pretty touches like pieces of bamboo and some glimpses at the red hot chilli that might later on pep the flavor of some of  your dishes. The service was  better than during my visit at their original branch in Chinatown (for eg, here, the young wait staff  would  anticipate your needs) .
Restaurant: Kanbai
Address: 1813 St Catherine St W, Montreal
Phone:(514) 933-6699

I ordered the pork tripes (it’s the dish which photo you see above), which came in a big bowl with a startling broth, plenty of red hot chilli (cool down, it’s not as hot as one might think, lol!) and tripes that would force you to use all possible terms describing delicious meat (tender, moist, meaty,fleshy, Lol….). I now understand why some have complained that this dish was too salty. Well, to those I urge you to find yourself behind a kitchen and start cooking seriously. You’ll eventually realize that you can’t deliver all the nuances of such complex and profoundly bold and delicious dish without this level of robust and exciting seasoning. Like it or not, salt, exactly like fat, are flavor enhancers. There’s a world of difference between the dull over-salting of food (for eg, if I pour 3 spoons of salt on a slice of tomato…which is un-proper exploitation of salt’s potential and NOT what this kitchen is doing)  and what comes from skilled kitchen brigades as this one of Kanbai on Ste Catherine. Salt, here,was a major ingredient of judicious seasoning. The work of the flavors (bold and yet refine)  showcasing  the sort of great cooking mastery that I have not seen since a very long time in Montreal, any cooking levels and styles  taken into account. Exciting (btw this is enough food for 1 pers, even 2)! I am amazed that the cooking here does not worry about pulling off proper Chinese cooking flavors and has opted for offerings that are genuine, albeit presented and rethought with a contemporary mind. Of course, if you do not like tripes and do like such genuine tastes, it is another story, but again: if ‘you do not like tripes, if you are not familiar with classic Chinese flavors, why would you go there?? ‘. It will save you from  inaccurate observations. 9/10

Fried Lotus roots (encased in a batter) continued the fabulous journey of palatably exciting Asian flavors, the batter not greasy at all, while intentionally avoiding the feather light texture that would distance it from its traditional roots (still, perfect texture for what needs to be achieved here, which means ditching the over-oily features of yester generations of cooks, but keeping the great taste and genuine texture) . Skills of the sorts we seldomly stumble upon in Montreal. 8/10

I now get the praises. Kanbai (on their bill, it’s written Kanbai) on Ste Catherine has the type of kitchen brigade with skills capable of some of this city’s most exciting exotic flavors. I have no clue if this kitchen performs like this on a regular basis (this is my sole visit there), but all along this meal, at times, I’d  close my eyes and thought I was in Asia. A feature that even my favourite Chinese tables in Montreal have not fully managed to firmly deliver. There’s one aspect of a kitchen brigade that impresses me more than anything else: watching (relatively) young cooks, improving upon  the best elements of what  their elders have left (the experienced palate, the superb understanding of classic flavor combinations), and this kitchen did that, and more (balancing the flavors of yesterday with nowadays palatable excitement).  It’s my turn to shower Kanbai on Ste Catherine with well deserved praises: by Mtl standards, this a kitchen of fabulous skills, one of the few standard bearers of Chinese cooking in Montreal.    8/10

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