Kyo 711 Côte de la Place d’Armes, Montréal, QC H2Y 2X6 (514) 282-2711 http://www.kyobar.com
I went back on July 10th 2014 as well as at the beginning of September 2014. Chef Ding was not at the helm when I was there, on both occasions, which usually did not make a huge difference, in the past, but the difference was felt this time. I basically picked an assortment of sushis which was pretty to espy, as usual, but the bold marine kick of the versions I had before, especially when Chef Ding is at the helm, was replaced by subtlety (for eg, red tuna was not bad but not as exciting in mouth as on my last visit here, octopus retained a nice chew, which is what I prefer as it reminds us of the natural condition of this jewel of the sea but I could taste the sea the last time I had it here. In comparison, it took me couple of chewing, this time, to really realize that I was eating octopus, mackerel was again, not bad, but it was exciting the last time I was here) . Overall, an Ok food performance (6/10) compared to the 8/10 of my previous visit here, with a tuna tataki sampled in September that went even below that score (5/10) for the tuna tataki as the tuna flavor was not present, the tataki preparation not as superb as under Chef Ding’s supervision, seasoning unexciting . Perhaps just a slight drop off on both visits (compared to what I am accustomed to, when Chef Ding is around) as the service is as great as ever and the desire to do well is intact.Even Kazu , my other #1 Isakaya in town, had sometimes some less than exciting meals to offer, which is the proof that after all, there’s not one single restaurant –as great as it might stand — that can excel day after day. As long as this does not turn into a habit, I’ll understand…………
Review of my meal on Thursday March 13th 2014, 18:00:
Since its opening last year, I have visited Kyo a couple of times. For me, their Chef, Chef Terrence Ding, is clearly one of the few true talents of Montreal not only for his ability to deliver some of this city’s finest oriental bistrot bites (taste good, look good, done well) but also because he manages to do it consistently. The only time I felt a slight slip in standards (though, if you would not have experienced with Chef Ding’s cooking you would have not noticed the difference) is when he had a day off, but he is one of the few skilled Chefs of Montreal who’s always behind his kitchen (I even saw him present on Mondays, Tuesdays, days that most Chefs in town do usually skip since those days are less busy). This is an Isakaya(Japanese bistrot)-inspired restaurant but they are also opened to other oriental influences (Korean, Chinese, etc).
On this visit (Thursday March 13th 2014, 18:00), they were ‘testing’ a new item on the menu (the staff suggesting that this item will remain –or not — on the menu depending on the reaction of the clientele) , the ‘Pork bun’, a chinese bread-bun based small ‘crepe” with a filling of braised pork belly. As expected from Chef Terrence Ding, the refinement and taste of the bun did benefit from extra diligence (the glossy texture and perfect smooth consistency of this bun are hardly bettered in town) and taste (delicious for sure, but what impresses me with this Chef is his ability to perfectly balance seasonings, aromas, keeping the classic flavors intact while avoiding the heavy-ness of traditional cooking – in a way that…not many Chefs in town are pulling off) of great standing. As for the braised Pork belly, I know many gourmet restaurants who would be proud of that one I was having (many kitchens not controlling properly the fattyness of the pork belly , others simply over-braising the pork belly): braising is one thing we all can do, how to timely braise your meat and, again and again, how to avoid the overly heavy effect of that Pork belly while retaining its essential rich appeal is a task that few are fulfilling this well. Excellent 9/10
I also picked an assortment of sashimis (10 morsels at $23), the octopus retaining proper chew (8/10), the red tuna as great as you’ll find in town and certainly on par with its versions of this city’s top sushiyas..if not better, actually (10/10 by Montreal sashimi standards) , the scallops second only to the stunning one I once had at La Porte and of the standards of any of the ambitious sushiyas in Mtl, if not a tad better… (8/10), white tuna as fresh as it gets in Mtl, certainly of great quality by local standards. Kyo is not a sushiya, so I obviously do not expect them to demonstrate knife skills of an ambitious sushiya and yet they are doing great even on that aspect, certainly as great as some of the few highly regarded sushiyas of Montreal and surroundings . 8/10
Conclusion: 8/10 Strong performance by Isakaya-inspired standards in Montreal, Chef Terrence Ding keeping the bar high (the cooking technique is confident, the food flawless, the presentation is exquisite and the ingredients are of great quality ). In hindsight, I do not recall having sampled anything that I did not like but for the sake of sharing I have to mention that some of my favourite items here have been the tempura moriawase (tempura fans will have hard time finding better textured tempuras in Mtl ), the beef tongue (guytan), the kalbi. You can’t go wrong with their offerings, so just go with whatever you feel like having. My only quibble has been with the only time Chef Ding was not around (happened just once , which is a miracle on a restaurant scene where most major cooks are not present even on busy nights like Fridays and Saturdays) and even on that evening, it was still performing at a level that plenty of restaurants in town would not reach in their prime . Where Kazu is about bold flavors and presentation (which I also like), Kyo opts for refinement all the way. Both are my favourite Isakayas in Montreal, Kyo being ideal for its cozy refined decor, whereas Kazu is boisterous and there is always a lineup. It seems to be a daunting task to properly spot great talents in Montreal as I always see mentions of really bad cooks passing as the talented cooks of this city (I know… the trends, the buzz effect!) when far superior Chefs like Chef Ding remain relatively underrated.
Q& A – (I do not have time to manage the comments sections, therefore I did turn it off. But kindly send me your questions by email and I’ll reply. I’ll post the questions that the most can benefit from, on this site. Any off-topic question will be discarded – Thanks for your understanding). Jeremy asks if Kazu is less expensive that Kyo and if I find Kyo expensive? And to compare both Kazy and Kyo a bit more. Which I would recommend. Answer: Kazu has two types of items, those that they can afford selling cheaply (rice with salad, for eg…yes some ppl rave about that..what do you want me to tell you, lol) and those that are pricier (for eg, braised octopus, braised tuna for two ). So online opinions about Kazu’s prices vary depending on what the OP (original poster) is reporting about. If you take most of their uninsteresting cheap items, you can eat cheaply at Kazu. If you want some of their serious stuff (for eg, braised tuna belly for 2), you’ll pay for that and it won’t be that cheap. As for Kyo, their prices are available to the public (see here) and you can judge for yourself. Since I can deal only in facts I know, all I can say is that in comparison to the normal prices of the Montreal food scene and given the quality of its cooking and ingredients, Kyo’s prices seem fair to me. I recommend Kazu if you are looking for bold rustic boisterous Isakaya, Kyo for a refined version of an Isakaya-inspired meal.