UPDATE: SEPT 2016 – THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED
– Restaurant Shinji
Type of cuisne: Sushi/Asian-inspired contemporary food/Asian-French fusion/Refine Isakaya fare
Addr: 1726 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal, QC H3J 1M3
Phone: (438) 384-1270
***My recent restaurant reviews: Restaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun I, L’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, Firegrill, Patrice Patissier, Raku, Au cinquième péché, Au Pied de Cochon, Callao
Japanese Chef Shinji Nagai is at the helm of Restaurant Shinji, an establishment that has opened, recently, to wide acclaim with some local food journalists regarding it as Montreal’s top sushiya/isakaya (Local star food journalist Thierry Daraize even scoring his meal, there, with a perfect 5/5). Jeff Stinco, from the band Simple Plan, is the owner. Jeff has opened several restaurants recently and the man made it clear (to the medias) that he is only interested by the finest ingredients he can get. Good then as I am also obsessed by ingredient quality.
As ever, I prefer to completely surrender to what the Chef deem worthy to feed me with, so I went for the omakase.
Lucky Lime Oyster was of dazzling quality, plump and tasting heavenly and freshly of the sea. It was covered by a delicious espuma of Yuzu/Grapefruit that served as a judicious flavor enhancer, not as a distraction, to the sublime oyster. I can’t remember the last time I had oyster of this quality in Montreal. Very good 8/10
Tuna tataki, garlic chips, radish salad and fresh wasabi featured first-rate ingredients, the marinade of the tuna not explosive in flavor, presumably to not shock local palates, but this was certainly a nicely balanced and well made marinade revealing, for my taste, proper level of acidity (meaning not too strong, not too weak, just right) , the tataki technique fine (lightly seared and finely sliced as it should as well as timely marinated) . Good 7/10
Shabu shabu Wagyu beef, enoki mushrooms and lime dashi broth – The quality of the beef good, the dashi broth light in density but exciting in taste. One of the better dashi-based preparations I ever had in Montreal, this one balancing the dashi stock with lime. Very good 8/10
Then a set of nigiris (Shima-aji, Tai, Hirame, Sake, Suzuki, Hamachi, Kampachi) – Here’s a list of sushi terms if you want to get the translations. A benchmark (by Montreal standards) serving of nigiris. Knife skills are impressively sharp by local standards. This is almost up there in the league of the other benchmark sushi I had in Montreal: those that Chef Junichi Ikematsu has fed me with , in his prime. Chef Shinji Nagai and his brigade applying classic Japanese sushi crafting standards, as you won’t fail to observe that this is not americanized sushis, which is my preference. The rice served at body temperature, on the evening of my visit, which I find is ideal for sushis, exquisitely prepared (each piece judiciously seasoned according to its topping — this is one of the very rare places in Montreal where the rice and its topping benefits from deep mastery of flavor/ingredient interraction as nothing is done to distract, everything is there for the right reason, everything is there to enhance) and cooked to one preferred toothsome consistency (not too firm, not too soft, the texture of the grains vivid). No need of sauces when sushis are made this well (but you have the sauces served aside if you still need them) , the seafood of great quality. 10/10 by Montreal’s finest sushi standards.
Next, Miso marinated Alaskan black cod with seasonal vegetable – The black cod tasting fabulous, its sear perfect, the dimension of marine freshness enhanced by a kiss from the grill, the miso marinade was mixed with maple syrup (a reminder that the house also offers blends of Oriental/Western ingredient combinations) , quality carrots and zucchini retaining nice crunch with enjoyable grilling flavor, there was also some Chinese cabbage of prime quality with vibrant taste. Very good 8/10.
The highlight: Benchmark (by Montreal standards) serving of nigiris, almost up there with what Chef Jun I has served me in his prime.
The downside: N/A
Overall food score: 8/10 by current Montreal finest Asian/International cuisine restaurant standards, which means easily among this city’s better crafted Asian-inspired contemporary food.
Conclusion: Most Chefs who used to work at Le 357 C (a private club in Montreal) do count among my favourite Chefs in Montreal and its surroundings (Pelletier who was at Club Chasse et Peche, Éloi Dion who used to work for restaurant Van Horne, Jason Bowmer from Les Zèbres in Val David). They have talent, and Chef Shinji Nagai (he also used to work there) is another great example of that flattering pattern, his brigade up to par. This is a successful restaurant, hip and popular (plenty of patrons on this Wednesday evening), with a tasteful warm and original (by Montreal restaurant standards) decor. They also have a sidewalk terrace and seatings at the sushi bar (which is where I sat).