Went back to Kazu, my favourite Isakaya in town, with my friend David who is curious about exploring all kind of cuisines.
I ordered the $15 roasted salmon belly which continues to be the finest of its kind in Montreal, the quality salmon belly packed with the typical layer of luscious fat that made this dish so popular among Japanese isakaya fans, the timing of the roasting simply perfect, the seasoning judicious. As the years go by, plenty of Isakayas are opening in town and yet I still haven’t stumbled upon one single Isakaya that managed to get its roasted salmon belly as beautifully rendered as Kazu’s version. 8/10 by Montreal finest Isakaya standards. David was less impressed as he prefers salmon in its raw version.
David has opted for the $27 lobster salad which he seems to have preferred over the roasted salmon belly. The lobster was served both in its tail (topped by some sort of patty which nature has so far eluded both of us –I forgot to inquire about it) as well as morsels of its flesh, timely cooked to ideal palatable consistency (meaning with proper chew), Kazu is always proud of dressing virtually everything with their secret homemade sauce –it works as it is generally pairs well with most of their food, so I won’t complain –, the lobster certainly of good quality by Montreal standards. David does not rate food, which I respect, but he said that he was surprised that such unassuming place would pull off food of this sort. My rating: 7/10 (Good).
We rounded the meal with Kazu’s soft ice cream covered with a layer of wasabi powder (for me), black tea powder (for David). David didn’t appear very enthused about it, observing that the powder was predominant with not much of the other ice cream’s flavor (the milk,for eg) within his grasp. I forgot to ask him but I also suspect that he prefers hard to soft ice cream. I personally like both hard and soft ice cream. The soft ice cream fared much better to me: In my experience, Kazu’s soft ice cream has not always been good (sometimes mushy in texture, sometimes the wasabi powder too subtle in flavor), but on this evening I found it, for my taste, to boast a spectacular depth of fresh milky flavor, the wasabi powder’s aroma fresh and enticing. In my tender childhood I used to drink fresh raw cow milk (milk pasteurization was an unknown notion in that part of the globe) , therefore my palate and brain have always recorded that taste as their ‘ preferred One’. The soft ice cream that I was enjoying this evening tasted of fresh raw cow milk, the sort of milky flavor that you’ll rarely get to sample in most parts of Europe and America nowadays. For me, a benchmark soft ice cream 10/10.
Personal overall food rating for this meal: 8/10 My best Mtl isakaya meal since a long time and isakayas keep multiplying in town, so imagine. It was reassuring to see Kazu back on (almost) top form after my last disappointing meal under this very same roof (last time I dined here, my pork neck bbq seemed, to me, reheated rather than grilled ‘on the spot’, the oftently exciting braised mono octopus leg missing its addictive chargrill flavor — in such conditions, the octopus leg’s dish equates to an over-priced and meagerly portioned offering). On this evening everything was cooked to order and tasted delicious. Not Kazu in his prime, but Kazu on a great day.
Conclusion: Despite disadvantages that could considerably weaken plenty of other restaurants (the inevitable line up, the hole-in-a-wall decor, cramped ambience), Kazu manages to maintain itself ahead of its local competitors. It is not a perfect place (some items are cheap but those are the insignificant ones, most are a bit pricey …which defeats the point of eating cheapily at isakayas, portions are less and less sizeable), but few are delivering better tasting isakaya fares in Montreal. David still prefers Kyo, but keep in mind that both restaurants differ from each other in many aspects: Kyo is cozy, refined and more importantly an isakaya-inspired initiative. Kazu is bold, rustic, entirely Japanese Isakaya (Chef and staff are Japanese, the food benefits from contemporary touches — Kazu-san was working at restaurant Toque! before, so he brought some of their fine dining’s contemporary aspects with him — , indeed, but it is, in its essence, as Japanese as you’ll get from an Isakaya in Montreal). As for Kyo, eventhough my last meal there was a miss (Chef Ding was away on that visit) , they remain my other favourite Isakaya in Montreal (though,again, let’s be clear about this,when Chef Ding is away …it’s not the Kyo that I consider as a top challenger of the local scene). I personally can’t chose a winner between both of them as that would imply submitting one style as better to a totally different one, a bit like saying — to draw an analogy to colors — that blue is better than red.