Restaurant Gia Ba | Szechuan cuisine | Addr: 5766 Monkland Avenue, Montreal | Phone number (514) 564-7698

Chef Andy  Su has cooked Szechuan food in town, for years, at various Chinese restaurants. He  recently opened  Gia Ba on Monkland street.

The restaurant is tiny and casual, but to the contrary of most casual Chinese restaurants, its looks are closer to the ones of a conventional western-style bistrot than to your old school looking Chinese eateries. I did not take any photo of the room as it was full of people, but it’s essentially a casual bistrot interior, with colorful chairs (red, beige) and clothless dark wooden tables.

Dan Dan noodlesDan Dan noodles $8 comes in various versions, in China and abroad, so my rating will not take  “preferences based on the style/s I prefer ” into account. I am more interested by  the technique and of course the flavor, as well as how the texture played a role at enhancing (or not) the appreciation of the dish. The noodles featured a  moderate thick consistency which allowed for a nice chew but I find the  thinner noodles to elevate Dan Dan noodle dishes into much more enjoyable food . Still, thin or thick noodles is  not a problem here, just a matter of personal preference. My problem was with the flavor, which , while remaining as close as possible to its authentic traditional taste, left me under the impression that the kitchen did hesitate to go  bold  all the way (which KanBai, the one located at 1813 St Catherine St W, Montreal, did so well last time I ate there) by toning down a bit the flavor of  the component of the  preserved mustard green (which  was present, but   did not mesh  excitingly nor harmoniously  well with the rest as I came to expect from the finer dan dan noodles in town) . In other words, the overall taste was unidimensional , the overall lacking of the complexity of its  finer versions. 6/10

Mopo doufuMopo doufu $9 – Homemade tofu,  of ultra light consistency/not firm, set in a sauce made of beans/chilly oil. I have no preferred tofu textures (it boils down to the type of tofu dish…some fare well with soft tofu, others with firmer ones), but even the Mopo doufu versions using soft-textured tofu do feature tofu with a bit more texture than this one I was sampling on this evening. This was way too “melting” soft to be effectively appreciated as an important element of a Mopo doufu dish. Furthermore, the sauce lacked the complexity and exciting taste  of the finer Mopo doufu sauces I had elsewhere. 5/10

Pork bunTaiwan steam pork burger $8 – Basically a steamed  pork bun. The bun is ok (for eg, not doughy tasting) , but  the flavor of this bun  lacked palatable excitement of some other buns enjoyed elsewhere. The pork was more firm than tender, a little bit dry. I had better pork buns in town (deeper porky flavor, finer bun, more elaborate work of both the textures and seasoning).  6/10

The items I picked were not expensive, but you also have pricier dishes such as chilli soft shell crabs ($28), twice cooked oysters ($28), Szechuan style crawfish ($38). For drinking, you have couple of sakes, beers and wines.

Pros: The bistrot feel is, in the context of casual Chinese dining in Montreal,  a bit unique, with a  service that’s way better than at most similar eateries.

Cons: I wish the flavors (of what I was sampling on this evening) were more complex / had more depth as generally expressed by Szechuan cuisine.

Overall personal verdict: 6/10 for the food (by Szechuan restaurant cooking standard in Montreal) . I went there only once, so I have no clue whether  it’s different or similar on other days, but this specific meal left me with the impression that they are hesitating between adapting the dishes for non-Sichuanese tastes and keeping it as close as authentically Sichuanese as you can get to in Montreal. Do not get me wrong: the  Sichuanese flavors are present (for eg, the heat /spiciness is there / the chilly oil not at its finest depth of flavor complexity but still good enough), but they seemed — to me — as not fully expressed. I have enjoyed Chef Andy  Su’s food  before and I know what he is capable of, but this evening’s meal was not conclusive.

What I think days later: Obviously, this meal did not ‘float my boat’, but do not get your knickers in a twist about it…inconsistency is the normal condition of all restaurants. Who knows, it is perhaps with the pricier  dishes that I would better understand the buzz around Gia Ba. But for now, this was nowhere near my idea of a favourite fix of Chinese food in Montreal.

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