Archive for the ‘best japanese restaurant food in montreal’ Category

ACCORDING TO THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE,   THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED PERMANENTLY —THIS REVIEW IS KEPT ONLINE FOR HISTORICAL REFERENCE.

The same local foodie who did notify me about the recent opening of Tsukuyomi (visited and reviewed here) has also mentioned  that another Japanese  eatery   opened its doors on Avenue du Parc, not far from the corner of Avenue St Viateur.  The name is Cocoro (Addr: 5407 Park Ave, Montreal, Phone:514-303-0332 ).  I checked the web to see if there is any mention of this, online, but no serious/reliable online source has yet mentioned its existence as of the day of my 1st visit (Thursday Aug 17th 2017), with the only two pertinent online mentions of this restaurant being the restaurant’s Google profile and its facebook page,  so I went to find out.

Cocoro all black interior has the looks of a  simple bistro.  It also has a terrace that was not open on the day  of my visit. When you push open their glass door, you are immediately welcomed by a noren. The waitstaff explained that they do not have their alcohol license yet, but  that  it is coming soon.

Remembering the superb and genuinely Japanese donburi   as well as chicken karaage I had at Nozy — which are reviewed here (easily the most “genuinely Japanese” of any donburi and chicken karaage I had in Montreal), I wanted to see how they would fare under Cocoro’s roof.

I started my meal with their Tokyo ramen, which broth is made of  pork and chicken  (the noodles that are used are of the  thin wavy sort), light and yet  flavorful. For those in the know (people who  made ramen at a serious level for a long time), it was evident that lots of skills went into that broth (well judge timing, superb sense of seasoning, great work of the  flavor, etc).  The  waitress explained that the Japanese Chef (born and trained in Tokyo) has just arrived from Japan around 1 month ago and it shows: the seasoning of his broth was as genuinely bold as it is the case with most bowls of tokyo style ramen in Japan, with the necessary kick of salt present (I am insisting on this because lots of food journalists and food  reviewers do inaccurately report saltiness as a fault. They just do not know when saltiness is a lack of judgement and where it should be expected. Saltiness may be the pet peeve of the health-conscious world but culinary-wise, salt is what makes certain dishes great. It is therefore important to remind people that for certain types of ramen, a certain level of  saltiness is required. You take that away, your ramen will be something  else. I mean, if all you can taste in a broth of this quality is just salt, then you have some homework to do before talking about ramen: go, spend years enjoying ramen across Japan, then come back and see if  you are now  able to differentiate “necessary kick of saltiness” from the “oversalty”).  For a ramen bowl in Montreal, this was  impressive as  not one single detail was  spared: the yolk of the egg had the wet-appearing center that a serious ramen fan will look for as it helps the egg melting with the broth, an aspect that’s important as it just makes the ramen tasting better, the texture of the chāshū  チャーシュー  was the best I ever saw in Montreal ,  the noodles were precisely cooked to aldente doneness, the use of   julienne strips of the white  part of a Japanese leek (Shira Negi)– which they did use as a topping for the ramen —  is rare at our local ramenyas.  One benchmark bowl by LOCAL ramen standards. 10/10

Chicken karaage was another demonstration of the great sense of seasoning of the Chef. This time, the seasoning intentionally not strong (there is not just 1 way to make and season chicken karaage and this example was one legit version of a chicken karaage), but well balanced, with a quip, though: some pieces of chicken had a surface that was tough to tear apart. Given the skills on display during this meal and the ensuing one, I would not lose a sleep over that quip, as anyone familiar with advanced Japanese cooking techniques would not fail to observe that the Chef karaage technique is on point (again, regardless of that quip). The only limitation, for this  Chef, will come from the quality of our poultry (it is not bad, and Cocoro is using quality poultry, but it is not as great as the poultry in Japan) – but that is not the problem if this kitchen.

Talking about the quality of the ingredients in Montreal: the owner came to say hello to every client and when she dropped by my table, she said she would like, at some point in the future, to start importing ingredients  from Tokyo’s  Tsukiji market,  wagyu from Japan, etc. I appreciate her ambition but let us  be clear about this: the Montreal foodie scene is not ready for that. I gather that by reading my blog you may think that I dislike our local restaurant scene, and  that it was all logical that I would suggest that our local foodie scene is not ready for superb Japanese ingredients flown in from Japan, but thinking  that way is wrong: I am an untiring  advocate of the best aspects of our foodie scene in a way that I have always bragged about our smoked meat, poutine, cheesecakes.  They are the best in the world. Classic Quebecois cuisine is amazing, and I never miss an opportunity to mention that. In the heydays of Martin Juneau at la Montee, I did not hesitate to notice that he was (BACK THEN) up there with the very best Chefs of this globe. I did the same thing when Martin Picard was cooking. It was also the case for Hughes Dufour (Hughes is still an active Chef and he is now a star  in the competitive and  real world class foodie destination of New York), Jean-Francois Belair when he was working at le Marly and another world class Chef, Chef  Jean-Paul Giroux (who used to be at Cuisine et Dependance). Even today, there are still  local Chefs of which, I keep saying that, in their prime, they are are capable of world class cooking:  Michele Mercuri (Le Serpent), Olivier De Montigny (La Chronique), Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly  (Marconi) . So, NO…I do not dislike our foodie scene. What I cannot stand is the bullshit that surrounds this foodie scene: selling  Montreal as a foodie destination when any serious foodie knows that  it is everything you want..but  NOT  a proper foodie destination. Let us talk between  adults, here: Montreal, you managed to  convince San Pellegrino’s listing of the  top restaurants of the globe that an eatery selling lobster spaghetti should be in its top 100. You are certainly a hero  on the marketing aspect, a big zero foodie-wise. Marketing is important, but what makes a foodie destination serious is its ability of having an effective restaurant scene which performance can justify what is advertised  (which are what Paris/Tokyo/New York/London are about). Montreal has a restaurant and foodie scene that is, in general, at the opposite end  of what is promoted as evidenced by the never ending number of cooks who are more interested by opening restaurants to simply make a buck (when all you do is to parade on TV and you leave your restaurants in the hands of poorly trained cooks, that is the only thought that comes to mind, obviously), cooks who are celebrated as geniuses when the so-called geniuses do not even know how to season their food, etc. When Chef Belair was at le Marly and Michele Mercuri at XO Le Restaurant, they were both cooking world class food, but the Montreal foodie scene never knew what that meant… – Anyways, I like Montreal and do believe that when you like something, you have to be honest about it. And that is what I am doing. And to be honest, the great fish of the Tsukiji market +  best wagyu of Japan ..that  is not a good idea in the context of Montreal because the only two local restaurants that are selling the best fish and red meat from abroad are not “mainstream” restaurants, they cater to a “niche” of people driving luxurious cars and smoking expensive cigars… that is the only way they could “survive” in the context of the Montreal restaurant scene because the local foodie scene does not know how to appreciate that.

Back to the main topic, my meal at Cocoro. Impressed by the skills on display during my initial meal, I went back the following evening (there are currently just 4 food items on their menu. The 4 food items that are reviewed in my post. The staff explained that there will be  more items, soon,  in September):

Kaisen Donburi (sashimi rice bowl) is easy … right? Just rice, some pieces of raw seafood, some salmon roe, some basic toppings. Those in the know, those who really  did it, those people  know that is not that easy. Well, it is easy to make an ordinary bowl of rice, for sure. A bit more difficult to find Chefs who pull this  off brilliantly. What I was having was one of the best Kaisen Donburi I ever had in Montreal, the Chef’s skills so evident in the superbly well executed savory tamago (even in Tokyo, it does not always  look that refined and appealing to the eyes…)  he did cut in small pieces, dices  of fresh quality squid, salmon, tuna revealing great knife skills and lots of finesse in the overall execution. The rice was also tasty, which is not always the case at plenty of  Japanese restaurants across  North America.  This was a reminder that simple food like this can dazzle….only in skilled hands.  Even the accompanying sweet soya was of nice quality. Beautiful skills! 9/10

I also ordered their udon made in a mix of  bechamel sauce / dashi bouillon, a Franco Japanese offering that is right now trendy in Tokyo. You have your  proper classic French Bechamel, not as rich as your old school French bechamel sauce,  therefore “lightened”  and that works well with the dashi bouillon. In the dish, there were also some morsels of quality chicken that were cooked not too tender, not too firm (for proper chew).  As it was the case during the two meals, the attention to details was remarkable (the doneness of the noodles always well timed so that it is never mushy, never too hard, the noodles always holding well to their respective sauces or broths, the timing of the cooked vegetables was also well mastered, resulting in  vegetables of vivid textures/colors..not a common feature at our local restaurants). A successful dish 8/10

Overall food rating: 8/10 A TRUELY skilled Chef who masters the fundamentals of cooking well (salty where it has to, tasting mild or strong exactly where need be, great sense of timing, great sense of textures/temperatures/colors, great palate, etc).

Bottom line: Culinary-wise I now have two “preferred” Japanese eateries in Montreal. Cocoro and Nozy. Eventhough the Japanese presence is more serious than it used to be,  on our local restaurant scene, Nozy and Cocoro are, right now, among the rare restaurants that seem to deliver the flavors that will get you, in Montreal,  as close as it’s possible to the motherland (which is not a light  feature when you consider  that you are located at 10,383 kms away from it).

What I think days later: Let us see how Montreal will react to yet another good Chef. Are we going to pursue with that bad habit of trying to alter what others have been doing successfully for ages (Yes, Montreal, you know what I mean by that! Some  local Japanese eateries  were great   and you started complaining about the bold genuine flavors of  their  food. They  did adapt to you and  were not the  same anymore!!). So if one day this Chef is not who he  is anymore , you will have just our laughable clueless foodie scene to blame. And to the Montreal foodie scene, I have this to add:  you should start ditching your  “it is too good to be true” mentality as that is making your foodie scene “tasting bland” btw!!! … In Tokyo, Paris, London, New York, they think  that “it can truely always be consistently great”, no wonder why they are world  class foodie destinations! Mind you, they have the “collective” mindset to make that happen …and you do not!!!

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nozy-1Tokyo trained Chef Nozomu Takeuchi, has worked for a while at several great restaurants in North America, with a stint at restaurant Miso, before deciding to open his own neighborhood / unassuming eatery Nozy (Addr:3568, rue Notre-Dame Ouest Montéal, Québec ; Phone: 438-386-9797 URL: http://www.restaurantnozy.ca) . The restaurant has two seatings at dinner time.

This was the conclusion to my short recent journey into Montreal’s Japanese-style dining scene. My previous reviews were based on what the local experts were raving about (Jun I, Park and Sushi Yumi, aka “the big gunz” according to the experts) . For the last stop of this journey, I left the local experts behind  and I went my way. A huge risk, because  it is never  a good idea to part ways with the experts, especially when you are just a poor lonesome anonymous normal diner like me, right? You are right…LMFAOL!

I went for the omakase. But here, omakase is not just a branding…or a trendy word … as sadly used, with not much inspiration, by some of the top gunz in town.  At $60, this is the cheapest omakase of this quality in town. Ensure, though, that you do understand that this omakase is not offered to you one course at a time. Instead you are served several dishes at a time as clearly mentioned on their web site (they serve teishoku style food).

nozy-2Nice  plump fresh  oysters from Massachusetts.  Really good quality for an omakase priced this low. 7/10

nozy-3Miso soup, light yet rich in subtlety, nuances….meaning that someone skilled made it!  7/10

nozy-4Salmon served different ways (as a tartare, served raw, tataki style, with salmon roe atop), on a bed of rice. For me, great cooking is the ability to deliver enticing traditional flavors, no matter the presentation. Here, they shared my views, not on paper, but on the …palate! The  tartare dazzled (10/10), the raw salmon was good (7/10). Delicious, inspired, whatever the words … it dazzled in mouth!

nozy-5An assortment of food items, which, from left to right (based on the previous picture), did consist of:

Beef tataki, ponzu/daikon vinaigrette. Excellent beef, which consistency is kept slightly firmer than what western ppl tend to prefer, but firm or tender has nothing to do with what is right or wrong. It is a matter of preference. 7.5/10

In the middle, fatty tuna/albacore/Japanese snapper  6/10  – the fish is of good quality (I liked the fresh quality of the fish   that was on display and asked my waitress where the fish came from. She said it’s flown in from Japan, Canada and east coast U.S) , but I have to admit that I am picky with fish and this was the only time I thought the big gunz did better (for eg, better knife skills). That said, the big gunz like park, jun i and sushi yumi are either dedicated sushiyas (jun i and sushi yumi) or, in the case of park, reknowned for their sushi. By contrast, Nozy is not a sushiya, thus I am not expecting Nozy to showcase perfect knife skills, etc. Still,  the big gunz can…. sleep away…as Nozy did far better when I am eyeing  at the “big picture” (the overall food performance).

Good fresh wakame salad with the genuine flavors of Japan at the forefront  7/10,

They did present the two sets of assortments in a bento box. One part of the box concealed the previously food items. The other part had:
nozy-6Black cod/miso (tasty, the classic recipe is applied not just properly but with flavors that shine 8/10), braised pork belly which showcased the homey look and dazzling comforting taste of mom-and-pop cooking (and that is a compliment) 9/10, delicious karaage (fried chicken) with a great crisp  7/10 – All in all, this was an excellent display of genuine Japanese flavors.

I skipped dessert as the dessert of the day, crepe caramel, did not interest me.

Pros: It has been a while that I haven’t felt so close to Japan..right here in Mtl! Right now, Nozy  has  a bigger variety of ingredients  and far superior cooking at ….  far less $$$ than at the supposedly “BIG GuNZ” in town.

Cons: N/A

Overall food rating : 8/10 On the culinary front, Nozy blew Jun I/Park/Sushi Yumi away. Whether those restaurants are serving the exact same type of dishes or not, that is irrelevant as I am talking about the culinary skills here. The same Japanese-inspired cooking skills that Nozy shares with the above mentioned top gunz in town. Because Nozy is not trading on the local upscale Japanese-style foodie scene (it is a neighborhood unassuming eatery, no frills, it does not have the  fine dining ambitions of  Park or Jun I), there is no online buzz about it. But I bet they could not careless: the tiny restaurant was full of very happy diners while I was there and their food sends the supposedly top gunz in town…to the wall of shame! I loved Nozy. It is not Tokyo nor NYC level, but it is, right now, the best Japanese spot in town. No plan is full proof (directed to you,  you the supposedly big gunz in town) as Nozy has demonstrated! It was refreshing to see a Chef working seriously without the need to wait after a poster diner (some cooks in town show up only when a celebrity or a food journalist has snatched a seat), it was refreshing to eat food that did not taste like a business model (meaning replicated, copied for the sole sake of making a buck), it was, for me,  refreshing ..finally, to refrain from sticking to descriptions  such as “ok”, and “correct” ;). I just hope they  never change under the pressure of success (a trend in Montreal).

What I think days later: As long as they can cope properly with success (because, success they will have, that is for sure, if of course, they keep the cooking performance this great ), Nozy will continue to be one serious destination for your fix of Japanese food in Montreal. I maintain what I wrote in the review of Park: for sushi, go to NYC. As long as our top local sushiyas can’t figure out a way to be consistently fine and get better, go to NYC!  But for non sushi items and genuine Japanese flavors, Montreal is surprisingly not doing that bad at all (Of course it is not NYC level, let alone Tokyo level), but Japanese cooking in Montreal (we’ll get to that soon – Now that I know what I needed to know about the top picks of our local experts, I will focus on what the normal diner that I am …thinks about the true gems of Japanese cooking in Montreal) is, slowly, doing better than what it used to, and there is better than the “top choices” of the local medias /  local experts. According to the local experts, Nozy is either “charming” (thanks, but that does not tell me what to expect on the culinary front) or a “safe bet” (safe way of staying safe, thanks for that, but I expect the local expert to tell me a bit more than that … ). Whoa! Lol. We, true foodies, won’t miss the experts, trust me …

 

UPDATEDUPDATE: 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
URL: http://www.shinjimtl.com/

***My recent restaurant reviews: Restaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique,  L’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice 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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Nigiris

 

 

 

 

 

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. 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
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).

 

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