Archive for the ‘Japanese food’ Category

Tempura Matsui, NYC – TM is considered as  the best tempura restaurant  of NYC. Celebrated  NYC’s food journalist Pete Wells rating it with the highest score he is capable of for a non western restaurant, a 2 over 4. Not that Pete Wells knows anything about non Western food. He does not. I mean, the dude knows what is a benchmark restaurant, when it comes to Western food. But for Non Western Food, he has no clue of what is a benchmark restaurant (have you seen Pete Wells scoring a non Western restaurant higher than 2 or 3 over 4?? Exactly ….) – Anyways, Pete Wells is still a dude to reckon with when it comes to informing yourself about NYC’s dining scene and his rating of TM, although it reveals how he is not capable of properly assessing a non Western restaurant (he is basically assessing a Japanese restaurant with the same expectations that he has about a fine dining North American or French restaurant, if that was still not clear in your mind!!), is still an indication that TM stands out of the pack at whatever it is doing in NYC. I went to find out.

In Japan, the finest tempura restaurants will reveal how perfecting tempura is not an ordinary task.
They have nothing to do with the ordinary tempura found at the big majority of eateries around the world. They do thrive on paper-thin shells of batter (koromo,  in Japanese) coating top quality seafood and vegetables using the finest oil possible and skills they have perfected for years to turn the tempura into a revelation. I wanted to see how Matsui in NYC would fare.

As explained elsewhere on this blog, I am not going to do an inventory of every single food item that I ate. A blog like mine prefers focusing on the the technical aspect of the meal, what needs to be expected from such meal and if  that  was achieved.

At Matsui, NYC, they use   sesame (The main oil used in the Edo era 江戸時代, widely used by Tempura Chefs in Tokyo), peanut  and cottonseed oils. The fish is  fried in oil that is hotter than the one used for vegetables. As it is typical of high end tempura-ya, you are served the light flavored   food items (fish, shrimps) first, then those with a stronger taste (root vegetables, for eg) . Some top quality daikon is left on the table, its purpose is to be incorporated in the sauce ( made of mirin,  soya sauce, dashi  ) in which you can dip some of your tempuras – the daikon  adds to the flavouring of the tempura, and that helps the sauce to stick to the tempura and your tempura not to turn soggy. You also have some salt available.

The meal started with an array of non-tempura mini creations. Traditionally, non tempura items were not served at tempura-yas, but the Chef told the medias that he does this to please his NYC’s clientele.

From right to left: Snow crab jelly (the enticing fresh maritime fragrance and superb natural sweetness of the crab at the fore), then sea urchin and high-grade chopped tuna atop some rice (the quality of the sea urchin from Hokkaido even better than at some of the elite sushiya of NYC), then Toro tuna sashimi/shrimp/salmon roe (top of the range salmon roe that was even better than the one I had at Sushi Noz the other day), then lobster/okra, soya jelly – all first-rate ingredients with competently rendered textures. The okra came from the US and could hold a candle to the best okras of this globe. 8/10

Seafood savory steamed egg custard, with chunks of abalone (superb balance between a nice firm chew and enough tenderness for an enjoyable mouthfeel – this is the consistency that I came to consider as the ideal one for abalone since the days of my tender childhood in the Indian ocean, blessed with some of this globe’s best and freshest seafood such as the abalone.  I am not a fan of the utterly tender/soft consistency that is sometimes the case with certain preparations of the abalone), lobster, shrimp and a topping of Salmon roe (Ikura). Again, high quality sourcing as it would be the case all along this meal. Served hot in this instance, the custard highly enjoyable, its execution flawless (the trio of core elements soy sauce/dashi stock/ mirin perfectly balanced, the silky-smooth texture competently achieved). 8/10

 

The first piece of tempura arrived. It was the shrimp. Both the head and the tail of the shrimp are served as it is common at many  tempura-yas. Deep-fried shrimp coated with  crispy tempura batter crumbs  never fails to be enjoyable.  Particularly the head (which is not phographed). Good quality of shrimp, tasty tempura. No excess batter as to fully enjoy the taste of the shrimp.  The flour batter did  not soak up  oil. Which is essential to top quality tempura. An important skill that is not as easy to master as it may sound.

There was also the  highly praised  Matsutake mushroom, a luxury that had its distinctive  aromas (quite tough to describe. I could describe it as either spicy-aromatic, pungent, or woodsy, and yet it will never do justice to what it really smells like. Even experts cannot describe its fragrance  accurately. The best way to understand its taste is just to sample it. ) brought to the fore. As for the tempura itself, I could appreciate that this had  a delicate crispness to its batter (made of egg, flour, water  – the flour is a special flour imported from Japan and that does a better job at helping the  batter to be lighter )  and it’s clear that the oil that was used is immaculate. The control of the temperature is crucial, of course, and yes,  they got that one under great control, too.

Japanese Whiting fish (Kisu: きす): The fish is of utter freshness, as you would expect from a restaurant of this standing. Being a high end tempura Chef is not just about deep frying seafood and vegetables. It is about —- among other high level technical qualities, of course —- knowing what fish is best for the tempura cooking method. You realize that when you are in the presence of true great Tempura Chefs (In Japan, I did try Tempuraiwai , Sonoji , and 7Chome Kyoboshi , and if you try them solely for bragging about having eaten upmarket deep fried food, if you can’t appreciate such details as the effect of every single fish’s taste and texture in their tempura’s incarnation, if you can’t appreciate the nuances of high end tempuras, nuances that are largely detailed in this article, then it would be wise to refrain from investing your money on this, obviously. Yes, most fishes are great when deep-fried, but the  Kisu: きす will reward the tempura Chef not only with a great taste, but its texture is also perfect for a tempura (not greasy, holding perfectly well to the batter, etc). And of course, its spine, full of calcium,  is always a delectable treat when deep fried. Another display of impeccable frying technique. Here, the work of the seasoning is not what you should be looking for. Instead, the focus is on  the quality of the ingredients and their very own flavor. Which means that the house needs to be extremely good at sourcing its ingredients.  The sourcing was indeed of top level.

Hokkaido Sea urchin (uni)  tempura – the soft consistency of the sea urchin is the perfect counter balance to the crunch of a fried batter, adding textural excitement on the palate, and that is exactly what came out from sampling this piece of tempura. The sea urchin  was  wrapped in edible kelp  (kombu) as to stop the creamy sea urchin from falling apart during the deep frying process as well as adding texture to it.   As you would expect from fresh quality sea urchin, wrapped like a ‘sandwich’ in any leafy element (in this case, the edible kelp), then deep fried in top quality oil, not one single presence of oil to be found, but just the great fresh taste of the seafood, this was a piece of joy in mouth. Again, as with all the other pieces of tempura, the high level tempura skills (light coating, superb quality batter, swift deep frying, great control of the heat of the oil) was always in evidence.

Abalone – The distinctive maritime flavor of the seafood  brought to the fore (here, too, an essential technical aspect of high end tempura). Tempura is just a cooking technique that is perfect in unlocking the inner flavors of an ingredient. It’s supposed to do that better than through, boiling, to take an example. If a piece tempura does not do that, then it is better to  simply boil or grill that ingredient. Here’s an example of a restaurant where you can better understand how tempura cooking fulfills that task of doing a better job at unlocking the flavors of an ingredient than boiling or grilling. And, as already stated earlier on, their work of the abalone is superior to the one of many elite Sushiyas in NYC because they do a better work at retaining  the seafood’s inner flavour and tenderizing it to  the perfect balance between the right firmness and the right crunch (not an easy task as many do tenderize the abalone too much, sometimes to the point of allowing it to feel almost like a gel, which has nothing to do with the sea snail’s natural consistency. I understand that you need to tenderize the abalone, but when it is almost like a gel, you are distancing yourself from the point of eating a piece of abalone, which is to enjoy some …sea snail. Tempura Matsui did a great job at reminding us that it is a sea snail that we are eating and not some Jell-O ).  So, yes it is tender, but it is also firm and features a nice crunch. 10/10 for the superb preparation  of the abalone! The cottonseed oil that they use  is designed to enhance the flavour of seafood and vegetables, and judging by the taste of this tempura, that was not just an advertising suggestion but a reality as well (the natural flavor of the abalone  is truely enhanced) . I was observing the Chef during the frying: he uses the right motions so that virtually no oil stays in the batter.

Crab – scored and served wrapped in shiso leaves .  Light coating that was technically well achieved. Not oily at all. Sesame oil is advertised as imparting more umami and aroma to the tempura, and here, too, that was not just some advertising suggestion blowing in the wind. So, you had more aroma because of the oil, but zero sign of oil. Yep, that is the ingenuity  of high end tempura.

Maitake mushroom 舞茸 : perfect technique in keeping any excess of moisture at bay, so that the batter adheres to the mushroom better. The  natural robust woodsy sensation coming from the mushroom testifying to the perfect timing and heat control of the deep-frying, a second too long, an oil way too hot — or not enoughly hot,  and the  natural fragrance of the mushroom  would have been  just a wish, obviously. But, then  you have got to make that happen, a feature that is not as easy at it may sound even at plenty of ambitious tempura-yas. And here, they nailed it.

There were plenty of other tempura pieces (onion, okra, eggplant, etc), but I’ll stop the inventory of the pieces of the tempuras here. It is pointless to go on and on with this. You have everything you need to  know about their tempura. That’s all we need. I also did not rate the tempura items as, in this instance, they would mean nothing (convey nothing) – as an example, if I prefer the taste of crab to mushroom, I may be tempted to rate the crab higher. But that would convey absolutely nothing. The only time you will see me rating a piece of tempura is if the performance was weak, or of benchmark mention. At Tempura Matsui, the performance was uniformly of a very high level of technique and that is all we need to extract from the assessment of the above mentioned pieces of tempuras.

After the flight of tempuras, I had:

 

Tendon Tempura Rice Bowl – Traditionally, the meal gets into its final stages with a dish of rice. Here, I did opt for some shrimp kagiake (several kinds of seafood and vegetables are deep-fried in batter)  tempura served atop freshly steamed rice. This came with a tentsuyu sauce and a tempura shiso leaf. Fine quality shrimp, fine taste, the tentsuyu sauce flawless. 7/10

 

Also served with the dish of rice: Akadashi red miso soup. Its miso paste is made of roasted barley flour, rice miso, steam-cooked soy bean. In this instance, dashi (dried kelp, bonito fish flakes ) is added. All of that translating into an expected fully-flavoured miso soup expressing enticing fresh strong bursts of umami taste sensations (from the particularly long fermentation of all involved ingredients, essentially) as well as toasty (coming from the roasted barley flour, obviously) and earthy notes. 8/10

Some pickles were also served. The pickles kept confirming the assured technical skills found all along this meal, with flawless pickling technique in evidence, and, of course, the expected top-flight ingredients and precise timing in serving the pickles that you came to expect at this level of dining. 8/10

Good to know – 3 facts :

(1)At your typical mainstream tempura restaurant, the batter is usually texturally thicker, the color dense, its seasoning competing with the flavour of the the ingredient. At a high end tempura restaurant, the focus is on both the technique of the batter (how feather light, how utterly crispy, how almost transparent it can be) and the quality of the ingredient (it has to express its intricate flavour fully and not compete with the batter’s flavour. The batter is actually not flavoured. For that to happen, the quality of the ingredient has to be of supreme quality, and there should be NO  seasoning involved). Tempura Matsui being a high end tempura restaurant, I do expect them to fulfill the basic above mentioned expectations any Tempura connoisseur has for a high end tempura. Did they? Absolutely.

(2)Many Japanese food items rely on subtlety in both the texture and the taste. Therefore keep that in mind as to avoid the inevitable clash with the perception of textures and flavours that you would have carried on from eating other types of food. You definitely need to spend some time educating you senses with what needs to be expected from Japanese high end tempura as your usual notions of texture and flavours have absolutely nothing to do with it.

(3)We are talking about feather light batter and the sole expression of the flavour of the featured ingredient here. If such things pass as pure BS to you, if you prefer bold flavours and thick tempura batter, then clearly, going to a high end tempura restaurant is like trying to rely on the moon to get some sunlight. Ain’t gonna happen.

 

Bottom line:  (Category: High-End tempura in North America) – The  level of technique (good control of the temperature of the oil, precise heat and timing, competently lightly  rendered textures where and when need be, every single item perfectly steamed on the inside, crisp on the outside, the inherent flavours of the ingredients brought to the  fore, etc) on display that you came  to expect  from a proper high end tempura shop of this reputation  was always in evidence. I think that Michelin got it right on this one (They did award Tempura Matsui with a 1 star). As argued elsewhere on this blog, I do not always agree with the Michelin star rating (a blatant example of that is the 1 star that was awarded to Torishin), but TM is a first-class restaurant from the classy behaviour of every single staff member, to the luxurious and tasteful Japanese-styled interior (they even have a high tech Japanese toilet in the restroom), up to the well sourced ingredients and great level of tempura technique on display. And to top it off, just a few blocks away, the spectacular water view of  the East  river awaits you. Glad to see that NYC has, finally, a high end tempura restaurant of world class quality. So there is no need to go to eat in Japan, anymore, as all Japanese cuisines are now represented in NYC at the high end level in the form of genuine world class Japanese restaurants that would be respectable venues even on their motherland. Tempura Matsui. Overall ratings for Food: 8/10; Service: 9/10 Tempura Matsui Addr: 222 E 39th St, New York, NY 10016, United States Phone: +1 212-986-8885 URL: http://www.tempuramatsui.com

Sushi Noz – Chef Nozomu Abe, from Hokkaido (Japan) has spent years perfecting his edomae-style sushi in Japan (Sapporo, Tokyo) before moving to NYC in 2007.

Inside the luxurious traditionally styled sushiya you have an area with a sushi counter that they call the Hinoki counter (a 200 year old hinoki wood sushi bar, where you are served several small plates at the beginning of your omakase), this counter being a faithful replica of the counter you will find at some of the high end sushiyas of Japan, as well as another space they call the Ash room (because it is made of a variety of ash wood) and which omakase features nigiri only.

Sushi Noz is located in the posh neighbourhood of the Upper East side. It is just amazing to find that many world class sushiyas in one single city, outside of Japan, many if not most … capable of holding a candle to their counterparts of the mother land. The limitation being that they can’t always use Japanese ingredients even though most of the sushiyas in NYC do their best to do that. And of course you have the legal restrictions such as not allowing Japanese shellfish to be imported with their shells (you can imagine the difference that makes in terms of the flavor of the flesh of that shellfish), not using fish that is too young (you can do that in Japan, not in the USA, etc). Not to forget that elements such as the water that is used, the geographical environment, etc … do affect the taste of the food. Despite all of that, most of the sushiyas of NYC are still of world class mention.

As I generally do, I am not going to elaborate on every single food item that I did put in my mouth, the purpose of my reviews is to extract what needs to be underlined about the technical aspect of the sushi meal. Consequently, as I am not doing an exhaustive and orderly inventory of what I ate,  I do not list the food items in the order that they were served to me.

 

Amadai (Tile fish) was swiftly seared on the sides, kept raw on the inside, dressed with a homemade sauce, shiso flower, served with warm gingko nuts. The advertised rich and fresh maritime taste of the in-season luxurious fish (one of the most expensive fish on the market) at the fore. Warm quality gingko nuts never failing to be a crowd pleaser. 7/10

 

Aburi Toro ( seared fatty tuna)  nigiri – This was seared  under  binchotan coals,  one rare feature at a sushiya in NYC. When you hear people talking about the theatrics of the Chef, it is nothing ”out of context” that he is doing. Just pertinent   gestures like grilling his fatty tuna in front of you. This was a fine piece of fatty tuna, rather than a benchmark of its kind. In  this instance I would have preferred it in its  raw version, but of course, grilling such nice fat  is always a tasty idea. Which was certainly the case, here.    6/10

Chutoro (moderately fatty tuna), from Miyazaki in Japan,  features the meaty aspect of the lean tuna (Akami – which was also served during this meal), and elevate it with the feel of the fat of the Otoro (the premium fat from the belly of the tuna). Again, as at virtually all the fine sushiyas of NYC,  the sourcing of the tuna is rarely a disappointment. Only their counterparts in Japan are doing better. 7/10

Bafun sea urchin (uni)  from Hokkaido  was, as expected from a sushiya of this reputation, of the high quality type, the buttery texture and distinct maritime and rich umami flavour in evidence. They did   keep the sea urchin enoughly chilled, which is what you have to do for sushi. Consequently, the sea urchin did not melt and had a fine firm visual appeal when it was served. The advertised sweet, briny and creamy qualities, a reality, not just an advertising slogan. Very good sourcing, too. 8/10

Wild yellowtail (Buri 鰤) . I had it in winter, the season when it is at its peak,  in Tokyo at a high end Sushiya and it was spectacular. Here at SNOZ, its quality was fine. Fine fresh piece of yellowtail. They used it as part of a ‘Shabu-shabu’ (hotpot dish) serving (talking about PERTINENT theatrics! Again, why most Sushi Chefs are not incorporating this kind of PERTINENT theatrics in their work? It adds a lot to the sushi experience, edomae style or not). So, you had to dip the fish in the ‘broth’, then in a ponzu sauce (the ponzu sauce a highlight of  the meal due to its exciting fresh acidity and fabulous taste). 7/10 for the yellowtail, 8/10 for the superb ponzu sauce.

Rock fish , matsutake mushroom.  The fish grilled, then poached lightly in a broth made of its own flesh and the matsutake mushroom. Dressed with some sansho leaves. A delicious broth which saltiness never came from any seasoning but just from the mushroom and the fish’s bone, a technique that I do use a lot in my own cooking (for example, I use the salt extracted from celeriac instead of seasoning with salt whenever it is possible, etc) as the seasoning feels way more natural, obviously. And I truely enjoy the difference from the ‘artificial ‘ (as opposed to the ‘natural’ seasoning coming from the ingredient itself) feel  that I get (just based on personal taste) when I am using salt. Good  7/10

Salt water eel (Anago – ) – I was born at a stone’s throw of the Indian Ocean and I grew up preferring any creature that comes from the sea over its  freshwater counterpart.  Which is why I always loved Anago and it took me some time to fall for his cousin, the  freshwater eel (unagi). That said, Salt water eel is a tough cookie: its texture, if you do not have the required patience and skills, can be a nightmare to work with. In NYC, only the anago I had at Sushi Amane as well as the one that Chef Ichimura has crafted during his short journey at Ichimura NYC, left an impression on me. Both were stellar, but SA’s was the best of the two. SA had couple of things to iron out in order for me to be a fan of their overall work, but their Anago, on the evening I went to visit them, was a tough act to follow even by the standards of a benchmark piece of Anago in Japan. Sushi Noz’s was not in the league of SA’s anago (the spectacular multi dimensional maritime + smoky  flavours of SA’s anago were not there), but the sourcing was good, the anago timely smoked atop bamboo leaves, grilled on coals, dressed with a good –rather than spectacular —  homemade tsume sauce, the overall   enjoyable. 7/10

Pike mackerel (Sanma). In-season, therefore currently at its peak (Do not play attention at the dates that I do publish my posts. I publish them when I have time, therefore consider that a fish is served in-season when I do mention it, regardless of the date that I did post my review).  It was  grilled on charcoal (on one side) in the kitchen, then brought to the counter under a glass dome. The chef lifts  the dome and some smoke evaporates. Again, one of the theatrics that, here, are pertinent. It is then dressed with finely chopped scallions, oil, nori (edible seaweed), oyster sauce.   The hot (grilled on the outside) and cold (raw on the inside) contrasting temperatures never failing to be enjoyable. Technically well executed (salted and vinegared judiciously, then timely grilled so that the light flavour of the fish retains as much flavour as it could ). Fine rich but not strong fish taste as expected from pike mackerel. 7/10

 

Abalone (Awabi)  – The great taste of a marine snail  that was snatched from the floor of the ocean in between 3 to 7 years (the best, in terms of flavor).  In this instance, boiled, then steamed in its own broth,  which led to a fine  umami sensation. Sliced by the chef in front of his guests (Why plenty of Sushi Chefs do skip such  PERTINENT theatrics?! I mean, it adds to the experience and enjoyment of the patrons) . The consistency of the flesh retaining the  fine balance between a fine chew and enough tenderness that it typical of the traditional  Japanese preparation of this seafood . The Chef surely  has the “Gi” (the technique). Served with a delicious abalone’s liver sauce  (I appreciate that the Chef has full trust in the palate of all his patrons, Japanese or not).  Which I   did reproach to some other Sushi Chefs. Glad to see that this Chef, here, has an updated comprehension of how  non Japanese Sushi fans can also appreciate pretty much every single sushi item that the Japanese people do eat. 8/10

Pacific oyster from seattle came with water shield (Junsai), japanese lime juice jelly, bonito flakes. The oyster was plump, sizeable, packed with a blend of  ”eastern brininess” and  ”west coast’ complexity, its  earthy-rich and almost sweet character shining through. A first rate oyster.

Salmon roe (Ikura). Served in season – The level of the saltiness low and the expected savory bursts of flavor are mild  in this particular instance. It still   served as  a nice  contrast to  the (tasty, in this case) warm  rice that was served underneath.

Barracuda and sea urchin – great taste from the fresh grilled quality fish (its impeccable mild flavour delicious taste testifying to its quality). Underneath, a mix of  sea urchin and rice (sort of — technically not — ”risotto” of sea urchin), the rice properly  aldente as i prefer  it. Really good

Negi toro hand roll – a ”tartare” of tuna, mixed with radish pickle and perilla leaf was seasoned judiciously, the taste delicious. The Chef does the mix before his audience. Tuna rolls rarely fail to be enjoyable and this was not going to be an exception to that rule.

Squid is dressed with a bit of sweet soya, the mantle or its hood is used, the rice not too vinegary as to better complement the squid. One of the seafood pieces that’s hard to make in its nigiri form as the rice does not stick easily to the squid topping. A skilled Sushi Chef will make this pass as a piece of cake, though, as that was the case here. The quality of the squid, good, as testified by its fine translucent texture. Its natural chewy consistency barely altered. Good

King crab (Kani)  is poached. Cooked fresh, of course.  Its maritime fragrance in evidence,  as to remind the diner that this is what he should be dreaming about when he has to feed himself on imitation crab meat (kani surimi すり身 or kani kamaboko 蒲鉾). I do not know for you, but I prefer krab sticks…NOT! On this occasion, the flesh of crab was served in its nigiri form. Pleasant.

Rice: seasoned with red vinegar. Nothing more is added (I.e, sugar/mirin). Served generally either warm or at body temperature. The Chef keeps a tight control on the temperature of his rice (which is what needs to ne expected from any Sushi Chef, especially of  this level) as he changes the batch of freshly cooked rice as soon as he feels that the rice will go past body temperature. At the beginning of the meal, he offers a very enjoyable ‘show’ by preparing / seasoning the first batch of rice in front of his patrons. The rice is tasty and indeed, quite enjoyable when served warm or at body temperature, leading to  an exciting  contrast, in mouth,  between the temperature of the lukewarm rice and the cold fish. You really feel the grains against your tongue, they feel airy and that also  adds to the enjoyment of the rice.

Asari shiro miso. A clam-flavoured miso soup that was competently achieved, having a fine taste from which an enjoyable umami burst was noticeable. Very pleasant, indeed. 7/10

The tamago (Sort of Japanese omelette) was not too sweet, the  umami sensation coming from the elements of the dashi and shrimp is at the fore. Instead of having the sweetness dimension overwhelming the umami part, here it is the umami part that was more present, with a gentle sweet finish. A  technical feat that I like and find enjoyable. Good.  7/10

The meal did end with an enjoyable sesame pudding which texture could not be faulted. Atop, there was an equally enjoyable fig sauce.

SNOZ was fun: they really think about little details that escape plenty of other restaurateurs. It was fun to see the Chef preparing his sushi, while his Sous Chef was grating the fresh wasabi stem. It was fun to see the Chef tasting the broth made by his sous Chef and approving its taste, etc. Of course, fun is not enough if the food is an afterthought. But the food was not an afterthought.

Pros: the attention to details in virtually everything – the decor, the presentation, the exceptional service, they have a first-rate tea menu for those who do not drink alcohol, you have a printed menu of the items you are going to sample and you can bring that menu home, even the restroom is of the high tech Japanese sort!!

Cons: Not the fault of Sushi Noz, but it is true that is hard for a sushiya of NYC to compete with Japan’s sushiyas in terms of the variety of the exotic fishes. At least, Sushi Noz, managed to make me see past that by using varied ingredients, by varying  the textures and flavours  and cooking techniques, etc.

Bottom line: No one will ever have the monopoly  of the perfect restaurant  assessment. Not you, Not Me, Not Michelin, No one. Michelin did award SNOZ with 1 star. I do not always agree with the tyre company (as an example, the 1 star Michelin of Torishin  eludes me as well as  many serious restaurant connoisseurs… ),  but  for once, I totally agree with them awarding SNOZ with that star as you can see that the people behind SNOZ worked hard –and most importantly, they continue to do it really  well judging by what I have experienced on my visit– to earn that star and they truely deserve it. It would be completely  ignorant  to compare an elite sushiya of NYC (SNOZ is clearly an elite sushiya of NYC) to one in Japan (some of the usual reminders of why to avoid such senseless comparison are mentioned in the introduction of this review), so I will refrain from doing that. For me, there was no benchmark food items (of course, this is a subjective and personal opinion, obviously)  during this meal, but what matters is that, as a diner, you do have for your money as  the food was consistently tasty, the ingredients of fine quality,  the overall journey enjoyable with the nice ”theatrics” — nothing exaggerated, here, just little gestures that are fun — of the Chef, a sense of authenticity to be found in  the superb traditional decor and  waitstaff in traditional outfit, the world class service,  etc) . Overall ratings – Category: Elite Sushiya in NYC: Food (7.5/10); Service (10/10)  Sushi Noz Addr: 181 E 78th St, New York, NY 10075, United States Phone: +1 917-338-1792 URL: https://www.sushinoz.com/

Sushi Amane was one of the most anticipated restaurant opening of the recent years in NYC because of its connection to Sushi Saito in Tokyo (more to come about this, in the following lines).

Sushi Amane’s Chef (Chef Shion Uino) was working for more than 8 years at 3 star Michelin Sushi Saito (of Master Takashi Saito)  in Tokyo, before deciding to move to New York city and man his own Sushiya.

Master Takashi Saito is known, in the elite circles of sushi connoisseurs , as one of  the best Sushi Masters of Tokyo, if not the best, his Sushi shop being the highest rated on the Local Japanese database of restaurant reviews Tabelog with a whooping 4.69 over 5 (which is, considering the high standards of the demanding Local Japanese clientele a close-to-perfect score). Just to give you an idea of how highly praised Sushi Saito is:  the Sushi shops of the legendary Jiro and his son are rated with a 4.11 over 5 score on Tabelog. Master Takashi Saito’s mini empire consists of his own 3 star Michelin in Tokyo, Taka by Sushi Saito in Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia   as well his 2 star Michelin sushiya  in Hong Kong.

 

It is virtually impossible for the normal diner (99% of us, meaning the anonymous diners) to score a seat at Saito. I tried hard last time I was in Tokyo and realized that it was impossible for the normal anonymous diner to eat there. Therefore I went to see what his disciple, Chef Shion Uino,  did learn from the great Saito. According to the restaurant’s web site, Chef Uino was, I quote ”’  placed in charge of the nigiri sushi at the second counter, directly under the master himself  ”  – usually, a sign of an incredible  talent, in the highly competitive Sushi scene of Tokyo.

Before going there, some local Sushi connoisseurs did suggest that I try Sushi Ginza Onodera instead, arguing that I would have more bang for my money at SGO. I have to say, SGO sounds and feels more spectacular, more grand, indeed both in the decor as well as the food offerings (wider variety of food items). It is also a better rated Sushiya than Amane (2 Michelin stars for SGO, 1 star for SA). But in this instance, Sushi Amane felt like the type of laidback Sushi shop I wanted to try.

I will NOT  assess  every single food item  that I have sampled (the purpose of  a blog like mine is not to brag about what I ate and to do an inventory of every single thing I put in my mouth. The purpose of my blog is to focus on what needs  to be extracted from a given dinner, the technical skills on display, reviewing the important  things that  that we, for some reason, discard …such as the influence of the geographical environment on the food that you are eating as to avoid surreal expectations  such as ”I need my food in NYC to taste exactly the same as in Korea….'”…whoaaaa!!!  ).

Sushi Amane is traditional, and that was evident in the progression of the dishes as well as, the absence of superfluous toppings and techniques, the presence of most of the  original edomae dishes (Akami, Anago, Kohada, Ebi):

-Akami (lean tuna) marinated and preserved in Japanese soy sauce (Shoyu). The cheapest (price wise) part of the back and belly sections of the tuna, but highly praised by most patrons for its appealing intense  red color and hard to miss fine meaty taste. Here, competently marinated and rendered.

-Anago sea eel (simmered , which makes it delicious). But this was actually …unusually delicious even by the standards of an elite sushiya in Tokyo. It had plenty of enticing flavours among which you had an exciting  smokey taste, elevated by a  delectable sweetness coming from a dazzling tsume.  The maritime flavor kept intact.  For people who are seriously into cooking, and I am one of them, as well as experienced Sushi connoisseurs, this would pass as  an incredible tour de force. A world class piece of anago. This time the rice’s body temperature was the perfect match for its topping 10/10

 

-Kuruma Ebi – Japanese tiger prawn (boiled). It has a natural sweetness and plenty of umami. That is what is usually advertised. Alas, the reality rarely match the advertisement, even at some of the best sushiyas of Japan. But here, again, the flavour of the Ebi showcased the great palate of whoever is cooking those pieces. Truely delicious Ebi but the rice crumbled and was, this time, dry (SA had some inconsistency issue with their rice, as you will see on the reviews of the other food items — and that is why my overall rating of SA will not be high…). 8/10 for the genuinely delicious Ebi  0/10 for the rice. And obviously the work of the rice is the most important aspect at a sushiya.

 

Of the original edomae items, the venus clam continues to be missing in action at most of the sushiyas of NYC. And in the case of SA, you truely miss it. IT and many other exotic seafood that can still be found at plenty of traditional Japanese sushiyas who cater to Non Japanese as well as Japanese…..

-Japanese butter fish/ punzu sauce. A world class piece of cooked fish with memorable intense maritime freshness enhanced by a divine broth  with tones of fresh citrus.  Exciting.  9/10

-Sea urchin (Aka uni  – from Kyushi, murasaki and bafun sea urchin from Hokkaido). The bafun uni, firm and sweet with a  vibrant, bright color and  a delicate ocean freshness. The murasaki, creamy, with a mildly expressed salt-of the-sea flavor. Prime quality sea urchin as you would expect from a sushiya of this reputation, but they did not keep the sea urchin enoughly chilled, which is what you have to do for sushi. Consequently, the sea urchin had a melting texture when it was served.

-Amadai (tilefish) with daikon  – Their  cooked fishes do have the edge over the cooked fish at  many ambitious tables specializing in seafood in NYC, thanks to the great sourcing and the necessary witty skills to make them tasting great. 9/10

-Japanese horse mackerel (Aji) featured superb flavours, but the rice was dry, this time. Very very dry. Again, at times,  the temperature and doneness of the rice was out of control as it was the case here. As well as with the Ebi. 9/10 for the fish, 0/10 for the rice of that nigiri.

 

-Hairy crab (kegani) from Hokkaido, boiled then shredded crab  flesh mixed with aged vinegar (from Japan).  You can see that the Chef is afraid of shocking non Japanese palates as here, he did refrain from mixing it with the guts of the crab (which is what Japanese do, oftently). This was still tasty as you would expect crab meat to be.  6/10

 

-Japanese pen shell (Tairagai) – only its  adductor is consumed.  The flesh firm, the taste not as sweet as the Japanese scallop. I was afraid that  the grilling method (which was used here) would diminish the pleasure of eating the Tairagai as its flesh is naturally packed  with lots of umami that is better enjoyed when eating it raw. But this was still delicious. 7/10

-Sushi is of course the rice (shari). Vinegared rice, that is. Served mostly at  body  temperature during this meal, the seasoning of the red vinegar (Akazu)  expressing a mild flavor that was delicious, but sometimes the rice was dry, sometimes it would crumble under barely no pressure, etc. A sushiya of this caliber should ensure that does not happen.

-As it is customary at virtually all the fine sushiyas of NYC, the wasabi is of the fresh grated sort. A world away from the   toothpaste greeny crap that passes as wasabi at most of the sushi shops across Canada.

 

Tamago – The tamago – Japanese  egg omelet made of  eggs – here had a pudding texture. Perfectly legit (there is not just one version of the tamago) but those who did practice with this type of tamago vs many other versions of it will know that this —technically — is the easiest rendition of the tamago and would pass as unidimensional compared to , say, the version done at mizutani/sawada or even the one that Sushi Azabu did craft during my last visit there. It is nice, it is tasty, but it is not the most complicated tamago to craft.

Pros:  The cooked items, during this visit, were genuinely great. Not just good, but Great!

Cons: (1)The rice, during this meal, suffered from inconsistencies that should not be experienced at a sushiya of this reputation as I railed at, all along this review (2) The big majority of the classic sushiyas in Japan and abroad have long figured out a way to trust the palate of their Non-Japanese clientele by offering to that crowd most of the exotic items that they do also offer to their Japanese patrons . During this meal, I felt as if the Chef thought that we were still in the 1990s when the Gaijin was starting to discover edomae style sushi and could therefore not appreciate the plethora of exotic pieces that can be found at a classic sushiya. It certainly did not help that he was feeding, at times, his Japanese patrons with exotic pieces of seafood all along this meal while the Non-Japanese crowd had to content themselves with the basic / common food items of edomae style sushi as well as some few mundane/safe variants on them. Chef, you seem young, humble and very amicable, indeed, but we are in 2019 and at the big majority of the Edomae styled sushiyas, the Non-Japanese fans of edomae style sushi are, by now, accustomed to most of the exotic food you seem to think that they will not be able to enjoy. That is not a concern anymore since…a very long time!!

 Bottom line: Lots of great potential here (the superb flavours of some of the cooked  food items sampled during this meal would be a tough act to follow even for an elite sushiya in Japan. For my taste, the cooked food took the cake.) but they need to fix the inconsistencies of the rice that I found during this meal and start trusting the Non-Japanese palates.  Overall food rating by the elite Sushi standards of NYC: 7/10 (The inconsistencies of that  rice should not happen at this level. And the work of the rice is …obviously…the most important aspect at a sushiya….)   Service: 8/10. Sushi Amane Addr: 245 E 44th St, New York, NY 10017 Phone: (212) 986-5300

 

 Okuda is a highly regarded kaiseki in New York. The restaurant’s owner is Japanese Chef  Toru Okuda who once had 3 Michelin stars in Japan for his restaurant Ginza Kojyu (that restaurant has now 2 Michelin stars).  Chef Okuda is a prolific Chef with couple of elite restaurants in Paris, Tokyo as well as this one in NYC.

A kaiseki meal relies on the ingredients (cooking skills  are also very important, of course) and I tend to avoid  kaiseki meals outside of Japan as it defeats the point of enjoying a meal which purpose is to showcase the glorious produce of Japan in its prime. So, away from Japan, if you understand the basics of the science of food, you can imagine that you cannot replicate the magic of a kaiseki meal. But I was curious to see how Okuda would still fare as a kaiseki outside of Japan.

In Japan, I tried couple of kaiseki meals, namely Kagurazaka Ishikawa , MizaiIwasaki and Sakurada .

You do not need to visit tons of restaurants to understand what a cuisine can taste and feel like at its best. You just need a genuine comprehension of  the basics of the science of  food (not many people do have that as many cannot understand that the environment  in a particular area affects the taste of the food in that area and makes it impossible for that same food to taste the same when cooked somewhere else), you just need to learn from those truely in the know (again, few people get this right. They follow the so-called online food experts, watch couple of youtube videos, try couple of random eateries and think that is enough to be knowledgeable about a given cuisine. Of the myriad of so-called food experts found online, I can guarantee you that few took the time to learn African food alongside an African Grandmother, Thai or Chinese food alongside a Thai or Chinese Mother, etc) ,  you just need to be passionate about all of that (Most are so busy making a buck out of the food industry that it shows that they are not passionate about what they are talking about ) and that is enough. From there, you go to the restaurants that you suspect are the best at what they do, and that is exactly what I have been doing for several decades and kaiseki cuisine was no exception to my modus operandi.

And NO, I do not review every single restaurant that I do visit as I do not always have time for that. What I do, though, when I have a moment, is to seize the opportunity of a review like this one  to educate ourselves through the knowledge that I have gathered from eating at those  restaurants and the long years I have spent studying the  cuisine in question.

On with my meal at Okuda NYC:

Napa cabbage soup, kuruma prawn, caviar, Yuzu . The “soup” was actually a “potage”. As it is the intent with some Japanese food items, the goal is to allow your palate to dig deep in the nuances of the inherent taste of the ingredient. Non Japanese have to train their palate for that, which I did for the past 25 years. And I am now rewarded with the capability  of enjoying very subtle flavours as much as their bold/strongly flavoured counterparts. That was useful, in an instance like this, because nothing was used to hide the inherent taste of the cabbage flavour. It was all about its very own and sole flavour, apart, of course, a very subtle,  barely noticeable contribution of the yuzu citrus. The prawn was of top quality ,  the case with all their ingredients, as you would expect. 8/10

Alaskan king crab, dashi vinegar, Japanese apple, daikon – The quality of the crab high, its freshness remarkable, the seasoning very enjoyable with the dashi vinegar featuring a  fine balance of fresh acidity. A first-rate nibble. 9/10

Dashi broth, Tilefish (amadai), carrot, radish, spinach, tofu, chrysanthemum. If you have trained your palate to the subtle nuances of some of the Japanese food items, you will thank it, as it was all about a maximum of flavour coming from the inherent taste of the quality ingredients. The homemade perfected soft texture of the tofu revealed some serious skills in the kitchen. As it is usually the case with high end kaiseki, every single ingredient is there for a reason. 8/10

Japanese grouper sashimi, featured a nice firm texture testifying to the utter freshness of the fish. I had more impressive versions of it elsewhere, but this was fine. 6/10

Spanish tuna sashimi was of fine quality as you would  expect at this level of dining, the tuna sliced then marinated by the Chef at the sushi counter,  and it came  with two mini ‘sticks’ of  mountain potato  from Japan. 7/10

Grated radish sauce, kinki fish (channel rockfish) , enoki mushroom – Again, top quality fresh fish with the fresh taste and smell of the ocean on evidence. This was grilled with its scales, a technique that enhanced the taste of this very delicious fish. 8/10

Matsutake, the prized mushroom. Fried and served with lime and salt. As expected, the sourcing is of top mention, and the way they fried it (zero sign of oil, the frying serving as an enhancer to the earthy flavour of the mastsutake — in a way that your palate simply would not think that it was fried) revealed some great understanding of the produce, which sounds like nothing, but then you have got to make that happen. Which they did.

Sea urchin, egg plant, miso, cod milt. Superb quality sea urchin from California. The cod milt preparation a true highlight as they made a rendition of it that would please the most, almost tasting like a crowd-pleasing cream dessert, but it was cod milt. 9/10

Wagyu, grated chestnut. Miyazaki Wagyu A5 tenderloin, cooked to precise medium -rare doneness, generously seasoned with salt. It tasted great. 8/10. The ”snow avalanche” of grated chestnut was not necessary, in my view, but it makes a good spectacle for sure.

Grated turnip, molded into a mini sphere shape with a piece of golden eye snapper (kindmedai) underneath. Another display of fine technique with the intentional gooey texture of the liquid in which the turnip and the fish were bathing nicely rendered. As you should know, before attending a kaiseki meal, for the Japanese, textures are as important as flavour. The fish of superb fresh quality and its cooking well timed. 8/10

Steamed rice  / ikura/seaweed/grated bottarga – this is where the importance of the proximity to the “terroir” makes a difference. Being close to the terroir means that you have access to the latest intel about what rice is at its prime at a given time, etc. This rice was good but not as dazzling as it can be at a high end kaiseki -ya in Japan. That said, this featured quality ingredients, as expected, and it tasted good 7/10

Miso soup had some dices of their superb soft tofu in it. The white miso (shiro miso) soup itself revealed a high level of technical skills as its delicate mild  flavour was remarkable. The Fresh exciting umami coming from that miso soup being another highlight of the tasting menu. 9/10

The dessert was offered as an assortment of mini creations such as a good lemon ice cream, with the fresh taste of the fruit at the fore. Even better was a pumpkin pudding with great luscious texture, some utterly fresh raspberry and blueberry encased in a delicious mini “dome” of jelly, a well made and tasty tiny piece of tamago underneath as well as some competently rendered sweet  red bean paste. 8/10

An elite Japanese venue in NYC, for sure. The above mentioned ratings of the individual food items are not to be compared to the ratings of my meals in Japan.

There won’t be an overall score for the food that I have just enjoyed at Okuda NYC as it will not convey anything: as a reminder, kaiseki is, by design, the cuisine that is the most “intimately linked” to the “terroir” of  Japan. It is its “raison d’etre”. Kaiseki is a cuisine which main purpose is to showcase the best of Japan’s produce in its prime (seasonality). Which means the proximity to Japanese terroir is of utter importance. And they had the courage to try to reproduce such “mission impossible” in NYC. Respect!

Overall rating for the service and dining experience is a 10/10 (hard to beat Japanese standards of service at the upmarket dining level). They stand predominate in that regard.

Bottom line: Proper 1 star Michelin. All the ingredients were there: the expected respect of seasonality, the assured technique, fabulous service, elegant interior, etc. It is virtually impossible for a Kaiseki that is outside of Japan to beat its counterpart of the motherland. If you find one, let me know and I will walk the equivalent of one tour of the globe, on my knees, to go and see that. But they did their best to get the job done. And that is already an exploit. Okuda, Addr: 458 W 17th St, New York, NY 10011, USA; Phone: +1 212-924-0017; URL: https://www.okuda.nyc

 

 

 

 Gyu-Kaku is a  Japanese BBQ (Yakiniku) chain with over 600 locations in Japan as well as abroad. It has now a restaurant  in Montreal on Crescent street, in between Ste Catherine and Rene Levesque (closer to the corner of Ste Catherine).

 

I tried a Gya-Kaku the last time I was in Tokyo, as well as one of  their branches located in NYC. Gyu-Kaku Montreal has a tasteful dark wood / grey walls  interior decor, almost chic for a table top grilling restaurant, but that is standard for a Gyu-Kaku, and superb friendly service.

 

I will go straight to what you need to know:  Gya-Kaku is, in Montreal, the best table top grilling restaurant in town right now. How come? They use the best meat  and the best marinades you will find at a table top grilling restaurant in Montreal.

I ordered the Harami miso skirt steak as well as the Bistro hanger steak. Both are  miso-marinated and  will be crowd pleasers. I also ordered the Kalbi short rib, which, for my taste, has always been   less ‘festive’ than the Harami miso skirt steak/Bistro hanger steak, but that is a matter of personal taste (lots of people love it) and again, Gyu-Kaku is offering one of  great quality.

Was everything perfect? NO! The chicken karaage was not in the league of Nozy‘s (as explained here, I always keep the comparison “local”, meaning that I compare Japanese food items in Montreal to other Japanese food items in..Montreal) but it was  fine, and  I  am not a fan of  the spicy kalbi ramen.  That said,  a Yakiniku IS a Japanese Bbq restaurant, so if you are going there for ramen, then you may as well start the trend of going to the  hospital to shop for clothes, attend a wedding expecting a birthday party, etc. A nonsense what I just wrote? You are right: it would be a NONSENSE to head to a Yakiniku for your fix of ramen.

I hope Gyu-Kaku keeps its Yakiniku in Montreal to the serious Yakiniku level I found on the evening of my visit. This has the potential to work really well as we have an important local community of young Asians in Montreal and Yakiniku is one thing they love. In facts, the Yakiniku was not empty when I was there. Just ensure you know the difference between Japanese Vs Korean BBQ as to avoid inaccurate expectations and , consequently, inaccurate judgement, as well as grossly ignorant statements such as “why should I go to a restaurant to cook my own food”.

Some may find it a little far-fetched  to call a table top grilling restaurant one of the best restaurants in Montreal, especially a chain restaurant, but Montreal is NOT a destination city for restaurants (to the contrary of what our local tourism authorities and their annoying endless web of  friendly food bloggers and food journalists are working hard on trying to make you believe) and, at the end of the count, Gya-Kaku has the edge on anything that’s doing table top grilling meat in town. As such, and at what it is delivering (it is a Yakiniku, therefore I am talking about its table top grilling meats, NOT its non-table-top grilling food, obviously),  it is one of the best restaurants  in Montreal.  Gyu-Kaku Gyu-Kaku, Addr: 1255 Crescent St, Montreal. Phone (514) 866-8808

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!!!

Knowing my profound  admiration  for  Japanese food, a local foodie friend has notified me about the recent opening of two Japanese eateries in Montreal and I went trying both: Tsukuyomi (current review) was visited on Wednesday Aug 16   and I did dine at  Cocoro (reviewed here) on Thursday Aug 17.

Tsukuyomi (Addr: 5207 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, QC Phone:  514-273-8886) is located on St Laurent Street, almost at the  corner of Fairmount. They are essentially making ramen : a veggie tonkotsu Pork bone broth + veggie topping), Chashu tonkotsu (Porkbone broth + braised pork belly topping), which is what I picked, a chicken tonkotsu (Pork bone broth + boiled chicken topping) as well as a Vegan ramen (Vegan broth + vegetable topping). Each bowl costing $13. Sides are Edamame (salted green soya beans) $3,  a daily Vegan salad $4, Goma-ae boiled spinach with sesame sauce 4$, Tokowasa wasabi flavored octopus with nori seaweed 4$, Mini Chashu Don (Braised pork on top of the rice), steamed rice $2.  They also have Sapporo/La fin du monde beers as well as Kocha Japanese milk tea/Matcha honey green tea/Ramune Japanese soda/Sencha green tea.

The   woody  interior mimics faithfully the North American idea of a casual Japanese eatery, and   there are seats with partial views on the opened kitchen.

What I ate:

Takowasa – Wasabi flavored octopus with nori seaweed. Pieces of octopus marinated in a sugar/wasabi mixture. Had the wasabi be of the “grated stem”  type  (which you will NOT  find at a  restaurant in Montreal, this would have been a hit. Alas, as expected, the wasabi paste found in Montreal, which was used here, is way too pungent to complement the flavor of octopus.

Pork bones based Tonkotsu ramen was   second to the one at Yokato Yokabai, with a broth that was not  as deep and complex in flavor as I wished, but certainly pleasant with some Ok  chashu and semi firm boiled egg yolk that I , as well as plenty of ramen fans, prefers with a wet-appearing center (which I was missing, here) for the simple reason that it tastes better when it melts with the soup (the main reason why ramen has an egg in it). Still, I prefer this ramen than what you will get at most   ramenyas  in town.

Overall food rating: 6/10 (Categ: ramenya in Montreal) The Chef is Japanese and it shows: the food has genuine Japanese flavor. That said, he should use better judgement (true, the wasabi marinated octopus is a great idea, but if you do not have the right wasabi, do not insist on it…).  I will go back as it remains one of the rare bowls of ramen I liked  in Montreal (behind Cocoro / Ramen Misoya / Yokato Yokabai).