Jun I (Addr: 156 Avenue Laurier O, Montréal, QC, Phone: 514-276-5864 ) is my long time preferred sushiya in Montreal. During my last meal at Jun I (click here for that review), Master Chef Junichi Ikematsu was present at his stronghold and his craft was a benchmark sushi meal by Montreal standards. It might sound unfair to review Jun I right after the review of a first-rate sushiya of the caliber of Sushi Azabu, but not to worry: both are not competing in the same category, and that is taken into account in my assessment. I am also someone who will never become jaded: I can eat at the best sushiya of Japan one day, and still appreciate a perfectly well crafted sushi in North America the next day without allowing my appreciation of the former to influence my impression of the latter. The standard of sushi in Montreal is nowhere near what you will find in NYC. Just to give you an idea of how far behind (their peers of NYC) our local sushiyas stand, here is one good example that speaks volume: the day a sushi shop will use fresh grated wasabi in Montreal will be revolutionary. Therefore I returned to Jun I with the right expectations, first and foremost to enjoy my food and have a good time. And if there is any reference point to look for, then it will be the one that Jun I did set during my last meal right here, 3 years ago under their roof, as that meal remains the best sushi meal I ever had in Montreal.
3 years later, how does Jun I fare? Jun I would be in NYC and I would gladly look into online reviews and find out. But in Montreal, that would be an exercise as useless as trying to talk to a rabbit. One would think that the local food journalists could help enlightening us on Jun I’s whereabouts, but apart one or two of them, our so called food journalists do essentially run after novelty. Food journalist Tastet noticed that in 2015, a year when Jun I was still in its prime, most food journalists had forgotten about him. I am not surprised at all: our food journalists are basically just hipsters. Anyways, most of them know Japan just by the name and the closest they got to Japan is by drinking sake and feeding themselves on americanized sushis.
On to my meal:
Yellow tail tuna was served with a thick yuzu / miso sauce, which was pleasant but lacked finesse and complexity. There was also some rice cracker, that did remind me a bit of Chinese prawn cracker, only it was made with rice and was consequently snowy white in color. 5.5/10
Spicy scallops as a temaki was not too spicy, which was actually its only noteworthy feature. The wrapping made of ordinary nori. Ordinary, very ordinary. And I am being very very very polite, here…. Trust me! 5/10
An array of nigiris and sashimis (japanese red snapper, tuna, salmon, spicy tuna on a piece of cucumber, eel, etc) – for Mtl, the quality of fish is fine. But since the fish was generally offered in its “bare naked” glory (generally not marinated , not aged, not cured, etc), the only way out is to get the ” fundamentals” right : so your fish has to be sliced masterfully, your rice needs to dazzle, the quality of seafood cannot be just fine, it has to be exceptional. And all of that was not the case at all, here. 6/10
Overall food rating: 5/10 The 3 young folks at the helm, on this evening, were not in the same league as Master Chef Junichi Ikematsu. From slicing the fish, pushing their craft beyond the ordinary, etc..they have many rivers to cross. They are young, cool, nice looking and the future pertains to them. I wish them the best. I really do. I also hope, for …them, that they continue to learn and develop a sincere passion for their job. Passion, they will need. For now, they need a Master around them (I have no clue if Chef Junichi Ikematsu had a day off or if he is still associated with the restaurant as I did not inform myself about it).
On my way out, I remembered that this area where Jun I is located had couple of great eateries, around a decade ago (the “golden era” of my foodie existence in Montreal) : Barros Luco, Chao Phraya, La Chronique, Palais de L’Inde, Wilensky‘s. Chao is not what it used to be. La Chronique remains in my top 3 in town. Palais de L’Inde burnt, Palais de L’Inde I will miss a lot. Wilensky closes at 4pm, therefore it was closed on that evening (btw: I was there this past summer. I still like Wilensky’s but will submit that the quantity of meat in their sandwich is not as generous as it once was). Barros used to be a favourite, but once I pushed open their door, whoever was at the counter seemed more interested to chat with his pal than serving his clients. Perhaps a sign that there was not much to feast on, anymore. So I went to the last nearby ‘survivor’ of that ‘golden area’, Fairmount bagel . At FB, the old guard is not there anymore, but the young gunz are still doing a great job. I told one of the young gunz at FB that I was surprised that they are still doing this well after so many years. His answer will be my conclusion…the appropriate conclusion… to the current review : “” You learn from those in the know. However painful the journey, if you have the last laugh, then you know you have achieved nothing. If they have the last laugh, then you know you are doing something great “”. Food for thoughts. Dear Jun I, I really hope that was just an off day!
My thoughts after this meal: I am a long time fan of Jun I, therefore this experience was definitely not one I was expecting. I know, that is life, and life goes on. I was just not prepared mentally for this, under their roof. There is a reason why Sushi Masters have spent years perfecting their craft. There is a reason why Sushi is considered as true art by many people. I know that the newer generations of cooks can’t afford spending the time that their predecessors did, and that is understandable. But then, ensure you spend some time mastering the fundamentals (knife skills, handling of the fish, the rice, the basic gestures of a skilled and experienced itamae) alongside various Sushi Masters, those in the know. Observing is also very important as in observing how a true Master Chef keeps his working space organized. You can do that without the long and painful years that the older generations of Sushi Chefs went through. I was sitting at the sushi counter, on that evening, and that is what comes to mind.