Posts Tagged ‘Best ramen in montreal’

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 …

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All reviews of my Michelin star meals are listed  on the left, from the higher to lower rated meals. I am sorry if my reviews are sparse, I just don’t believe in ‘quantity of  visited restaurants” as an important factor in dining. Even if I was rich, I would not move away from that  principle, trust me. I go to  restaurants only when I feel the place has potential to really please me or teach me something. The fault to my long years of cooking, lol.

Latest updates: the September 2013 meals at 3 Michelin star restaurants L’Arpège (Paris) and Le Louis XV (Monte Carlo) — Chef Passard continues to be an exceptional Chef as proven by the best dishes of that meal,  L’Arpège remains  a very strong 3 star Michelin, one of the few that I can comfortably call a ‘favourite’. Many upscale tables  appear  flawless on the surface, but few are able to pull off  exciting food matching the amazement of the finest dishes of this Lunch at L’Arpège. What was even more impressive, in my view, is that the dishes I did not like were still admirable. I did not like them because they did not please my palate, but they still had a sense of perfection/ soul/depth/pride and whatever attributes I find many tables have lost since a long time.  Just remember that it is different from the usual fla fla of haute dining, so do your homework and inform yourself a lot about it (its style, the kind of place, the kind of food,  etc)  before heading there. For my French compatriots, I drew this picture, in French, my mother tongue, of my latest meal there at L’Arpège.

In the case of Le Louis XV, the savouries of that particular lunch left me wanting for more, but let’s give to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar: it’s a dining place of exception, and their pastry team can work wonders. Furthermore, the magic landscapes of the Mediterranea largely makes up for any shortcomings.

Then a great finding in Nice, Bistrot d’ Antoine(Sept 2013), the incredible big plump Roumégous (http://www.huitres-roumegous.com/) oysters at Café Turin in Nice (that’s coming from someone who grew up with some of the finest oysters at a stone throw of his birthplace) and it was exciting to re-experience the fabulous riz au lait and Ile flottante of my tender childhood in France at Bistrot le Casse Noix in Paris (that is like  trying to find a great lièvre à la royale, almost impossible to find since most of the new gen cooks are busier practicing with laughable juxtaposition of textures like kids with lego games rather than educating their palate with the REAL great food of their elders).

On Montreal, nothing really interesting (plenty of buzz/noise as usual, which always sounds nice, but only to end up with the same old wheel. Montreal restaurant scene has hard time pulling off some new excitement, which I thought was the point of cooking (having fun, showcasing creativity, believing in something different but done well) ever since I started cooking in my tender childhood. But still, some places do maintain the bar high:  it was a pleasure to  continue to find Pizza Bottega on St-Zotique (not just a Pizzeria but also a great Italian Bistrot) to be as great as ever  as well as enjoying what I do believe to be the best rib eye steak in Montreal at this moment (Le Marchand du Bourg’s 40 days dry aged Certified Quebecois Black Angus rib eye). Mr Bourg is an inspired artisan, now more and more busy  because of his success, but I trust that he will keep his exceptional artisan standards as high as they are right now and his success is well deserved.

My pick for #1 fine dining destination  in Montreal is now  Restaurant La Porte (It used to be Hotel St James XO Le Restaurant, but Chef Michele Mercuri is not working there anymore, so I can’t tell if XO Le Restaurant is still as great before re-visiting the place). Au Pied de Cochon, even if I find it less spectacular compared to the days under Chef Hugues Dufour  (now at M. Wells Dinette, Long Island City, NY), continues to stand out as a bistrot that does something refreshingly different and doing it well. Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon remains  a top bistrot that is not roaming away from what food needs to essentially be: delicious.

Worth noting:  a serious coup de Coeur in 2013, in Montreal, was the discovery of Ramen Misoya (2065 Bishop St / (514) 373-4888). Before going there, couple of friends I know were not that impressed by Ramen Misoya  and have suggested few  other ramen places they highly regarded . So I tried both their recommendations as well as Ramen Misoya. To my surprise, the difference in quality of the cooking  (between Ramen Misoya and the others) was considerable. Ramen Misoya having the edge in all respects: precision of the cooking, depth of flavor, exciting seasoning, great work of the texture, better technique, a really good Cha Shu. I can understand that taste is subjective, but I was still surprised that amateurish takes on ramen (most being a tad better than the dollar store instant noodle)  would  have a chance to be compared to Ramen Misoya, let alone considered as being better. For me, there’s, in Montreal, at this moment, just one fabulous bowl of ramen soup and it’s cooked at Ramen Misoya.

Lately, one of this city’s serious Chefs (Chef Aaron Langille) found himself at the helm of a Chinese restaurant called Orange rouge in Chinatown  (106 De La Gauchetiere West – 514-861-1116), a table that I have not tried. I have discovered Chef Langille’s work when he was working at Café Sardine and there was no doubt in my mind that his talent was undeniable. His seriousness continued to impress me as I realized that he was the kind to express his talent where we need him to: his kitchen! A respectable great Chef, indeed. Talking about respectable great Chefs, Chef Charles-Antoine Crête (Toque!, Brasserie T!)  seems to have a new project in his boxes (as/per http://montreal.eater.com/archives/2013/12/06/crete-bids-toque-tata-as-new-projects-loom-1.php) and Chef Michele Mercuri (Who used to work  at XO Le Restaurant) could make a come back .

Some are not my favourites anymore (for eg, Bouillon Bilk on St Laurent street, Sushi Mikado on St Denis —  both places continue to offer superb service, but I found the food performance to not be as startling at it once was). Others have Chefs who seem to have never been able to regain the spark of cooking  (Lack of inspiration? Success that got to the head?? Or perhaps ‘one hit’ or ‘once hit’ wonders??).

Last but not least, some new restaurants that have just gained their 3 Michelin stars this year: Reale (Abruzzo, Italy), Restaurant Überfahrt (Germany). If you ever have to bet on the country that has the finest 2 and 3 star Michelin anywhere around the globe, bet on Germany!  In Hong Kong, Chef Alvin Leung won 3 Michelin stars. Not that I am interested by his place (certainly not the style of cooking that calls me, anyways), but gotta applaud his exceptional efforts at selling his Xtreme Chinese cuisine to the world. Obviously, he is to the dining scene one of its latest most influential people.

Also: Chef Frédéric Duca (ex alumni of 3 star Michelin and iconic Chef Gérald Passédat, ex Chef at Taillevent/Darroze/Palme D’Or ) who was working at L’Instant D’Or in Paris, till very recently, has now moved to new York. Chef Duca is one of the most promising talents among the current young  Chefs of France, therefore I am  looking forward to hearing more about his next  venture. Something is sure: he has the talent to surprise New York with a 2, even 3 star Michelin level of food, which comes as no surprise given his impressive resumé. The ball is in his court ….  http://www.terroirsdechefs.com/les-grands-chefs-etoiles-de-france/biographies-des-grands-chefs-cuisiniers-de-france/Frederic-Duca.

For those who care about the subject, you can find my reported journey through Montreal ethnic food here (kept active).

Season’s greetings!