Posts Tagged ‘Chef Junichi Ikematsu’

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 are couple of laughable examples that “””speak volume”””: we are in 2017  and … fresh grated wasabi at a sushiya in  Montreal is still a futuristic project. Actually, there is probably one  wasabi root in the drawer, lol…BUT  it will be served to the  happy few (local celebs, a poster diner, etc). It sounds surreal, but that is Montreal. Primitive examples of that sort abound. The problem is that Montreal has nothing of a serious foodie scene, in reality. I said “the problem”, but I should have accurately submitted that it is “the reason” …one of the reasons, actually … why montreal has nothing of a serious foodie scene. 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:

juni-1Yellow 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

juni-2Spicy 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

juni-3An 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(Category – Fine dining sushi in Montreal): 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. Montreal, oh Montreal, one of world’s most insconsistent restaurant scenes!!!  You just can’t keep doing things right….don’t you?? 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 came to mind.


For a long time, I thought Montreal could not resume back with its once exciting restaurant/bar scene (remember when the London bar/Altitude 737/Dome  were hot spots, the amazing food destinations like Le Cube,Bronté etc), but the city seems to be back on track with some latest remarkable openings:

***Restaurant Le Serpent seems to be a popular choice in  your Mtl restaurant searches. In one week alone, 152 people were looking for it on current web blog (see below table from the visitor logs  on my site).  For sure, most foodie web sites attract thousands of searches, but those are backed by money, agressive advertisements  and close relationship to the restaurant world. The most genuine  feel is always to be found on  a blog that advertises nowhere,  backed by no one, which is the case of this   unassuming blog of mine which only intent is to share with close friends/relatives.


***Montreal has now a new hip place in the form of Bier Markt (same location where la Queue de Cheval used to be, on René Levesque). Went there recently and I thought I was in New York or any big city with an exciting nightlife scene. The atmosphere there is second to none in town, at this moment: incredibly fun, full of people. I haven’t tried the food yet, but the bar offerings are top class and the quality of the beer simply exemplary. BM sets the bar in Montreal for this genre of destinations (bar/5 to 7 gatherings, etc).

***Chef Junichi Ikematsu of Montreal’s number 1 Sushiya (Jun I, that I have reviewed here) has  now opened Saka -Ba, a ramen bar on Le Plateau.  Here, for more infos.  Saka-Ba! 1279 Mont-Royal East, Montréal – Tél. 514-507-9885

***Remember Chef Joe Mercuri (from Ex-Bronté – Bronté used to be, easily, among Montreal’s top 3 finest food destinations)? He made his return recently and has opened restaurant Mercuri in the Vieux Port. Another stellar addition after the return of Joe’s cousin, Chef Michelle Mercuri (see my review of Le Serpent). Restaurant Mercuri 1279 Mont-Royal East, Montréal Tél. 514-507-9885

***Marchand du Bourg‘s  Maitre boucher Marc Bourg continues his impressive rise to stardom with now plenty of restaurants using his steaks and a huge demand coming from all parts of the globe (Las Vegas, the Middle East, etc). Mr Bourg’s initiatives are one of the latest most exciting success stories of Quebec and this is well deserved from a man whose exceptional   dedication to the best steaks possible is matched only by few  Maitre boucher around the globe.  I already wrote about this great artisan here.  Simply the best steak in town at this moment.

***New York: NY is not far from Montreal, so I recently spent a weekend in  NY and see if  Peter Luger is still doing great especially after reports from some food journalists about PL losing a bit of its past glory. I was impressed to see that PL continues to deliver some of this globe’s finest steaks. The Porterhouse steak, their star item, remaining as glorious as ever. PL is what it is, not what you want it to be, which is exactly how things should work: it has its charms, its weaknesses, its own character. You learn to know what they are, if that pleases you, you go, if that does not fit, there you look elsewhere. I want PL to remain as it is regardless of the pressure that new trends put on our perceptions/appreciations.

***Michelin France 2014: It’s published and France has a new 3 star Michelin, L’Assiette Champenoise in Reims. There are changes that I  did not quite understand like the 1 star assignment of Septime in Paris, which I did visit on past  trips in Paris and was so unimpressed that I did not even bother writing about, the demotion of Apicius, Auberge de l’Ill, Stella Maris. Anyways, there are always going to be happy and unhappy ones, so I won’t lose time on trying to convince why those places should not have lost their stars. I just hope that we find a way to avoid  turning the back to the past (classic cooking should not be overlooked just because new generations of diners find new-gen flavors more exciting).

***Legendary  French Chef Marc Veyrat becomes the first triple-starred Michelin Chef to launch a food truck initiative

***Catalan celebrity Chef Ferran Adria is back in  the news with a  new  restaurant (named ElBulli 1846??)  in 2016 – Click here to learn more.

***Restaurant Pastis,  almost an institution of New York has sadly just closed recently. You can read more about that,  here.

***Legendary 3 star Michelin Maison Troisgros in Roanne, France will move to a new location (still in Roanne) in  2017.  Here, for more.

Restaurant: Jun I
Addr: 156, avenue Laurier Ouest, Montréal
Cuisine: Japanese/Fusion
Event: Thursday January 9th 2014 Dinner, 18:00PM
Phone: 514 276-5864

UPDATE :  Click here for a more  recent review (February 2017).

Re-visiting some of Montreal finest tables. This time, Jun I on Laurier, stronghold of Japanese sushi Master Chef Junichi Ikematsu. This is  the closest you’ll get in Montreal to upscale sushiya, with a real Japanese Master at the helm.

Before this visit, I ate at Jun I in 2010. Back then, my review was severe but that was because I was comparing it to some of the best sushiyas outside of Montreal. Since then, I learned to be more realistic by comparing Montreal restaurants to their local peers.  Another aspect that has changed: I used, back then, to make not much difference between the widely popular and commonly found americanized-sushis Vs proper original Japanese sushis, and tended to simply elect as best (or if you prefer, favourite) the ones I found more flavorful (read: rich in taste), which I believe was a mistake since a delicious take on a sushi does not mean it is proper top sushi. Time has changed: I studied a lot about the art of sushi making, have started crafting my own sushis at home since last year and do persevere in perfecting my sushi in all its nuances while keeping it as close as possible to the basics of classic Japanese sushi. As you’ll see, later on, this personal evolution of my appreciation of  the sushi did not mean that I turned my back to non classic styles of sushis. It simply led to what I believe to be  more accurate judgements.

In town, local sushi fans have Jun I, Mikado, Sho Dan, Tri and plenty of others shops as their favourites and seem to compare  those between each other . It would be accurate to underline that there is a misunderstanding  in comparing Jun I to those other suhiyas.  Jun I’s  classic sushis are genuinely Japanese in their conception (learn to make Japanese sushis the classic way, and you’ll get my point), Jun I is a Japanese sushiya, whereas the others are doing a more americanized  / or personalized style of sushis. I am not a sushi traditionalist since I also enjoy my americanized-styled sushis, but   it’s clear in my mind that Jun I is crafting the most original/authentic sushis in town (I am talking about their classic sushis, since they also have more contemporary items like some of their makis, French/Japanese fusion fares, etc).

Of course there is the possibility that  classic items will fare a bit boring to someone who gets excited only when fed on  americanized-styled sushis,  and for whom the essential of a great original sushi (importance of the rice, and quality of the seafood) means nothing  but   I have always found this room full (whenever I was walking in the area or on my two visits here), which suggests that many Montrealers are also interested by the original sushis (as I’ll repeat, below, Jun I will also please the non-purists).

Then there are the skills:  the knife skills, the thoughts and skills invested in the work of the rice and overall sushi textures as well as the sourcing of the seafood is simply superior at Jun I.  For all those reasons, Jun I is  still the best sushiya in Montreal. YES, Jun I is a bit pricey (though there’s an affordable lunch menu), but that is expected from a sushiya that imports superior  seafood oftently from abroad.

So, how was the food on this evening? I went with David, a long time foodie who really knows his food, though not a complete sushi expert for now. Lately, he was starting to be annoyed by the average level of sushis in town and wanted something more sophisticated. I suggested  that we both pay a visit to Jun I (a first for him, my second visit only).  Chef Junichi Ikematsu does great at blending Eastern/Western cuisines (he still has some of his East/West fusion items on their menu), but I recommended to David that we skip the non oriental items for now.  We sat  at the bar and asked the Chef to serve whatever he deems worthy (omakase). David being a huge fan of salmon –my least favourite fish — and not a fan of nigiris (he says he does not like rice and prefers the raw seafood), I suggested that he orders some extra sashimis of salmon. Me, born and raised in a fishermen’s village, I naturally asked the Chef for any ‘catch of the day’ as well as fishes/seafood  that are not on the menu / or that is un-common/exotic (the way to go at a sushi shop, especially one of this quality,  imho), though they had no particular un-common fish /off menu offerings on this evening . The work of the shari (rice) is the other major aspect that interests me, of course, but I already knew that Jun I’s does it way better than its local peers, though, as it’s typical in most western countries, the rice is not boldly vinegared here (the rice at Jun I  is cooked with enoughly bite while remaining soft in mouth, the seasoning’s most noticeable characteritic is the subtle sweetness part of the sushi vinegar mix (subtle) and the rice keeping its snow-white color on this evening, I can only suppose  that they were mostly using white vinegar on this instance— One of the ‘weapons’ of a  sushi Chef is her/his personal/secret recipe of the  shari’s  seasoned vinegar mix, so you won’t get much infos if you ask ) , though  I doubt that Montreal  sushiyasans find it worthy of their time to partake in long searches/experiments  for the finest rice combo possible , therefore you won’t go too far with your assessment of the shari .


Started with a maki, their ‘funny maki’ which consists of spiced tuna/avocado, tempura-texture’d  rice exterior . The cooking skills  is among Montreal’s very best at Jun I, so this was technically nicely executed (nice batter, tasty and quality rice, the seasoning enticing enough ), but the overall effect in mouth  was not spectacular. A good but not excellent item 7/10


Then a platter of mackerel (both Japanese and Spanish), sea urchin, salmon, scallops, tuna, freshwater eel   –  the sea urchin simply exceptional by Montreal restaurant standards (all levels and cooking styles taken into account).  Looking at its firm consistency and bright orange/yellow color, this sea urchin I was sampling on this evening  was of California gold grade (I never ask waitstaffs about grades, I just trust my own judgement), easily one of the finest quality of sea urchin. They were two types of sea urchin both from California (one from Southern C, the other from its Northern part).  The eel so fresh and of exemplary quality. Only the scallop impressed less, those being second to a stunning example of scallops from New Brunswick I had at my last meal at  restaurant La Porte (if you see someone putting down our Canadian seafood, that is just an ignorant peep who has no clue of what he/she is talking about ) . Still a 10/10 platter in regard to what can be found in Montreal.


Crab maki was next.  The crab quality quite great, as expected from a place of this standing, but the kitchen did not rely solely on that feature. The maki  had enjoyable crispy texture packed with exciting crab flavor of the kind that only few few places in Montreal can deliver. The rice seasoned nicely , served at body temperature. Not my favourite maki at Jun I, but certainly a very good creation and the technique/refinement  of its  execution reminding that we are fed by one of the very few consistently strong kitchen brigades in town. 8/10


Then another platter consisting this time of crab, sea bass, scallops, octopus – The high quality of seafood (again, by the finest standards found on our local restaurant scene)  continued to be the common theme of all items that they kept serving with the sea bass and fresh crab being among the finest I ever had in Montreal, the octopus tenderized and yet chewy as it’s supposed to. Again, although good and fresh, the scallop remained the weakest link of this remarkable journey   9/10


The stellar (by finest local restaurant standards) sea urchin made another appearance upon my request. Jun I is pricey, let’s be upfront about that, but you can see where the money has gone. Many of the finest dining destinations of Montreal are careful about the sourcing of their ingredients and yet they sometimes suffer from frustrating inconsistencies of all sorts, but here at Jun I the produce is beautiful, the skills admirable 10/10


Crème à la  pistache / abricot –  With a dessert simply based on pistachio cream, apricot ice cream, a biscuit base  and some  meringue, they managed to deliver a dessert far superior to what most Montreal top restaurants are offering.  The pistachio flavor exciting, the work of the texture of the pistachio element  would make a Michelin star restaurant really proud. An 8/10 (Would have been a 10/10 in my books had the texture of the apricot ice cream being as stellar as its P counterpart; regardless it was still of good quality and the apricot flavor enjoyable).


Drinks: I took some Kirin beers, but  next time I go there, I’ll accompany my omakase with their great choices of teas (GenMaicha, Sencha Akita, Gyokuro, Jasmin Tea, Plum Sencha, Hojicha).  There is an interesting list of wines as well as sakés, but I did not peruse it.

Service: Well versed classy young wait staff (My last visit here was 4 years ago, in 2010, and I recall the service to be as good as on this evening)

Décor: Tasteful décor (look at my previous post for pics of the décor)

Overall score for this meal (Category: top tier Sushi shop in Montreal) 10/10 As already explained in other reports, I do not share the belief that a 10/10 should be perfection all the way or about WOW factors (perfection + WOW factors can only be defined by personal feelings/perceptions). What matters to me are the higher highs a kitchen has reached on a given meal, in relation to the highest standards of their closest peers (local Montreal restaurant scene), and this is where the finest aspects (See the following  ‘Conclusion’) of this meal left the competition far behind. For sure, we’d be in Japan or at a Michelin star sushiya, I’d want my wasabi grated from its root –I’ve heard that they do it sometimes –, the sushi pieces served once at a time,  the choice of seafood  more varied, a piece of tamago making an appearance, etc, but Jun I is not in Japan and has no Michelin star and yet goes to lengths that no other sushiya in town is covering) .    This was  a  benchmark sushi meal  for Montreal.

Conclusion: For me, Jun I is simply Montreal’s #1  sushiya (NOTE: I have always dined here either on a Friday or Saturday evening, as those are days I am expecting the main Chef to be working and indeed,Chef Junichi IkematsuI was working on the days I dined there  ).  They master  their textures far better than any of their local peers, the knife skills as well as the sourcing is simply a cut above anyone else in town. Even the rice, an aspect that is usually an afterthought at many local sushiyas is, of course, treated with care  here. Many sushiyas I liked, in Montreal, are now either closed or  have opted for the more popular Americanized type of sushis, which makes of  Jun I one of the very rare places where you’ll get some genuinely crafted sushis. BUT  you can also enjoy the fun of their East/West fusion fares as well as their few makis  which won’t fail to  please the ‘not too traditionalist’ sushi fans.