Posts Tagged ‘jun i’

 

 ​MONTREAL – On the fine dining front, Atelier Joel Robuchon in Montreal was the major restaurant opening of 2017.  I went eating at AJRM in January. It  did deliver the type of cooking I  came to expect from the big majority of the celebrated restaurants in Montreal: some predictable/safe cooking, but of course…it can always be much more inspired when the food journalists or poster-diners have snatched a seat as  can be observed in the interesting difference between what I did experience Vs what stood as a life-shattering revelation to our  food journalists (just google what the food journalists have raved about and enjoy the bromance!).  At least, I can’t say that I did not know what I was getting into: as predicted  in my review of Atelier Joel Robuchon Montreal  ” Occasional local diners as well as our local food jounalists will  be impressed while well travelled foodies will be expecting more in light of the standards that AJR has set elsewhere” –  our local  food journalists were inevitably going to  have a blast, a totally different experience from anonymous /normal customers).

Fortunately, I also found, in Montreal, some restaurants that are cooking great food no matter who you are, and as it should be at  serious restaurants: Le Virunga delivered one of the very best meals I ever had in Montreal. Its Chef, Cheffe Maria by Coco Bee, promotes Pan-African  food with a clin d’oeil at Quebecois cooking. Both African and Quebecois cuisines count among my preferred types of food, but the sceptic and purist  in me is traditionally apprehensive when a chef does not focus on one specific type of food. I did not have to worry as this Cheffe has the skills to wipe away any doubts  about her ambitious programme. Skilled, gifted…whatever the flourishes, she deserves praises for what she is doing right now at Le Virunga.

To continue with the good news on the local restaurant scene, Nozy was another gem I discovered this year, with a true skilled Japanese Chef cooking the genuine food of his motherland. I wish long years of success to this amazing true artisan Chef, and plenty of rewards for not running his restaurant from home (directed at  the myriad of pseudo cooks in Montreal, whose head got big, and are at home, watching tv, while their poorly trained assistants are left to themselves cooking food that should not be served at a restaurant).

Two other local restaurants impressed me during this first quarter, Hvor  with a brilliant  Chef at the helm, as well as Marconi of Chef Mehdi Brunet Benkritly, the last real  Chef that Au Pied de Cochon really had. Hvor, in particular, coming to the rescue right after my just correct / safe meal at Atelier Joel Robuchon in Montreal.

In little India , Maison Indian Curry House  has consistently delivered the best lamb curry  in town, but the lamb curry is not as consistently good as it used to be (sometimes, some of the chunks of meat are hard, while others are tender and  you need to ask them for the non spicy lamb curry, as the spicy sort is not that great). Their thalis and naan bread are not the best in town, all the rest is fine enough to keep MICH among my go-to places.

I also tried Gandhi and the Taj.  Gandhi is not bad, not the best in town, neither,  but  it is a way too pricey for what I was  getting. Le Taj is pretty, but I was not as satisfied, about its food, as much as at some of the restaurants of Little India.

I finally tried the very popular Escondite, which owners are very successful restaurateurs opening plenty of restaurants inspired from various types of cooking: japanese, hawaian and, in the case of Escondite, mexican. I am usually a bit sceptic about that formula (looking for the concept  that sells)  as it is, usually,  mainly about business (japanese style bistrot sells, so let us open one / tapas sells, so let us do the same thing),  rather than the type of artisan Chef cooking (a true artisan Chef who has mastered his craft his entire life and cooks with heart, first ) I deem worthy of my hard earned money, but hey… heart is not going to make you rich, lol, and the owners of Escondite are not promising artisan Chef cooking. Furthermore, they are opening pleasant restaurants offering enjoyable  food and that was the case of Escondite.

I was also curious to look into some of the major sushiyas in town, so I turned to the  local food experts (food journalists, etc), hoping that their recommendations could be useful. They seemed to have found world class sushiyas ran by exceptional itamae, so off I went to find out. Before I elaborate about my incredible findings, I just want you to know that sushiya/sushiyasan/itamae are generally terms that I use not just to enrich any vocabulary or showing up whatever kind of knowledge, but solely by respect to the true Japanese Craftmanship that we know as Sushi making. But in Montreal, whenever you see me using those terms,  keep in mind that it’s with the deliberate intent to be… sarcastic (rightly so, btw). Montreal is not making sushi. It is just molding rice and leaving pieces of fish on it. It could be whatever kind of rice, and anything that bears resemblance to a fish, does not need to be a fish — to be honest with you — and the aftermath (yep, aftermath is the adequate term, here)  will be the same. In case you think I am exaggerating, I will leave you with my reviews of the so-called (by our local experts) best local sushiyas of Montreal:  Jun I, Park, Sushi Yumi. Baffl.., baffled….I was.

 NEW YORK, on the other hand, is the world class foodie destination that we all know.

New York continues to dazzle, and their big gunz seem more concerned about being consistently great rather than waiting after a poster-diner to find some renewed motivation. Two of their latest “hot” restaurants are Ichimura and Le Coucou, both restaurants would qualify as  destination restaurants anywhere around the globe.

I did also visit Sushi Azabu in February, which  continues to be my preferred Sushiya in NYC.

Then a Brooklyn institution known for its cheesecake, Junior’s. According to the local medias, a rich sheikh had one of Junior’s cheesecakes flying over several continents and oceans to be savoured in his palace. I was not as impressed by that cheesecake, but Junior’s (reviewed here) offers some great food.

In Koreantown, I tried two korean bbqs: one that’s very popular, Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, as well as Dons Bogam. The former is a fun place, but it was disappointing on the culinary front, whereas the latter is an elite kbbq spot.

I also tried their most talked about ramenya, Ippudo, which I will review soon. I tried the one that is situated at 65 4th Avenue. Ippudo is not an elite  ramen shop, back in Japan, but in New York, it is doing enoughly well to rank among the very best at what it does. If you can detach yourself from the comparisons to Japan, then you won’t fail to appreciate my latest assertion…eventhough, like most ramen fans who happened to have tried some of the best ramenyas of Tokyo, I, too, would have couple of things to reproach to Ippudo NYC.

As with any major foodie destinations, if you let your guard down, you can stumble upon bad eateries, such as Miss Favella in Brooklyn (reviewed here),  but, overall, NY deserves its reputation as  a true world class foodie destination.

 ATLANTIC CITY – At approximately 2hrs drive from New York, you will find the coastal city of Atlantic city, famous for its picturesque ocean views as well as for its casinos. There, I ate at two of their most popular restaurants: Docks oyster house (seafood) as well as Kelsey & Kim’s (soul food). I will go back to Kelsey & Kim’s but not to Docks.

I​n May 2017, I hope I will be able to attend the burger bash in Atlantic city as some serious burgers will be available at that event. Traditionally, I do not take seriously foodie events of that sort, as the competitors are mainly present for promotional purpose, and it is always a joke to try giving your best miles away from the ingredients and tools that made you famous, but the best burgers of the burger bash event are known as some of America’s most serious burgers. You are on the land of the burger, after all. Of particular interest, during this upcoming 2017 episode of the burger bash:
-The Guinness Bacon cheeseburger from the Hard rock cafe. Atop the beef patty, Jameson bacon jam/Guinness cheese sauce/lettuce and tomato.
-The Margate dairy bar and burger’s The MDB Burger which is composed of a mix of short rib and brisket (from Pat LaFrieda)/lettuce/picles/tomato and American cheese. They will use a secret sauce for their burgers, therefore it will be interesting to see how that sauce would have elevated the burger.
-The Metropolitain’s steak au poivre burger (comes with bacon/gruyere cheese) as well as the Bocca coal fired bistro’s pepadew bacon burger (angus burger/aged white cheddar/pepadew relish/cherry wood smoked bacon/buttery brioche roll) are also on my list of burgers to try.
Event: The burger bash Url: acweekly.com/burgerbash
When: Saturday May 20th, 2017 from 1 to 4pm,
Where: The Deck at Golden nugget, Atlantic city

 

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.

 

***In June, the  most popular (among the readers of this blog) reviews  have been the ones on Le Louis XV,  the one on the city of Nice, L’ Ambroisie, L’Arpège, Le Serpent , Kam Fung as well   as my humble article on Montreal steakhouses (folks, it’s summer, enjoy a good steak in your backyard…far more fun, lol!).

***Shinji’s report, already the most popular among the readers of this blog –  I have just updated this current post on July 17th and shall observe that I was surprised by the popularity of the recent post on Shinji (which can be found here). Published on July 3rd, so only couple of  days prior, that post topped the charts on each day, since then. It’s rare that I see a restaurant’s review  attracting that much attention on this blog as soon as it was posted — the sign that the web is googling Shinji a lot, these days  (last time this happened, it was following the first review on Le Serpent — interestingly, the second report, which was more detailed and covered more meals, never got to enjoy the popularity of the first one. Even months later, the initial report on Le Serpent is the one that you have mostly perused and are still perusing).  Great then for Shinji, which managed to pull off benchmark sushis (by Montreal standards), the second best sushis I ever had in Montreal, second only to Jun I.

 

 

***Glad to hear that one of my all time favourite bistrots  in Italy is still doing great: A cantina de Mananan is still as excellent as ever as/per the report of a very picky foodie friend who went there in early  June 2014.  I did recommend Cinque Terre to him, a place that’s simply a ‘ gift from the above ‘as far as its visually stunning scenery goes. While there, he also tried A cantina de Mananan upon hearing great things from my part about this little jewel. He was floored and ranked A cantina de Mananan as his favourite discovery in a trip where there was no shortage of great restaurants:  he tried Osteria Francescana, Pipero al Rex , Piazza Duomo,   . He stressed that  A cantina does not compare, in terms of culinary sophistication, to all those places, but that  in hindsight,  the great  cooking of A Cantina de Mananan is what blew away his palate because it was the most delicious food of them all. Well, I haven’t visited OF, PR and PD, but I certainly can  understand such conclusion as I myself found the finest bistrots in Italy to be quite stellar.  So, A Cantina, I hope you will be as great as my first date with you, next time I’ll go back to Cinque Terre, lol. My humble quick notes on my trip in Cinque Terre in summer 2012, here.

***Everyone should go and peruse the twitter account of L’Arpège: https://twitter.com/ArpegeLive. Once you do that, keep in mind that all the beauty your eyes will have the priviledge to espy  is most likely backed by an exceptional work of flavors and a spectacular sense of creativity. Alain Passard, you are a Chef like we do not see anymore!

***La Queue de Cheval, Montreal finest steakhouse will open soon. Very soon. Check their facebook account for any update. For now, you can enjoy their burgers at QDC Burger (check that out here). The folks at QDC are also planning the opening of the Angry lobster bar (check all of that on this link).

***You remember Thursdays, Montreal iconic bar/bistro/club  on Crescent?  It is now reopened. The bistrot‘s  Chef is Jean-François Vachon. I first discovered Chef Vachon’s cooking when he was at the helm of Club des Pins (now closed), then at restaurant  M sur Masson, many  years ago and at both restaurants, it was an instant success back then:   food was delicious, cooking skills really sharp and both restaurants  reigned supreme on my list of favourite tables of Montreal during Vachon’s tenure. Then he went opening restaurant Projet soixante-sept (now closed), which I tried but that I found less  impressive compared to what he managed to pull off in his prime at Club des pins, then at M sur Masson.  I have not tried Bistrot Thursdays yet but I hope I’ll find the Jean-François Vachon of the great old days. I’ve perused their  online menu and found it appealing with items such as ‘guinea fowl cooked in hay’ (an old fashioned cooking technique that’s  common in Europe and that I favor but it’s rare to see a restaurant doing this in Montreal) , ‘rack of lamb à la provencale’, ‘spinach malfatti”, etc. Thoughtful bistrot menu for Montreal as it seems to take seriously the concept of a true French bisrot (for eg, on their menu, I can see that they have days where they offer the bouillabaise, or the coq au vin, all French bistrot staples that few French bistrots in Montreal do mind offering – you’ll see this in the ‘promotions ‘ section of their menu)  . In his prime, Jean-François Vachon is certainly one of Quebec’s most talented Chefs, so I’ll surely try his bistrot hopefully in a near future.

***Tapas 24 MTL will open to the public on July 19th 2014. It is a restaurant that is owned by Barcelona’s highly regarded Chef Carles Abellan as well as two other local Business partners (Journalist  Sébastien Benoit and restaurateur Jorge Da Silva), so a sister of Barcelona’s Tapas 24. According to the facebook page, the Chefs are  Haissam Souki Tamayo as well as another Chef who goes by the  name Ildemar, both names sound  unfamiliar to me, so this will be opportunity to discover their craft.  I saw couple of Public relationship write ups on their pre-opening activities and have decided to not try it on its official opening first weeks. It would have been tempting to dine there while Chef Abellan is still around (he’s there, these days, according to the reports I’ve perused) , but I’ll wait couple of months and see how it will fare while Chef Tamayo and Ildemar will be in full control of the house. When I’ll head there, I’ll do it with realistic expectations, though:  I still have fond memories  of my foodie trip in San Sebastian. A year later, I had the good fortune to repeat the feature in Madrid and the tapas adventure was also memorable (low cost, spectacular  flavors).  I do not expect those dazzling tapas of Spain to be replicated the other side of the globe as the produce of the Mediterranea is hard to compete with, the value simply not something that can be matched this side of the world (especially those of the Pais Vasco where I remember having two divinely-tasting  servings of tapas with a glass of txacoli for less than 5 euros (around $7). In comparison, a similar serving of tapas in Montreal would cost at least $16, and the glass of wine would range in between  $12 to $15 on average, so my $7 tapas serving in San Sebastian (with the glass of txacoli included) would cost me around $31 in Montreal, and I am being generous here. Restaurants are there to make Business and I do understand that, but it’s tough to justify bite-size food of such price tag.  I do not know the prices/menu at Montreal’s Tapas 24 since it’s not online yet, but hopefully, they will offer enjoyable food of great value (the point of tapas, in the first place). As for the flavors, I am confident that they can’t go wrong:  the tapas currently served in Montreal are decent  but nowhere close to the quality of the tapas of Spain.

***Abroad, one of France’s most brilliant Chefs of the recent decade, Chef Nicolas Lebec has resurfaced in Shanghai, China. Nicolas is incredibly talented, think world class skills, and it’s great to see him around after years of absence. Villa Le Bec – http://www.smartshanghai.com/wire/dining/villa-le-bec-is-finally-happening  Xinhua Lu, near Dingxi Lu – Shanghai

WOLD CUP SOCCER 2014

 

 

On a non foodie subject, the world cup was full of surprises (Costa Rica and Colombia have impressed, Spain’s early exit)  , but in the end it was a finale between  two giants of the game, Argentina and Germany. I think Germany largely deserved it, but the title of best player of the tournament (Messi won it) was a big joke akin to believing in Santa ;p  // The Dutch –by now, eliminated  — had to attend a penalty shootout session in their semi finals against Costa Rica and their coach, Louis Van Gaal chose a substitute goaltender (Tim Krul) just for the shootout , which is a rare move for those in the know.  As an analogy to the world of food, this reminds of what they have been doing for so long in Japan: you have a specialist of this, another specialist of that, etc. Just to master the slicing of a piece of fish, you spend an entire year or years focusing on that sole task. Then the same to master the art of cooking some rice. It gave what you’d have expected:  artisan Chefs, and not just generic cooks, pulling off perfected crafts to be enjoyed and not just generic food to be washed down. So, Louis Van Gaal is obviously of that same mold, only he is transposing the theme into soccer. Simply amazing. //Brazil suffered an unbelievable defeat to Germany (7-1!), but that came as no surprise as their two main leaders, Neymar and Thiago Silva  were not playing. I do not understand their coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari: I know he is  a great coach and has won a world cup in the past,  but it was hard to be appreciative of his decisions this time around -> the spectacular (and best replacement for Neymar) Willian coming on around the 69th minute (what the heck??) , Hulk as a winger rather than as a striker, position that suits him better (??).  ///   Last but not least, the now famous Luis Suarez bite has earned  him national hero status in his country, Uruguay (check that out here).  The jokes about the bite are funny, though.

 

VACANCES

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wishing an amazing summer to all of us!

 

Recent reviews: Restaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun IL’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice Patissier, Raku, Au cinquième péché.

***My second visit in 5 years at restaurant La Chronique, Montreal, showcased a startling food performance that plenty of top Michelin starred establishments across Europe would be very proud of. Chef De Montigny is indeed a top class Chef and his restaurant is a first-rate establishment. Firmly in my top 3 in Montreal (La Porte/Le Serpent/La Chronique). My review of that meal here.

 

***Restaurant Magazine has Noma back at its World’s 100 best restaurants of the world‘s pole position, which, to me, makes perfect sense. In 2012, both my wife and I have revisited what we strongly believe to be world’s top 3 , Noma/Alinea/Fat Duck and it’s clear in our minds that those three restaurants are the only ones deserving of world’s top tier position. Their craft is simply way above anything that’s being done at this moment.  We could not believe that El Celler de Can Roca was restaurant’s mag #1 last year, a pure nonsense: we dined there twice in the past 5 years and there is no way El Celler is a World’s #1. It is a World’s #1 for best value restaurant anywhere around the world,  I would bet on  that, but no more.   Again, nothing against Restaurant Magazine listing, it’s the personal choices of their folks, so who are we to judge other people’s opinions, but I am not a robot, thefore was entitled to my opinion too ;p

***The highlights, for me, of this first half of my current foodie year in Montreal have been the superb return of Chef Michelle Mercuri at Le Serpent. One of my favourite Chefs anywhere across the globe, this talented Chef   continues to be consistent with the top standards he keeps setting wherever he goes . Montreal is no short of cooks who went from hero to zero, but Michelle is certainly not one of those.  I was also impressed by the silky  skills of Chef Ding at Kyo in Le Vieux Port. With  Chef Ding at the helm,  Kyo is simply the best isakaya in town. A simple marinade of his beef tataki , to take an example of something simple, therefore packed with details that can be easily overlooked, had depth that only 5% of the Chefs in town could replicate and understand. For sure, if such details is beyond comprehension to you, then skip forward, lol,  but it is with details like those that I can appreciate the talent of a Chef.  Aside from both Kyo and Le Serpent,  it was also nice to see La Chronique confirming what I was suspecting (a true Montreal giant) as well as sampling some dazzling bistrot fares at an old favourite, Au Cinquième Péché.

******I went paying a visit to Chef Joe Mercuri’s new establishments, his fine dining destination called Mercuri as well as his more casual bistrot-centric Bar Mercuri (both sharing the same roof). Super Joe is one of my favourite Chefs in Montreal, the Mercuri family being a well known (to the Montreal restaurant scene)  family of talented Chefs (Michelle, Joe) with memorable tenures at Bronté (both Joe and Michelle), XO Le Restaurant (Michelle), Rosalie (Joe) and much more. It was a pleasure to resume with Joe’s crafts after years of absence from the restaurant scene. As ever, the man is there, even on a quiet Tuesday, a rarity for most Chefs nowadays, hard worker  and a great fan of all things tasteful (stylish décor, beautiful platings, Pascale Girardin dinnerware in the fine dining section, Opinel knives at Bar Mercuri). Apart a failed attempt at a contemporary fancy flight around the  snow crab (There’s no doubt in my mind that Joe did not craft that one. In Montreal, only Chefs like Joe Mercuri, Michelle Mercuri, Francois Nadon, Mario Navarrete Jr are truly capable to turn such challenging assortment into something magic) everything else was enjoyable, backed by beautiful produce,  and of course couple of  hits made their appearances as to  remind that Joe is still the man,  like a galanga mousse with texture and taste I never enjoyed in Montreal before, shitake mushrooms that I knew could be tasty but not as exciting in mouth as this one I was having, and some pappardelle to never forget.  What needs to be ironed out is easy to address and are normal in the context of a restaurant that is only in its 3rd month of existence: avoid any notion of meager portions when a risotto is served and billed as a main course (see the review of my  fine dining meal), keep the “dishes all served at once” communal / tapas principle to couples or groups only, not to a solo diner (see the review of my meal at Bar Mercuri), unless , of course, that is what he/she wants  (not too sure why a solo diner would opt for that, though).

***Chocolate flavored fried chicken, anyone? Well, not bad at all as an idea. One wonders how come no one has thought about it before? lol. Adam Fleischman is making it happened at Choco Chicken in Los Angeles.

***A £1,235 A HEAD, yeap for a meal, no kidding! It’s the idea of Michelin-starred chef Paco Roncero and it’s happening in one country that’s heavily affected by the current global economic turmoil, Spain. Check that out, it’s really not a joke: clear here.

***3 star Michelin Chef Régis Marcon could be interested to open a restaurant in Japan. More, here.

***3 star Michelin Ledoyen (in Paris)  will have Chef Yannick Alléno at the helm, soon (more can be found here). For me, this is for the better, in the case of Ledoyen as I have visited this place twice, by now (in the past 3 years) and truely felt that it was an overrated 3 star Michelin.  The report of the first my two meals there can be perused on this link.

***Went back to a personal favourite French Bistrot in Montreal, Au Cinquième péché.  Au Cinquième péché  continues to rank in the top-tier of Montreal bistrots. As it’s realistic to put, you can’t expect any kitchen or Chef to be in its prime all the time AND that  it is in its prime that its true skills are to  be accurately assessed. This meal was simply a benchmark of its kind with a beef tongue dish as well as their signature sweetbreads worth of word class (by French Bistrot  standards) praises. Of course, I also had less spectacular meals here, as you won’t fail to  experience with  ‘normal’ meals at your  favourite bistrots, but even on the ‘normal meals’ they still managed to rank among Mtl’s best. But on this meal, they left the Montreal scene, conquered the world and crushed plenty of their competitors worldwide, lol. Joke aside, this was a startling bistrot meal. My review here.

***My first visit at Patrice Patissier. Patrice continues to wow Montreal with his dazzling desserts and pastries. My review here.

***I also paid a visit to L’Européa, one popular fine dining destination in Montreal. It is hard not to like L’Européa as you’ll be pampered like a queen/king here. BUT the food REALLY needs to improve, by leaps! My review, here.

***Sushi Yasu is one of the rare sushi shops (in Montreal & surroundings)  with a real Japanese Sushi Master at the helm. Unfortunately, on the back of my meal there, that was not an advantage for them. My review here.

***Raku is an isakaya in Brossard, South shore Montreal. It’s the kind of place that is easy to overlook if you have no sense for details or tend to jump to hasty conclusions: if I’d have simply sampled their sushis, as well as a simple tartare that was poorly executed, I’d remember this place as just another average shop. But I was curious to dig a bit more in their menu and surprise, their takoyaki balls was top class, their veggie tempura was above average. A mixed bag if you wish, but for me this seems like a kitchen that has its strenghts. You just need to find out which ones they are. Report of my meal, here.

***Lately, on this blog, my quick post on Nice seems (if I look at the wordpress counter) to have been very popular among the viewers of this site. A sign that summer is in full effect, lol. Well, Nice is indeed a special place but what has impressed me is that after two decades of no show, I was as excited by Nice as it was the case two decades prior. I have re-visited many places after decades of absence but have rarely left with this same sense of satisfaction. The thing about Nice is that whether you are nearby or within, you’ll always be stunned : the sun, the beautiful landscapes, the beautiful people, the great food and everything that makes France look good, well they have it. Some of you did ask where I stayed during that trip: I stayed at the Ibis Styles Nice Vieux Port, nothing special here but  reasonable in terms of lodging budget given that you are in the fun part of Nice. I do not regret that choice and would repeat it again if I’d re-visit Nice.

 

***I was also surprised to see the following less popular posts gaining a sudden rise to fame, among you:
Victor Gourmet Shloss Berg: You’d have hard time convincing me that there’s better than Chef Bau’s performance on that evening, but I am not naive enough to believe that the sun shines all the time. Restaurants, like anything operated by humans, have their ups and downs. So, I can’t bet on this house to be consistently as magical as on that evening. All I can is to talk about that meal I was having and that was magical, indeed. Looking forward to re-visit Victor Gourmet Shloss Berg, though. Germans, you can count on their consistency. That is well known.
-Mon top 10 des meilleures chansons: Lol, that was funny. I did not want my blog to focus solely on food. So, I use my blog in its conventional definition, which means a space where I ”spit” whatever comes out of my mind and that I deem fun to share with whoever might be interested to dig in.
Some of you seem to have liked this post and I do certainly appreciate that.
L’Arpège: I was expecting that post to be popular, but it was not (for a while). Recently, your interest for my post about L’Arpège grew up significantly. I hope you are not misled by my article since I did my best to be as accurate as possible: for my taste, this is a special place for me. If you are interested, then do lots of searches and ensure that’s really what you want because L’Arpège is not your usual conventional type of 3 star Michelin. You know, appreciation for food is like appreciation for colors: I’ll rave about my favourite color because I am genuinely attracted by it, and even the devil won’t be able to alter my opinion, but that does not mean my favourite color will be yours.

***Other big hits, lately, on this web blog: the review on L’Ambroisie. I am surprised by this one. L’Ambroisie is a very expensive place, so I do not quite get this one. I know what I like and I am upfront about it, so Chef Bernard Pacaud was cooking on that lunch and there were just 3 tables, so we (the 3 tables) had Chef Bernard  Pacaud for ourselves and indeed  I found him, along with Chef Jacques Maximin, to be an exceptional Chef with amazing instinctive cooking genius. Therefore, I was floored despite the hefty cost of that meal. But I am not sure I would recommend a place this $$$ to someone. Furthermore, is Bernard Pacaud still at the helm? Also: remember that this is a dated review (few years back). So, you are free to share my enthusiasm of that meal, lol, but ensure that you did your homework, verified what it is up to nowadays and find out for yourself.  As for me, that was a meal even superior to what Girardet or Joel Robuchon himself offered in their prime. But again, that was my meal there a few years ago when Chef Bernard Pacaud, the dad, was still cooking on lunch. Nowadays,  if I am not mistaken, it is his son who’s actively at the helm and I have no clue if the food experience is as stellar as when his dad was behind the stoves. Of course, that meal at L’Ambroisie will always have a special place in my heart and Bernard Pacaud, the dad, will always remain in my top 2 best Chefs of all time  (the other is Jacques Maximin)  but on the other hand, I am realistic: most ppl nowadays want value for their money.

***You seemed to have also found an interest in my latest review on Bouillon Bilk in Montreal. Obviously, you were ‘served’ with the perfect  reality of any  restaurant with both a  1st review that was not short of flourishes, then that second one which did not live up to the hype of the earlier report. Regardless, if Chef Nadon is at the helm  you’ll enjoy one of Montreal’s better contemporary food destinations. It’s just not the sort of food that an aide and/or  a kitchen brigade can replicate easily. You really need to know what you are doing when you craft that kind of assortment. It will take me some time before I go back there  as I dine out to enjoy my food, not to observe that life is made of ups and downs…I can cook well,  myself,  so I’ll leave that sort of observations to food journalists – they are paid for that kind of existential analysis, after all –

 

Just a quick recap about some of the latest restaurant openings + some of my recent meals

***Opened at the end of December 2013, Restaurant Le Serpent quickly became a favourite and one of the few restaurants that I can comfortably recommend in Montreal. Chef Michele Mercuri is simply among the very few
raw/true talented chefs  you’ll find in town (along the likes of Chef  Navarette Jr of Raza, Thierry Rouyé of La Porte,   Chef Lenglet of Au Cinquième Péché, Alexandre Loiseau of  Bistro Cocagne)
***Restaurant Le Richmond  recently opened, offering  Italian cooking in  what looks like one of Montreal prettier  restaurants.  I have not visited the place yet, but I saw that they had the genius idea of using what’s easily and currently the best meat in town at this moment, Marchand Du  Bourg‘s steaks.
***Jun I, based on a recent visit, continues to be the benchmark  for a true Japanese sushiya in Montreal. One of Montreal very best food destination by several notches.
***Went to Chambly trying Restaurant Tre Colori. Before going there, I read the online opinions about the place
and they happened, based on my experience there, to be severely innacurate:  Tre Colori is certainly neither a bad table,  nor a top flight restaurant, though it proved, while I was there, that it was capable of top-flight items like the
best lamb chops I ever sampled in Mtl & its surroundings. If my praises over those lamb chops generate high expectations in your mind, then I’ll invite you to review the basics of any restaurant kitchen: they usually have  brigades and one cook who cooked your food today might be replaced by another one on a different day, the quality of meat that was available on X day might not be available on a different day, the chef who cooked something stellar on X day may be cooking your food again BUT in a totally different mood, etc. So sync your expectations with those realities. That said, I did not dislike  Tre Colori and would happily return there.

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

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 .

JUN I, MONTREAL - FUNNY MAKI

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

JUN I, MONTREAL - SUSHI PLATTER 1

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.

JUN I, MONTREAL - CRAB MAKI

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

JUN I, MONTREAL - SUSHI PLATTER 2

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

JUN I, MONTREAL - UNI

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

JUN I, MONTREAL - DESSERT

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).

JUN I, MONTREAL - tea

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.

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