Posts Tagged ‘sushi’

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Persuing with what is  —- according  to the  local major foodie web sites / local experts  (just google “best sushis in montreal” and the first links are what’s considered as our most important sources of local restaurant infos)  —–widely known as  the best local sushi spots in town, . I basically picked 2 high end (Jun I and Park) and one mid level (sushi Yumi) sushi shops among the best suggestions of those web sites / experts.  Jun I and Park surprised me, but …  not the right way (My review of Jun I, here. The one on Park, here). Sushi Yumi  stands out of the pack in the category “affordable local sushi”, according to the local experts. So, I went to find out.
Sushi Yumi (Address: 5124 A Sherbrooke St W, Montreal, Phone: 514-227-5300; URL: http://www.sushiyumi.com) is located in the wealthy neighborhood of Westmount. The space is small, but clean, with an unassuming interior. The sushi shop seems determined to serve you the freshest sushi of your life as clearly stated on their web site “””You won’t find : a fridgeful of pre-prepared, ready-to-go sushi in plastic boxes. At Yu Mi, shushi is made strictly to order – you order it and then it’s made.””” —
I picked:
p7Miso soup (tofu, seaweed, shitake and enoki mushroom) – lacking definition/depth/texture and gusto. A traditional take on the miso, which is my preference, but one that tasted very ordinary,  even  by our weak local standards. 3/10
p8Chef’s selection of 4 pieces of nigiri, 4 pieces of numaki ***, 4 pieces of tempura sushi.  – The nigiris had the common toppings of shrimp and salmon and tuna. Spicy  crab served as the topping for a piece of cracker, as well as the filling of some of the other makis. The rice of the nigiri had a consistency that was unpleasantly compact in mouth. The spicy crab did nothing for me (I found the taste hard to describe, as well as hard to enjoy). This was a very weak performance. I can understand that Sushi Yumi is offering affordable sushi but if that is what makes of SY one of the local top contenders in the eyes of our local experts, then the myriad of average cheap sushis in town should also be promoted as top contenders. And I certainly had better sushis in SY’s price range in Mtl. 3/10
*** as/per their web site, a numaki is “”Numaki are like maki sushi (sushi rolled and cut into thick slices) except: they’re wrapped in rice paper instead of dried seaweed, they’re made with vermicelli noodles instead of sushi rice, and they’re accented with our creamy house sauce “” —
Pros: N/A
Cons: The fact that, at that those prices, the fish can’t be stellar, that is fine, and that is why I refrained from elaborating further on the fish (it was ok for the low price, btw, BUT I can’t explain myself why the rice had to be of such unappealing compact texture and … whoever raves about that spicy crab, I wanna know who he is so that I can   him from talking about food. I am baffled …
Overall food rating: 3/10 I have no clue what the authors of Sushi Yumi’s  rave reviews  did feast on, at Yumi, but I was a world away from the planet they did land on.  Jun I, Park, Sushi Yumi do currently (as/per their fresh 2016/2017 assessments) rank high amongst the current top sushi shops according to the local experts, experts who have a strong influence on the promotion of food tourism in Montreal. To those promoters, I say “go to those places as a normal diner would, go on any day of the week, go when the star Chef is not there, then you will be promoting …reality!”. The problem is the perpetual lack of consistency at the big majority of Montreal’s sushi restaurants , the problem is that the promoters of Montreal as a foodie destination refuse to face that reality, the problem is that Montreal, as long as it  continues to accept such inconsistencies…will continue to have a widely overrated restaurant scene.
Bottom line: that is what you get when promoting is more important than cooking. Not the fault of sushi Yumi, but the fault of that culture of ´business first, the rest after. I mean, in plenty of cities around the world, they can both promote and deliver decent sushis  at the same time. The question is ´why isn’t that possible’ for most sushi restaurants in YUL?

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 stem  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. Overall rating (Categ: Sushi in Montreal ): Food (5/10 Hope it was just an isolated OFF night!), Service (8/10 Attentive, great service ), Ambience: 10/10 (Always popular, but in a civilized way and that is perfect).

Sushi Azabu, New York
Michelin stars: 1
Addr: 1428 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013, USA
URL: http://www.sushi-azabu.com/
Phone: +1 212-274-0428
Type of cuisine: Japanese (mainly a sushiya serving traditional Edo-Mae sushi)

In a city with many  great Japanese sushi Chefs, there is a sushiya for all kind of diners (the one who likes luxury, the one who does not, etc). My ideal sushiya has a great sushi Master at the helm, of course, and a decor that is intimate. A service that is great. A genuine feel of  Japan.  In New York, as far as top sushiya goes, Sushi Azabu is that ‘ONE’ for me. 

01 In NYC, you have Masa, which according to their local sushi experts,  is on top of the roof of their top tier sushiyas. Then, you have their other elite sushiyas , such as Nakazawa,  Yasuda, Azabu, 15 East. I tried Yasuda (I was missing the superb knife skills as well as the superior  work of the textures that I better enjoyed at other sushiyas in Nyc) and 15 East (I find Azabu better, in comparison, but 15 East had couple of noteworthy food items)  in 2015. Never tried Nakazawa, Masa and Jewel Bako. It is NYC, so keep in mind  that the price tag (therefore the cost performance, especially in comparison to what you can get in Japan at equal cost) will oftently be the issue.

I tried Azabu on Saturday Febr 4th 2017.
I picked the larger omakase and they fed my girlfriend on shrimp tempura and wagyu beef steak
The 1st course comprising of a piece of amberjack and salmon:
02Marinated Amberjack was seasoned exquisitely. As expected, from a kitchen of this quality, the marinating technique is flawless, its timing well judged. It came with a delicious piece of mushroom. (9/10)
03Smoked salmon boasted vibrant texture, the quality fish expressing plenty of complex joyous flavors 9/10
05Then an array of seafood items composed of octopus  (8/10 superb chew and texture), A first-rate piece of perfectly tenderized  abalone  which kept its maritime flavor at the forefront (9/10), amberjack and fluke and shrimp of impeccable quality. The wasabi is freshly grated wasabi stem imported from Japan. This was a first-rate collection of sushis, even by the standard of a mid level sushiya in Tokyo.
06My current girlfriend  ordered some shrimp tempura which she had nothing to complain about.  I can see how extraordinarily lighter such  batter could be in the hands of a specialist of the tempura, but Azabu is a sushiya, not a specialist of the tempura, and the batter was still very well executed, the tempura light and tasting delicious,  (8/10).

07She also had her wagyu  beef steak, which was fine but both her and myself do regard wagyu as a (generally) vastly overrated meat. The finest Wagyu I had in Japan have  not changed my opinion about that, as already debated here.

08My tasting menu continued with some utterly fresh uni from Hokkaido  –the firmer bafun uni on the left, the creamier murasaki on the right — as tiny as I remember them from the last time I had them in Japan. As explained elsewhere on this blog, I prefer some of the sea urchin from the mediterranea and California. But Hokkaido’s uni are among world’s best, for sure, with, this time, the murasaki standing out for its sweeter flavor. Sometimes, it is the bafun uni that can be the sweetest of the two 8/10
09Then a tasting of  lean, medium fatty and  torched fatty tuna. The quality, high, as expected. This, too, would not be out of place at a serious mid level sushiya in Tokyo. 8/10
10King crab miso – the flavor and aroma of this particular miso preparation lifting up the flavor of the grilled crab remarkably well. Eventful 8/10
11Then the “Chef’s choice of nigiris” featuring flawless sea urchin/tuna/scallop/salmon/salmon roe/squid/wagyu beef. The fish sliced with precision (even world class Sawada was caught with one or two pieces that were imprecisely sliced ..and that happened at other highly regarded sushiyas of NYC, too), the rice served at body temperature (my preference), the proper pressure applied to the relevant rice/topping combination, the rice not overseasoned, i.e., not too vinegary.  The sushi rice, which subtle  sweet and umami flavor notes went so well with the toppings,  is  from Tsuyahime from Yamagata prefecture. Again, even for a mid level sushiya  in Tokyo, this would be excellent. 9/10
12As part of the previous Chef’s selection of  nigiris, there was also a piece of tamago that I did regard as a benchmark of its kind. I liked it so much that I ordered 3 of them. As I wrote elsewhere on this blog, even some of the  best mid level sushiyas of Tokyo did not always deliver tamago that have impressed me, although the tamago will always be a matter of personal taste given the different types of tamago you will find at sushiyas. Either the umami flavor is  more present, or it is balanced with the sweet taste of the tamago,  or its focus is on the eggy flavor, etc.  I am fonder of the sweet kind of tamago. Azabu’s tamago is of the sweet kind, executed with great finesse, the fresh eggy aroma exciting on the palate, sweet like the one I had at sushi mizutani, as technically well crafted, but bigger in size and which I much preferred  (eventhough Mizutani’s featured a more complex set of nuanced flavors and  eggs of surreal quality) 10/10
13A miso that is a first-rate version of its kind, the taste enriched by the subtle nuances of the remarkable kind of miso they are using. (10/10)
14We ended the meal with some flawlessly textured home made green tea ice cream (for me) and an equally excellent Mochi and Vanilla / chocolate ice cream for her (9/10). I ordered the Mochi for my girlfriend to introduce her to the importance of textures in food for the Japanese.  There was a strawberry that came with her dessert, but I forgot to ask if it also came from Japan. The last time I was in Japan, I did try some of their most celebrated (consequently expensive) strawberries and left unimpressed. They tasted as good as any strawberry anywhere else on planet earth (which is exactly how this one at Azabu tasted like, too).
Pros: Azabu deserves to be considered among NYC’s top tier sushiyas. It is also a proper 1 star Michelin sushiya outside of Japan. Its does not have the tsukiji market in its vincinity but they import their fish from Japan. The knife as well as overall cooking skills  is strong for this  category of  sushiya (comparable to a respectable mid level sushiya if this would be in  Tokyo), the tiny space so cozy, the service genuinely hospitable.
Cons: N/A
15 Overall food rating (categ: top tier sushiya in NYC) 8/10 – Top shelf sushiya in its category.  Just remember that there are two seatings per night (we had our table available till  08:30 pm, therefore i presume that the first seating  is from 05:30pm till 08:30 pm) and that its sushis are of the classic sort  (no experimental sushi here).
What do I think days later: One of the foodie friends who has recommended Azabu told me to expect excellent sushi but not unparralleled one. Azabu was exxellent, indeed,  as they fed me, up to now, with some of the best sushis that I ever had in NYC. As ever, restaurants do sometimes change some items on their menus, as I noticed, in old online reviews, that they once had a tamago similar to a creme brulee at Azabu. I doubt that such tamago would have the same impact as this tamago that deserved my praises, but I can only talk about the food they served me, of which I admired the precise slicing of the fish and assured technique in virtually everything (marinating, smoking, coaxing delicious flavors, etc). Based on what I came to expect from a 1 star Michelin sushiya outside of Japan, Azabu did impress by not sticking to a safe/correct performance as it is so common at the big majority of eateries in North America. This was clearly the work of skilled Chefs with their personal imprint rather than some dudes replicating whatever someone else has asked them to simply replicate properly. Sushi Azabu also knows how to make the experience of a diner enjoyable, as, to take an example, there is no need for all parties of the same table to partake in a tasting menu. I can have my tasting menu while my girlfriend enjoys whatever she wants to eat. And here, there was not one single rotten apple that happened to find his way in the service with the sole intent of ruining your appreciation of the dining experience and the superb work of the rest of his team  as it was the  case during my last visit at another 1 star Michelin, Torishin. Was my foodie friend right when he mentioned that Azabu was not unparralled? If you find a 1 star Michelin that is unparralled, then it is a 3 star Michelin. Lol.  Unparralled is what you should expect at a 3 star Michelin, not 1, and yet a fraction of the 3 stars are unparralled. I loved sushi Azabu.

Restaurant: Yasu
Type of cuisine:  Sushiya, essentially but they also have  more
Where: 835 Chemin de Saint Jean,  La Prairie
When:  Tuesday  April 8th 2014 19:00
(450) 659-1239
URL: http://www.sushiyasu.ca/

SUSHI YASU, LA PRAIRIE (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

For what it’s worth, Yasu is widely known as the place where Japanese, in Montreal, go. What’s certain is that, along with Jun I, this is one very rare Mtl’s (and surroundings / it is actually in Southshore Montreal) sushi place  with a real Japanese sushi Master at the helm (most sushiyasans in Montreal are mostly Vietnamese or Chinese). Yasu has nowadays two locations: one in Brossard and the other one in Laprairie. The original Japanese Sushi Master is now working at the one in Laprairie, which is where I went

My visit here is about the sushi (obviously), but I also ordered couple of non-sushi items just to get a better general impression of the depth of the cooking at Yasu.

As ever in Montreal’s & surrounding sushiyas, as great as they might stand (by local standards, I mean), there won’t be any attempt at surprising the customer with freshly grated  wasabi root, so wasabi in its paste form is the norm. The gari (pickled ginger)  was properly made though.

SUSHI YASU, LA PRAIRIE _ MENUAs some non-sushis items I was particularly interested by how they make their tempura as well as the takoyaki balls. Those are two items that I am curious about in order to assess very precise elements of the cooking skills of such place.

-The tempura: I have read reports about theirs being standard. The soft shell crab tempura that I had ($8) were actually  below average with barely no  taste coming through. The crab taste nowhere to be found. It was frustrating to eat a tempura of such subpar standard since this is hardly an item that fails to please. Plenty of ordinary oriental eateries in town get this better    3/10

SUSHI YASU, LA PRAIRIE - OCTOPUS BALLS

 

 

 

 

 

The Takoyaki Balls (dumplings with octopus pieces, $5 for 6 pieces) featured underwhelming takoyaki sauce that managed to have barely any flavor. Another frustrating moment since takoyaki sauce is one of the main elements that helps lifting the taste of those balls. Here, it had the color but no taste at all of whatever version of the takoyaki sauce you’ll stumble upon. Even more frustrating was the taste of the mayonnaise:  a low grade type of mayo that  I will remember for having diminished the enjoyment of it all. The light batter was the saving grace of this badly conceived takoyaki ball.  2/10

 

SUSHI YASU - SASHIMIS AND SUSHIS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sushis:  red tuna looked and tasted fresh, the Chef being very generous as the chunks of red tuna were sizeable compared to what’s generally served in Montreal and surroundings. Salmon was fine. Unagi was of great quality (by Montreal sushi standards) and I wondered how come such nicely executed unagi sauce was sharing the same roof as the above mentioned  forgettable sauce that covered the Takoyaki Balls.  Spiced salmon was exciting in mouth (not many sushiyas get those this right).  Some might not like the fact that the rice was mushy, but texture of rice boils down to what you prefer (some like their rice soft, others hard, etc). That said, this was no fine sushi rice neither and I am talking about local standards.  Still, by local standards  7/10 for the sushis and sashimis

Service was good

My verdict:  5/10 Some of the sushis were fine (by local standards), but I don’t understand how they could fail at delivering items as basic as a   tempura or a  takoyaki ball.  Needless to stress that I was disappointed by this meal at Yasu. The Master Chef is perhaps very popular among Japanese people  (according to most online accounts) but such meal is not consequent with his fame. Yes, I can see why this place is popular: the prices are low…but I went  south shore to sample the food of a great Chef, NOT the evidence that the food is affordable….