Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Montreal Japanese Restaurants personal review
Since my now three-year-old boycott of the Japanese restaurant Osaka (now known as Furusato - great food but at the time had a terrible service), I have been having a hard time finding a restaurant that had it all: impeccable service, a nice and warm atmosphere while serving good Japanese food for a reasonable price.
What choices are there?
On De la Montagne street, you have Sakura. It is a quiet place, the staff is friendly and it has pretty good food but it is way overpriced/ tape à l'oeil.. (I mean, 20 dollars for a Katsudon? It went 8 dollars up in the last 2 years, which is unacceptable for a bowl of rice with fried pork). The good part of Sakura is definitely the beautifully arranged setting of the private booths you can reserve. Whether it is worth paying 60 dollars for a half a lobster or for a piece of asian-marinated steak though, is something you have to decide for yourself. I think it's not worth it personally... but on special occasions, I enjoy going there just because the lady who works there is charming and gracefully remembers me.
Kazu (see image below) located on Ste-Catherine near Guy Concordia metro is a very nicely designed small Izakaya that has delicious food and relatively nice service... but since the restaurant is very small, the waiting line outside the place is too long (on a good day, you'll still wait nearly an hour) and unless you are a very light eater, the very hefty price might make your digestion go wrong. Still enjoyable... but not worth the wait.
I hate the fusion food offered in Chinese-owned fake Japanese restaurants such as Tokyo Sushi and let's not mention all those dreadful sushi shop chains scattered all over the city. Every single time I crave sushi, I think I will lower my standards and give them a chance and everytime, they find a way to make me regret it deeply. My latest mistake was going to Mikado, a restaurant across from my workplace to get lunch. The thing that fooled me was that it isn't the typical take-out sushi counter with pre-made sushi boxes and no place to sit. It is an actual restaurant, with what seems to be traditional wooden bento plates, a nice setting and a typically- dressed sushi chef making the sushi on the spot right before your eyes in what looks like a very professional manner. The price being quite hefty too, I figured maybe it is worth a shot. Sometimes more expensive does mean better quality. But not this time. Not there. What a mistake.... The miso was dreadful. The sushi was rubber-like. When even the soy sauce tastes like an unidentifyable substance, it means that there is a problem.
Note to self for later:
Never have sushi in some random part of town unless it was recommended.
Never lower your standards when it comes to raw fish.
Never distrust your instinct.
Never Mikado in Villa Maria... Never again.
Mikado is a chain and if I recall, the downtown franchise has a decent menu and a very classy setting but in truth, all this fanciness is good for neophyte businessmen who care more about the price of a dish than about its taste. If you know the value of your money, then you will definitely invest in a different place. Given the rare worthy choices that you have, at this point, a small ramen shop such as Sumo Ramen, located in Chinatown, sounds like a better investment despite its rather linited menu. At least, they know the value of their food: a quite large and filling platter of homemade ramen is offered to you for about 8-10 $ (plus tax, plus service). (Though I wouldn't advise any of the other choices.. especially the dreadful Gyudon...)
As the food lover that I am, I kept trying places that were recommended to me. Kyoto offers sushi of a rare quality, made by a Korean who grew up in Japan and worked there as a sushi chef... However here is the trick: on top of being a bit pricey, it is located in an inconvenient spot: Côte Vertu. Not only do you have to travel all the way to the end of the Orange line, you also have to take a bus or walk an extra 15 minutes, which is actually too much of a hassle just to get sushi, especially in a city where a minus20 degree winter represents nearly a half of the year.
After several tryouts and a longing for authentic Japanese food in a pleasant atmosphere, I must admit that I was starting to despair... when a name kept coming back. Japanese, non-Japanese, everyone told me about it:
Imadake, located near Atwater metro station.
They said it isn't perfect but it is as near to authentic as Kazu is and the atmosphere and decorations are great. The girls are pretty too, they say... though it is of no concern to me. What is of concern to me is that they do their job in a friendly way and that they bring me decent food. Anyways... tonight, I went there with friends of my Japanese class back when I was a McGill student (I make it sound as though it's been years but it's only been one year...) Two of them lived in Japan and two of them, despite not experiencing life in Japan, speak fluent Japanese and just like me, they love food... We got in. Nice greetings, nice lighting. If there's one thing I could be dissatisfied about, it's the noise. But then again, it's an Izakaya, so I just came to the conclusion that it can't be helped.
The Order: We ended up ordering a bit of everything over several rounds. The menu was varied and unlike many places where you are expected to know what you eat beforehand / imagine the composition of your food through a very badly written description, it had pictures for most of the important things, even the alcohol! The choices were fairly simple: take everything that looks delicious. We got several orders of grilled beef tongues, the traditional Okonomiyaki (a huge pancake with pork, cabbage and sauce), Karage (fried chicken), a Daikon (radish) salad, Edamame (seasoned peas? beans?), tempura shrimps, takoyaki (octopus fried balls) fried goat cheese, two orders of green tea cheese cake and also a bottle of plum wine (called Umeshu). I think we might have ordered more but we ordered so much, even the waiters seemed to be confused about which bill (s) was (were) ours.
If it wasn't for the Plum wine which was extremely expensive (despite being quite satisfying! 750 ml of pure happiness), it would have cost us roughly 19$ each, tax included.
Wow. Half the price I would have paid in Kazu for the same amount. Less than I would've paid in Sakura but for so much more food. Amazing. And the taste was more than satisfying: It was delectable.
The food is good, the service is great (though a bit slow at times)... What else can I say? I love the open kitchen concept. I love being greeted when I come in/ when I leave the way they do it in Asia. 'IRASSHAIMASE!!!' (Welcome!), 'ARIGATOU GOZAIMASHITA' (Thank you for coming!). I think people understimate the power that such short but meaningful sentences can have on the mind of a customer.
So the conclusion of this very overly loooong entry... Is it worth going to Imadake? Absolutely.
Favorite dish: Grilled beef tongue and tempura shrimps.
Thing to try next time: Sake Bomb.
Most negative point: Too much noise - must go with a group!...
Enjoyed: being greeted clearly both as I entered and as I left.
PS: the Takoyaki pic belongs to http://thisiswhywerefat.wordpress.com