I was talking to a friend last night and he mentioned how he missed snowboarding. He accidentally walked out of my house with a black eye and I was less one friend. This kind of weather makes me not want to do anything other than sit in front of a fan and bitch about the heat. More seriously, it diminishes my appetite (imagine that!) and I find myself looking for lighter meal alternatives. Trying to wrap my head about the concept of light-eating, something in particular came to mind.
Last month I was invited to the media launch of Kyo Bar Japonais in Old Montreal, the newest restaurant of the Antonopoulos restaurant group that have major properties in the Old Port. We were treated to an array of signature dishes that were set to tantalize our taste buds and take us through a gastronomic journey through their izakaya inspired menu of tuna tataki, scallop ceviche, and fried calamari… just to name a few. We were also presented with an incredibly fresh platter of assorted sashimi and sushi and signature maki rolls. To round out our experience Kyo features a very considerable sake list via private importation.
I made a conscious decision that I needed to come back; having put their best foot forward, Kyo presented us that evening with their safest dishes; something to please the palates of this very diversified crowd of eaters. Although skillfully prepared, fresh and delicious, if they are going to call themselves an izakaya, their dishes needed to go further than the run of the mill sushi, sashimi and fried shrimp with mayo. I needed to dig deeper; having studied their menu prior, I felt that I was missing out on a few key dishes that seemed far more interesting than the pricier items on the menu that we were presented with on that media night in an attempt to impress. So I made it a conscious effort to revisit Kyo out of the context of an invitation.
To be clear, my first visit was an invitation, however, this, my second visit was not and no compensations were offered or given.
We started with the sashimi salad. A mesclun salad dressed in Kyo’s signature black sesame and ginger rice wine vinaigrette, with generous slices red tuna, yellow tail tuna, salmon and crab. The fish was fresh and the dressing was nice, highlighted by subtle hints of shiso whose mintiness brought out the natural sweetness of the fish. I assume the fish in this salad changes as the menu says “fish of the day”.
Next we had the sautéed pork cheek with asparagus, onions in a yuzu sauce. The pork cheek was incredibly tender and sweet from the ponzu sauce. Bright delicate citrus notes held up well against the meatiness of the pork and worked well contrasted by the woody asparagus. A humble cut of meat prepared simply prepared screams comfort food more than anything else.
Braised pork belly – A very generous portion of braised pork belly that was delicate, unctuous and left each mouthful coated with fatty pork sex like you just made out with a knob of butter.
The looks are deceiving; served in an earthenware bowl, shaved cabbage and micro-greens, I thought nothing of it… until I took a bite and went full Snoop Dogg from Soul Plane.
Traditionally prepared, seared then braised; the skin of the belly was caramelized and smokey. Nearly impossible to pick up with chopsticks, the pork was incredibly tender and juicy; eating with a touch of the grated ginger helped cut through the fattiness.
We also ordered the Kalbi – grilled beef short ribs. I’ve said before, that I’m a big slutball for grilled short ribs. Just the mention of short ribs and my legs start to spread. Bone in, (no pun intended) the thick cut beef ribs were charred and smokey. Garlicky in flavor, the ribs were coated in a sweet soy glaze.
I had my eye on this dish since the moment I saw it on the menu. Hamachi dol sot bi bim bap – A Korean influenced dish. A screaming hot stone bowl filled with seasoned rice, shimieji mushrooms, homemade kim chi, cucumber, slices of yellowtail tuna and topped with a raw egg yolk.
Served with a side of sweet and spicy sauce, we were instructed to pour it over top and mix up the bowl; the umami was off the charts. The sweetness from the sauce, tartness from the kimchi, savoriness from the mushrooms, bitterness from the charred rice on the inside of the bowl was all brought together by the broken yolk that made each bite creamy and delicious. My olfactory senses were being seduced with this Hamachi bi bim bap. This dish slid up, offered a drink then took my palate out back and had its way with it.
I’m glad I listened to my stomach and decided to revisit Kyo for a second time. Putting their best foot forward, Kyo wooed the crowd with fancified grilled beef tongue and miso marinated black cod and bacon wrapped shrimps; skillfully prepared, fresh and delicious, their description of “Sophisticated Japanese comfort food” rang true the first time around. But the heart of an izakaya lies in the simple dishes (which happens to be on the moderate end of the price scale) that Kyo has down like Bobby Brown. To bring the izakaya experience to the next level of “sophistication” or refinement, a solid foundation must be established to build upon. In Kyo’s case, their classic simple Japanese dishes is their testament to proper preparation to justify an elevation and pursuit of discernment in the world of Japanese pub grub.
Kyo Bar Japonais
711 Côte De La Place D’Armes