378 Avenue Victoria / Sherbrooke St
Cost: $ 230.71 (3 persons, including tip and tax)
Cuisine: Japanese, Sushi with Mix South American flavors
Chef Hats: 3.5
Victoria Avenue in Westmount has a special place in my soul; it is the place I healed. For five years I worked on this quiet Westmount Street and had the best years of my life. I grew as a person, ventured forth and discovered new skills. I walked the street daily and visited all the shops, chatted and made friends with many interesting people. I further mastered my skills by taking lots of cooking classes at La Cucina with Max Pompei, shopped at the Metro supermarket daily and ate at all the little restaurants lining the Victoria and Sherbrooke street. Long gone is The Mess Hall, Scola Piatto, Sapori Pronto, La Transition, even the Crossroads is gone. I met lots of great interesting people that are cemented in my memory. It was a real growing curve and I will never forget it. When I left it in 2005 with a sad heart I returned a few times to reminisce about what was. So in 2012 when I heard that the area had gone through a few changes I have been meaning to return to my old digs and see what had become of the neighborhood.
Enter Chef Antonio Park and his new restaurant by his last name. Having garnished quite a reputation since quietly opening in February 2012, Chef Park has added to his roster this year two more restaurants Lavendria and Jatoba, it was time I pay the restaurant a visit. With Brains and Frenchie in tow we headed there one late afternoon for shopping trip to visit Jonathan Cheung at Appetite for Books to purchase some classic cookbooks that I had wanted to acquire for some time to complete my collection; and an eminent pit stop for early dinner at Park’s.
The restaurant is tucked behind a row of cedars on the street level in an industrial building housing the Victoria Park Spa. The decor is loft/warehouse style with open cement ceilings and hanging ventilation ducts and lighting. A simple decor with white walls, dark wood tables chairs, banquettes, blackboards (no menus), and L shaped wine bar. Very simple for a renowned world chef making big headlines across the board, but his creations are nothing but simple, with its intricate displays of fish, meats and sushi. Best seat in the house is the counter at back sitting in front of the chef watching him create his magic. A show in itself, you will be mesmerized.
This evening we arrived early to an empty restaurant and got to sit in a large banquette facing the window. Regal! Our waitress Michelle, so patiently repeated the menu and explanations as the blackboard was not visible from where we sat and there are no menus here to ponder for hours.
We started with half Hakutsuru Sake, at $ 14.00 for Brains and I, a bottle of Mineral Water to cleanse the palate in between meals and a glass of Cabernet for Frenchie at $ 16.00, very steep and grossly overpriced. Brains decided to go with her favorite bowl of Edamame beans and I opted to share a deconstructed salad with Frenchie at $23.00.
The huge deconstructed salad came on a large rectangular plate, it may seem overpriced but it was huge and easily was shared by three and with lots of leftovers. Simply divine and beautifully created and paired with right ingredients. We were served three sauces to top off our greens, a composite of shredded lettuces, cabbage, broccoli, green peppers, carrots, squash, Mesclun salad, beans, celery and scallions.
We had a difficult choice to make in terms of main meals, as we definitely wanted to try the sushi, but were also temped with the short ribs, and angus Steaks dishes. But having heard that Park serves the famous Kaimin Tai Fish, or acupuncture fish, we were tempted to go with the sushi. Park is one of the first that brought this type of fish to Canada from Japan. A novelty in itself, the fish is still alive when it gets to Montreal. Let me extrapolatehe fish is actually induced into a coma-like state by inserting acupuncture needles in it, a humane method of killing fish developed by the Japanese in 2005 in their constant quest for freshness. The restaurant is the only one nationwide that carries Kaimin Tai; the fish is so fresh when it arrives to Montreal that it has been said that its eyes are still as clear as if it was fished a minute ago. It still holds its shape and its organs are still perfectly intact. Chef Park serves his acupunctured pink snapper topped with chimichurri, homage to his native Argentina. The tart flavor of the chimichurri is a perfect complement to the sweet fish. Last summer Neil Patrick Harris and Katty Perry dined at Park just to have his famous dish.
So we opted for Two sushi platters, the Special Maki at $ 35.00 and the Sashimi (18 pieces) at $ 39.00 and a Beef Teriyaki at $ 29.00 for Frenchie. The Sashimi came with five types of raw fish, salmon, sea bream, mackerel, albacore and yellowtail tuna. Mixed with vegetables, greens and sliced ginger and rice, each individual slices morsels between 4-5 pieces each were super fresh , and accompanied with four different sauces. Totally delectable and different. Brains, said it was the best she ever tasted and she has eaten lots of sushi.
The Maki platter came with eight pieces of sushi, resembling Dragon eyes, warm and with a crispy exterior and totally tender and utterly tasty. It was beautifully presented on a wooden chop block, atop a thick sweet ponzu type sauce garnished with jalapeño peppers. It was spicy enough and very addictive, but a stunning display of technique and balance of tastes. I was stunned with the quality and presentations. As the witching hour approached the restaurant started to fill up. The place started to buzz, every seat in the house was taken and we felt an urgency to hurry up.
We decided to order a pot of green tea to complete our meal and go out into the cold. I thought our waitress was going to drop dead. Extremely friendly, the color in her face had suddenly changed. She hesitantly accepted our order but returned minutes later to advise us that she did not want to be rude, but the line outside had gotten long and we needed to clear our table for 7:30. Feeling a little rushed we gulped our tea, but it left us with a sour taste in our mouths. I tried not to let us spoil the perfect meal, but Frenchie was none too impressed.
My experience at Park could have gone better. The fact that I was not able to see the menu and know what I was eating was not too conducive for the Foo Foodie. That is why you need to sit at the sushi bar and ask lots of questions. I did not get much of an explanation and came to here to have the house specialties and somehow felt I missed out. At the price we paid, I feel we could have walked away feeling a little more welcome or gotten more out of the experience. The time in Westmount has changed, out with the old guard of every customer is like family and in with the new “you are just another number attitude”.
Not that this will sway me from trying out his new restaurant next door or any of his other ventures. I am stubborn and when I set my mind to something it has to get done. I don’t scare easily and become adamant to prove myself wrong. That maybe it was a one time incident that was not handled appropriately, I can live with that. Twice shy, third time out. Then I get vocal.