A visit to revered Chef Junichi Ikematsu, JUN I – Montreal

As I lately pride myself to orientate this food blog towards Montreal’s tables standing out of the pack, I naturally had to pay a a visit to a table that is highly regarded by most connaisseurs of the Montreal Sushi / Japanese food scene to fly ahead of it’s peers: Jun I, establishment of Kyoto’s born Star Chef Junichi Ikematsu.

Restaurant: Jun I
Addr: 156, avenue Laurier Ouest, Montréal
Cuisine: Japanese/Fusion
Event: Thursday May 27th Dinner, 18:00PM
Phone: 514 276-5864
Url:  http://www.juni.ca
Pros: A humble Chef. A table that’s among the very best (top 10 easily) in this City.
Cons: The sushis did not blow me away (but they are famous for their Asian-Fusion food. So, I have got to try this next time). I found Mikado’s sushis far superior to my taste. Here’s a rundown I did on major Mtl’s Sushi-yas.

I’ve always reproached Sushis in Montreal to roam a bit in the boring lanes, always within the same uni-dimensional styles…and this reproach is going to the upscale sushi spots…let alone the myriad of soporific average sushi offerings of this city, with their laughable myriad versions of makis. C’mon folks: Sushis, YES..no problem, but with extra miles into the Japanese food repertoire please…use a bit of ambition: I do not know..find out..go travel throughout Japan once a year..see how it evolves there…Out of Japan, go pay a visit to Nobu, Masa, Urasawa and come back… do something….the Oshizushi style of Sushi once in a while ?  or any other style / create, revolutionize…stop using the same ingredients from the same suppliers…stop thinking just about the western style rolls, vary, surprise, do something for god sake!!

Luckily, Chef Junichi Ikematsu is known to be “hard to beat”, in Montreal,  when it comes to  innovation, creativity and superb cooking technique. But what really interests me with Chef Ikematsu remains in the fact that he is famous to outshine it’s peers on two keys of the sushi equation: the quality of it’s ingredients + the efficiency of his cooking techniques (which reminds me that I should expect perfectionism from his part in the cooking of the rice, an aspect where I stand firmly and deeply picky since rice is the perfect ingredient to measure  ambitious cooking talent  in it’s full purity, versatility and creativity).

This evening, I purposely focused solely on Sushis and went with some classics + some few items to be widly known for being among some of their best sushis.

Kicked off with:
Unagi Dynamite – You can’t go wrong with those caramelized-looking smoky textured eels. They just have a natural tempting taste. I wish their taste was more upfront/daring here, but they were still good though. 
The mix of rice (loved the semi creamy texture of this rice and it’s mastered subtle sweetness) mixed with the rice crispies brought a welcoming playful touch that was very pleasant in mouth. Very good.  8/10

Spicy Kani Age – Enjoyable crunchyness of the soft shell crab. The shell crab on it’s own was tasty, with a loveable fried texture. Soya and cajun spice gave a nice exotic touch to the overall. Technically well concocted, but it lacked the extra punch I am used with it’s equivalent I had elsewhere. Good. 7/10

Then the multiple sushis plate that I had ordered: 
On that plate: Maguro sashimi, Sake sushi, Tai sushi, Hamachi in sashimi, unagi as sushi, bonatebi as sushi, Tobiko + Kani + Rising sun (as Gun Kan Sushi), Arc-en-ciel futomaki + Dancing unagi temaki:

-Hamashi Sashimi: It was fresh, sported a perfect texture. Tasty. Excellent. 10/10

-Maguro: I love my red tuna in Sashimi shape.My personal favourite sashimi btw. This piece was fresh, had the perfect texture I expect in my top notch maguro sashimi. Without reproach. Very good. PS: Sorry, I forgot to clean my plate from the soya left over. I was way too busy devouring that maguro and completely forgot about picture-friendly presentation. Ironically, it’s the piece that I wanted to shoot in the best condition.  8/10

-Sake sushi: Another common sushi. Good salmon (Fresh, nice texture) + the rice ideally cooked (not too creamy, not too grainy). Good 7/10

-Unagi Sushi: My personal glaze-grilled favourite. As already written about the previous Unagi dynamite, that meat has it all: enjoyable sweetness thanks to the kabayaki sauced meat , smokyness, great flavors + enjoyable taste. Very good. 9/10

-Rising sun sushi: my other favourite of this dinner, along with the Unagi + Dancing Unagi temaki. I found the topped small quail egg (fresh and delicious!)  to mix so well with the tasty fresh fish roe. The scallops added depth to the overall. It’s also an amazing work of harmonious complimentary ingredients that never fault together. Excellent! 10/10

-Kani. Preferred it in it’s Gun Kan sushi shape. Tasty and fresh crab (snow crab). Ok 5/10

-Dancing Unagi in it’s temaki shape: A medley of what I like the most: red tuna + eel, filled with amazing flying fish roe (tobiko), complemented by avocado and cucumber. Rich and tasty. Excellent 10/10

The rest was good enough: Arc-en-ciel futomaki (6/10)  did not seduce me but was filling and enjoyable with it’s meaty richness (crab meat mostly). Botanebi sushi was ok 6.5/10  (similar to it’s equivalent at most sushi places in this city).

This overall sushi dinner lacked sparkles. I had sushi dinners, in Montreal, with mas o menos most of the same similar classic sushi choices and they reached higher notes.
Next time I go there, I will opt for his omakase so that the Chef can freely unleash his creativity.

Service was impeccable + I like the Chef humble and very welcoming attitude.

It’s not a huge restaurant, and yet the layout is enoughly airy, well exploited:

Nice fusion between elegance, simplicity and a bit of the upscale bistroesque feel:

The bar, sports the perfect Zen deco, with blond wood and great lighting:

Pascale Girardin Ceramics
I found that cool that they encourage the work of a local ceramic artist, Pascale Girardin.
Here are some of her works, translated in cute ceramic plates that they use at the restaurant:

SO,  were those the BEST Sushis in Montreal?
Some of those sushis definitely pertained to the best that my tastebuds have sampled in Montreal (the Unagis ones + Rising sun), Indeed. 
The BEST? Hard to say. Since some sushis kinda matched those I had at Mikado and Sho Dan in terms of quality and freshness of ingredients +  technique of execution. Some few others were even surpassed.
With that said,
let’s remain rational: with such prices (they are relatively not that $$$ for such quality Sushis), NO one should expect Jun I to be the Masa or Ryugin of Montreal. Most would not accept paying for Masa or Ryugin material in this city. Not too sure if  a restaurant would dare offering such $$$ in Montreal anyways. But the point here is that those upscale top Japanese/Sushi spots of Montreal would gain from inspiring themselves from giants like Ryugin. Jun I is very good, in many ways truely at the top of the Montreal Sushi spectrum, BUT it needs to bring more in my personal opinion: perhaps going beyond the usual sushi fares + it’s fusion fares, and bring some traditional tastes of Kaiseki, Wa shoku too. And above all, truely outshining the Montreal top Sushi / Japanese fare scene by stepping up to newer unseen (not yet  covered in Montreal) levels. It’s not a reproach, but a constructive suggestion because if Montreal wants to surpass itself in terms of Japanese fares, it’s not the average joe blow Chef that will make that happen but hugely talented Chefs like Chef Ikematsu!
Back to the strict sushi fares, there are also ingredients I would like to see them serving:
this summer I’ll call them to see if there’s any chance they serve  Katsuo for example (I know it’s a tuna that’s a bit $$$ and rare, but absolutely worthy. A must on a good sushi table). I’ll check for Anago too (I personally prefer the sea water eel over Unagi). Also: amuse with say, a grilled shitake sushi for example. And when I talk of “Sushi Yes…and go beyond sushis too”,  I mean offering little treats like a favourite broth: the matsutake tobimushi? Serve a Yuba Chawamusha? Try Dried/Grilled fish (sakana-no-hoshimono/yakizakana), grilled Shishamo fish (it’s mostly shipped from Canada!), Inarizushi? Anyways, the idea is NOT to do an inventory of what could be added on this table…nor suggesting to bring Nantaimori/Nyotaimori to Montreal, that is not the point and by no means realistic, but to expand the experience to the larger Japanese food repertoire.
What about his French fares with oriental touches: I know, Jun I is also about fusion but it is for it’s Japanese touch that I went . SO, Let me know how your experiences with Jun I’s fusion fares turned out to be?
Looking forward to discover a lot more from Jun I’s: It’s rare that I left a restaurant with the need to go back and discover more from it. It’s the case of Jun I. I want to go back soon and try an Omakase there. This time, I would like to seat at the bar, contemplating the Chef at work. And why not: perhaps an another visit for it’s French/Oriental fusion. 
Food for thoughts to ALL the top Sushi Chefs of Montreal: Give a bit of break to the endless western re-interpretation of Sushis and Japanese fares. I do understand that the huge majority of your customers are fond of the latest cutie maki, which is fine and I encourage you to keep up with that too, but you can’t rely on just such: If I was a top Sushi Chef of Montreal, I would go right to NY and dine at Masa. I would then –no need to go way over to Japan — stay on this continent and pay a visit to  Urasawa, California. And next thing you know is that I would fall in full embarassment! Again, I know I would not be able to charge what Urasawa commands in Montreal…but the huge tri-decade apart gap between what is going on abroad Vs what we have here makes no sense!

ありがとう (Arigatō)!

PROS: Among the few most authentic and better sourced sushis you may in town
CONS: Re-read the entire article! Where I was less impressed, I clearly stated it. With that said. this is easily a top-tier sushi place in Montreal. In October 2011, after less impressive sushi meals at my past favourite sushi-yas in town, I came to the conclusion that Jun I was indeed in the top 3. In 2012, it became clear in my mind that Jun I is the best of all Montreal sushiyas.

Thanks for reading, Aromes.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: Upon publishing my review on Jun I, many fans of this restaurant wrote to me expressing their admiration for this well known place and also their disagreement with some of my views. I get it: Jun I is very popular and as such, I too do expect it to shine at the heights of his popularity. I was personally impressed by the humility and genuine personality of their Chef. A Great man that many would like to have as a friend, for sure. I was also impressed by the amazing courteous, polite, friendly and yet professional service. But I also went there for the amazing food they are well known for, and that this entire city is raving about. The best sushis, was I reminded, the most talented Japanese Chef, etc. I have no doubt about Chef Junichi Ikematsu talent. I am actually a big fan of him and I do consider him, indeed, as one of this city’s best Chefs. I have no doubt that he can cook among the best food in town. But my current report is neither on Chef Ikematsu’s talent nor his cooking in general. It is about this one specifically reported dinner and what had to be reported was: it was good, but not great! With that said, they have way more than just sushis and next time I visit Jun I, I’ll sample the French-Japanese fused fares + their tasting menu served at the bar.