Park restaurant, Montreal – I’d perhaps opt for the omakase + the bouillons are fabulous here

Click here for a recap of  my picks of all Montreal’s top fine dining & best Montreal’s bistrots. 
Also: My  3 and 2 Star Michelin restaurant review web site
Most recent reviews: Maison Boulud, Café Sardine, Restaurant Helena, Brasserie Central, Restaurant Mezcla, Hotel Herman, Lawrence.

Like anyone who has cooked seriously for years, I could set just one bar and claim that whatever restaurant who reaches that bar is great, the rest is average. Had I done that, I’d break the very first rule that motivated me into sharing with you: trying, in the best of my ability, to be as accurate as possible. Had I done that, I’d never realized that even on lesser impressive meals, there can be hints of brilliance. Between the tons of praises  and  some friends opinions who did not seem to have liked it, I found this visit to Park to be very interesting: to some, words and opinions  are influencial. To me, they just motivate me into full focus, ultimate search of pure accuracy and only the experience on the field matters. Enjoy!

Park is the restaurant of Chef Park who was previously the Chef at Kaizen, an upscale  sushiya downtown (Yul)l. Mr Park has now opened his eponymous own restaurant in the wealthy neighborhood of Westmount (a restaurant that he owns with another associate). Since its opening in February, Park has enjoyed rising star status with many food journalists considering it as the finest of the current sushiyas in Montreal, a position on which I’ll provide my own views in the conclusion of the current post.

The minimum  that I  should expect from a good sushiya is applied here: seafood  is carefully selected as it should, all condiments made on the premises. The sushi technique is   good, to Montreal standards, but not necessarily ahead of the pack. The non sushi aspect of my meal gave me the interesting opportunity to appreciate Park’s creations through a new angle (up to now, I had never sampled his cuisine other than from his sushis creations at Kaizen, and here on an initial visit).

The kitchen  here offers sushis, as well as a mix of korean/french  offerings with at times, even latin american influences: for eg, chimichuri/jalapeno on top of nigiri. I  have already sampled his sushis at Kaizen in the past, thus my decision to not stick to sushis only.  I decided to give carte blanche to the kitchen for a tasting menu left at their discretion . To me, there is nothing better than to let the kitchen serves you what they judge best to offer on the spot. It is the way to go with the best Chefs in town. Therefore I picked the $85 omakase, for an overview of this kitchen’s offerings.

Tomato soup, mushroom, grilled bio chicken  showcased exactly what I am willing to pay for, at a restaurant:  a depth of complex flavors that excite in mouth, with a work of  texture that is superior to the standard good restaurant  food items, produce of very high quality as expected at those prices. I know that an Omakase is not cheap, thus I want to see where my money has gone, and  that exercise covers every single item that I am served. I could indeed find a first justification  to that cost, here. That was delicious,  its execution pertaining to the grand table standards, and the flavors did exactly what I do expect from an omakase: transport me closer to Asia. Furthermore, no shortcut is taken on this item: the creativity and on-the-spot inspiration that I do expect from a tasting menu left at the discretion of the Chef  (omakase) are strong features of this soup. Certainly not an ordinary soup, that one I was having   8/10

Scallop, dashi / sake bouillon – The stock of dashi with its hint of sake was my first introduction to  their work of the bouillon, an aspect that is,  to me, extremely important in making an opinion about  the ability of a kitchen. The fabulous bouillon was simply a lesson in the art of making the stock:  the perfect amount of heat, the right balance of flavor, the stock impossibly perfect on this meal .  An exciting bouillon, and …not  the sole star of the dish: the large scallop was also a show-stopper for its impressive depth of marine freshness, a texture and sear so glamourous that I  thought it was prepared for a photo shoot, its taste simply divine. I was born on the shores of the Indian Ocean, a treasure of stunning seafood, thus I tend to be a bit picky with seafood produce, but that one, on this evening… What a scallop, that was! Easily the most impressive  scallop dish I ever sampled in Yul, and I am taking the “big guns” into account, here 9/10

Then an array of nigiris (uni, albacore, etc) – The quality of the produce is there, the rice nicely done,  Chef Park clearly knowing how to make a sushi tasty,  but although   Montreal  is not a sushi destination,  I was somehow personally more taken  by sushis at places like the now-closed Katsura, recently Yasu in Brossard, or what Chef Park himself was actually  doing in his days at Kaizen.  I found Park sushis (I had more of his sushis on a first visit here, a while back) to be good, but not great, nor excellent, nor exceptional   7/10 . And in total honesty, although my review of Jun I did not sound enthusiastic, to me no one is beating Jun I on Yul’s sushiya scene as of lately. 

Next, a trio of  sashimis (amberjack, albacore) bathed in a bouillon- This was a world class dish, with again an again, very impressive bouillon (a dashi bouillon) and prime fish morsels of remarkable succulence. Whoever is making those bouillon and has pushed  those sashimis to such delectable heights is a cook of great talent. Many will tell you ‘ is just how you marinade it…’, to which the answer should always be “Ah…so how come only few can really deliver a stunning one, then…??”” — Furthermore, what has also impressed  me with this  Omakase…right up to this dish…. is that genuine feature of being really transported in Asia through fantastic exotic flavors. 10/10   

Black Salmon, Daikon, butternut squash puree – The most westerner item (of course, I love western food…but this is an omakase! so, keep the oriental flavors at the forefront as on the previous dishes) of the omakase, along with the next  dessert,  and perhaps not at the heights of the previous spectacular item , but the kitchen continues to show consistency with cooking  that is on point and clever ingredient and flavor combinations. Even if this dish was a 10/10 — which it is not, in my view (it essentially was as well conceived as I’d expect it from any very good contemporary French bistrot restaurant dish  in town) — my point would remain unchanged: there is certainly no shortage  of possibilities to  perpetuate the initial omakase spirit as anything from an inspired outstanding tempura or a kick-butt shabu shabu  –to be, of course, inserted at the proper stage of the progression of the omakase —  would have kept the magic brought by the scallop and sashimi dishes, alive. A butternut squash purée is certainly not a way to keep the exotism and creativity at play. Notice that I am not asking for the moon, here.  If I had to use an analogy to sports, my feeling is that  the kitchen, on this omakase, had brilliantly (analogy to the scallop and sashimi dishes) covered the first part of a 100 meter race but ran out of inspirational steam (this dish, then the next)  towards the end. Furthermore, an important aspect of an omakase is the plating, which the kitchen beautifully used at their advantage on the earlier dishes, but the classic plate of this course as well as the verrine of the next do hardly fulfill the visual plating playfulness that omakases are known for  8/10

Rice pudding, chocolate ganache – Clearly, the brigade on this evening is not an amateurish team and they do their things well, which means good technique, good palate, good sense of flavor and ingredient combinations, good work of the textures. The minimum for a good restaurant indeed, but alas even some grand tables do not seem able to always understand those basics. With that said, a good meal starts on good grounds, which is the case of this meal I am reporting about, and then should head in ‘worth to pay for category’, which this meal also did through  the trio  of sashimis  and the fabulous scallop (excitement, technique). But it has to keep you excited till the end, which was unfortunately not the case here, given  the less spectacular last two courses. So,  although this dessert of rice pudding and its choco ganache are unarguably   well conceived (good 7/10) , I found the overall dessert more appropriate to a contemporary French bistrot rather than an  ending note to an Omakase. Yes, I know they do fusion food, but on an Omakase I want  to travel through Asia all along my meal. The initial tomato soup, scallop and trio of sashimis  did shine exactly where this dessert seemed to have missed an opportunity: pulling off an inspiring depth of creative Asian flavors (contemporary, for sure, but Asian)! There are rice puddings in Asia, but this had  the  mouthfeel of a typical western style rice pudding. If the idea is to insist on rice, then I’d personally have preferred a simple sakuramochi, or even better, a creative contemporary take on it, in place of this rice pudding dessert.

Service: I was lately impressed by the service at many Montreal restaurants, for ie: the two fun (in their very own different ways) gentlemen at Hotel Herman, the amazing Melissa at Mezcla, the remarkable Etheliya at Lawrence. But on this evening, the perfection went one notch up. Geneviève, my main waitress, has worked at DNA (now closed) — a place that was known for top clas service —  before and it shows: polite, efficient, a pro with my great surprise …skills that would send most sommelier-e-s to shame. The rest of the team was also very professional, smiley, accomodating. Top service on this evening

Decor: Neo-rustic type of bistrot, no tablecloth, high ceiling, cement floor, plenty of woody touches, a mix of casual bistro-style tables and couple of booths, the latter adding a touch of formal elegance to the otherwise overall informal bistrot feel of the  place.  There are two bars: the sushi bar as well as a conventional bar.

PROS: The fabulous tomato soup, scallop, trio of sashimis and bouillon on this specific omakase. They carried an exciting depth of contemporary oriental flavors.
CONS: The ‘less oriental’  mouthfeel of the black salmon and rice pudding broke the momentum imparted to the omakase by the fabulous initial items. But this can easily be fixed. As for the sushis, they are fine. No doubt about that, but I don’t agree with the claims that they are the best in town.

Overall food rating: For the better dishes of this Okamase, easily an 8 over 10. The  first 3 items (tomato soup, scallop, the sashimis) being not only strong on  the technique, but also for the palatable excitement as well. And the “bouillons” of this omakase (an essential element in cooking, sadly overlooked ..with time)  were of world class material.  Had the Black salmon and rice pudding continued the fabulous journey that has started in Asia…I’d be floored! In the genre and strictly regarding the food, Kazu remains my favourite eatery in YUL (for this price, I could pick several of their daily offerings at Kazu and arrange  a competitive omakase from the 1st dish to the last.

CONCLUSION:  The Omakase is pricey, as you might expect from any multiple-course of quality seafood, thus I am afraid that price will affect  proper evaluation in some instances, but if I focus on pure food enjoyment, the three star dishes of this  omakase  obviously showcased a strong performance worth of the price I paid, as far as I am concerned. Yes, the two last dishes had no business featuring on that omakase (I mean, it goes without saying that an Omakase should be exciting, inventive  and exotic till the very end) , but the first three kinda filled the gap. The only thing that I do not share with most opinions over the web is regarding the sushis, in general (I did try them a while back at Park, and for the 2nd time on this evening through his nigiris):  they are good, but the suggestion that they could be the best in town will never come from me. I never went to this place on lunch, therefore can’t tell if the level of cooking is as strong as on this evening’s omakase, although  some samplings of their online lunch menus show more affordable offerings.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER – Not to be compared to what’s done in Asia: not the same land, not the same demand, not the same competition, etc. But of course, a very good dining destination by Montreal standards. As long as  the focus is kept on delivering exciting oriental flavors from the very first to the very last bites.  I’d drop the the fusion part of the food (for example, French/Asian fusion items like the black salmon or that rice pudding): way too many places are doing just that, so depending on some mood, lol, some may find that segment to be ordinary. It is not cheap, for sure.