Now comes the very very best part of this entire trip and really, the best highlights of them all. Montreal and Quebec have long been on the lists of go-to destinations for gourmands everywhere and for good reason. There is a very strong and established history and identity with traditional dishes, an exciting influx of new chefs with new ideas and new innovations, and a multiculturalism and diversity of cuisines and culinary adventurousness. Pair all of this with some of the best, freshest, and highest quality produce and meats, and you have a culinary hot spot. But you don’t have to take my word for it (though you really should). Here’s what my culinary (and lifestyle) idol, Anthony Bourdain, has to say about this city.
I had a light lunch on the train heading into Montreal my first day because I knew I was going to be feasting straight from the get-go. My first stop late night after checking into my hotel would be Kinka Izakaya, only a block away from my hotel. Coincidence? You should know me better by now. Their Montreal location is the newest of this Japanese bar food empire which started in Toronto and has since expanded to other parts of Canada, Tokyo, and with an anticipated addition in New York. I’ve been to the one in Toronto back when I was a poor and struggling college student, and now I was prepared to return with a vengeance, wreaking havoc on their menu. I started with a gallop. A pint of Sapporo to wash down marinated jellyfish, beef carpaccio, and seared salmon. Jellyfish is a popular dish in Asian restaurants, especially bars. The texture is firm but has a slight bouncy give to it, making it fun to eat. It is a bit bland, but takes on flavors incredibly well. In this instance it was marinated with soy sauce, sesame oil, and sweet sake. It has that satisfying crunch that most people crave when drinking, and a slightly sweet but deep flavor from the sesame. The beef carpaccio is Wagyu beef slightly seared and then served with ponzu sauce, a light wasabi mayo, fried garlic chips, and daikon radish with green onion garnish. The meat was wonderfully tender with a strong beef flavor, expected of what is essentially beef sashimi. Swirling it a bit to pick up the complex salty sweetness of the ponzu really elevated the taste and the fried garlic and mayo rounded it out well. The vegetables even picked up some of that marinade and meat juices so I had no problems eating even the daikon. The seared salmon was served in the same ponzu, mayo, garlic combination as the beef though of course it had a completely different reaction. The salmon was super fresh and firm, with a great color and texture. The light sear on the outside and the still cool and raw center was a great contrast of texture, flavor, and temperature.
After the first round of dishes I was ready to really get into a party mood, so I ordered a flight of sake, rice wine from Japan. Kinka actually makes a house sake that was one of my favorites of the night. Crisp dry finish and a slightly sweet polished taste. Sake is categorized by how much of the rice grain is polished before the fermentation process. The more it is polished, the clearer the sake, and the more pronounced the flavor. But just like anything else, this is a game of preferences. Just because a sake is super polished (usually to around 50% of the original grain) doesn’t mean it is necessarily the best tasting. It’s all down to what you prefer, and the only way to figure that out is to try as much as you can! Over the course of the night I had two sake flights that helped me figure out my favorites. Kinka‘s original sake is highly recommended, as well as the Yawari which is a bit sweeter.
I drank because I ate, but now I have to eat because I just drank! It’s a vicious, wonderful cycle. So what better way to chase my sake flight and second beer than with another beer and more dishes? First I ordered their negitoro which, translated is literally ‘green onion’ (negi) with ‘tuna’ (toro). This is a popular sushi dish in many Japanese sushi bars, and Kinka turns it into more casual bar fare by serving it like a dip or make your own taco. The negitoro is finely minced Albacore tuna that is mixed together with some spicy mayo and plenty of green onions. You spoon a little (or a lot, it’s your party) onto the nori seaweed sheets, dip it into the soy sauce, and enjoy the bite size morsels that pack plenty of flavor. Just the right amount of heat is balanced with the green onion and there is nothing quite like the texture of roasted seaweed to bring out the best in fresh fish. I also had kalbi, which is admittedly a bit more Korean than Japanese, but who is going to complain about grilled marinated beef short ribs? The marinade is sweet and salty and the ribs are grilled with just the right amount of char and smoky flavor. The rib meat is chewy and firm (though for Asians this is a good thing, as we enjoy a bit of bite to our meat) but still yields well enough and peels right off the bone. It was also in the second round that I had the absolute highlight, must have, cannot be missed dish of all the Kinka establishments. You. Must. Have. Their. KAKIMAYO. ‘Kaki’ meaning ‘oyster’ and mayo. This is the BEST. Oh man. My mouth waters just thinking of it. Giant behemoth sized oysters are shucked and prepared with tiny button mushrooms, spinach, garlic, Japanese mayo, and cheese and then baked in the oven until the cheese is bubbling and and the oyster liqueur begins to simmer. The oysters themselves firm and plump up with a super concentrated flavor and that gratin like effect of the cheese and mushrooms makes this dish savory, salty perfection. Do. Not. Share. If you want this, and you’ll want this, get your own.
After this round I had another Sapporo and another sake flight, after which I was ready to wind down the night’s meal with juuust a few more dishes. Because it’s vacation, and what do we have on vacation if not license to live in the excess of what we deny ourselves normally. I begin the end with some kimchi udon. A fusion dish of chewy, firm, broad Japanese udon noodles mixed with a combination of spicy cod roe and kimchi, Korean spicy pickled cabbage. After the super savoriness of the oysters, this spice, as well as the crunch of the cabbage, was most welcome. In Japanese restaurants, it is not taboo to slurp your noodles, though it isn’t exactly expected or a ‘compliment to the chef’ either, as some click bait travel articles might have you believe. It is simply the way of doing things. The udon noodles are incredibly slick and smooth, and with the weight of the broad noodles and the length, they are particularly fun to slurp. In between noodles a bite of the spicy cod roe and kimchi will waken any dulled senses, and the green onion and nori strips serve as balanced accompaniment. No visit to a Japanese pub would be complete without some of the best fried foods to grace your cholesterol count. Japanese frying techniques have been elevated to art forms, from the world famous tempura, to the humble home style frying like ebi furai and kaki furai. First, karaage, fried chicken pieces served with a garlic mayo. You can see in the pic that these are not just some popcorn chicken to shake your fork at. These are giant pieces. Juicy thigh meat is cut up into sizable chunks and then fried with very little batter, so the skill of the person frying is important as there is no batter to shield the tender meat inside. Good karaage has a crispy exterior with a juicy tender interior. These pieces were just like that. Some bits of skin perfectly fried crisp, juicy dark meat, and that Japanese mayo is like sweet golden nectar on EVERYTHING. If you have not ever known the joys of Japanese mayo, I feel for you. Kewpie Mayonnaise. Marvels of the modern world, get that delivered. The last dish I had was the ebi furai. A simpler, homier version of shrimp tempura, ebi furai is battered deep fried shrimp with spicy mayo and served with fried shrimp crackers. I grew up with these crackers but for those who are not familiar, they are puffed up chips made with powdered shrimp that have a strong fishy taste. The ebi furai kept the shrimp inside juicy, tender, and plump and the fried breading had no excess oiliness or greasiness. A uniform texture with no overdone or underdone bits, perfect to be eaten tail and all. Oh yes, you have to eat the tail.
This was only my first night in the city, and honestly you would have thought I was in Tokyo. The entire environment and ambiance of Kinka Izakaya is incredible. You are greeted with the standard ‘Irasshaimase’ and a super attentive and cheerful staff. Orders are yelled out in Japanese and the open kitchen acknowledges in equally loud, forceful, and energetic cheers. Order a sake bomb and the staff lead you on a cheering ritual to drop shots of sake into a glass of beer. Great food, great staff, and an authentic and energetic environment really set the mood for a great trip. As I stumbled back to my hotel, full and happy, I knew this was going to be the beginning of a lifelong obsession and love with this city.
Man: 299 Loneliness: 33