7 1/2 out of 10
Note: This restaurant has been renamed, and has not been reviewed since re-opening. The chef and staff have remained the same, and apparently so has the menu.
After swearing that there are no good, affordable sushi restaurants in Montreal for one year, I stand corrected...somewhat. I've been on a search for unpretentious (read: "fusion"-less), simple, quality, traditional Japanese cooking. This is more than sushi, yes, and a big difference does need to made between the two, but finally I have found a restaurant that at least serves home-style dishes in a welcoming atmosphere.
Lunch here is a Montreal bargain. Reservations recommended, because the small room fills up, you'll be pleasantly surprised that lunch won't cost you $20. Yes this is ridiculous. $20 is a lot for a lunch and averaging $10-$15 at lunch, this place isn't exactly cheap, but for the standard sushi combo of 5 nigiri, 3 cucumber maki and one handroll, accompanied by a very mayonnaise-y salad and average miso soup, the low price of $10 is very acceptable. To go for Combo A (the mixed sushi/salmon teriyaki/rice/vegetables deal for a whopping $15 is committing yourself to feeling very full.
Let me get the low points out of the way so I can get back to why this is a good restaurant.
First, there is MSG in the teriyaki sauce. You know that thirsty and not quite-quite-full feeling you get after Chinese food or Vietnamese soup? MSG is a flavour-enhancer and it's not exactly the best thing to put in your body...but neither is alcohol...we all make exceptions. So it's not homemade, or it's "homemade" from other bottles of sauce. My guess on what their teriyaki sauce contains is: Mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine), soy sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar, sake, garlic, maybe onion powder. Even bottled soy sauces can contain MSG-oyster sauce, black bean sauce. Mirin, at least the brands available in Canada, even contains corn syrup. Isn't that what you use to make candy? This is sadly standard, but delicious. Everything in moderation??? Sure...right...
The tuna was alright. After sushi in Vancouver I'm a tuna snob. No maguro here will ever make me happy. No toro (fatty tuna), either. There was nothing great about it, but it was fresh. In my opinion too much scallion was placed as a garnish on a special twin set of toro offered by the chef. I often take the chef's hands as gospel when they decide how much wasabi and garnish should be placed on individual nigiri. They should know how much the fish needs to not overpower the natural flavour, but it certainly felt like the fish flavour was trying desperately to hide under the little circles of green. Probably just an oversight, as the wasabi under the fish was the right amount.
The salmon is okay. Not great. Just okay. Yes, I can buy better salmon (organic Pacific that tastes like butter) at a decent fishmonger, like Poissonerie Antoine or Nouveau Falero, but the scallop nigiri was the best I've had in the city. Salmon is the easy one to get, albeit expensive, but Osaka deserves credit for it's other fish.
Which brings us to the good things:
The rice. The rice was perfect. Correctly cooked, flavourful, not smushed or crushed beyond resuscitation.
The red snapper was good. It didn't taste like rubber. There's definitely something to be said for that. There was an actual flavour and a tender texture.
Normally it's all about the food and I can excuse poor service but here the service was a highlight and improved the quality of the meal. I felt welcome. The server was helpful and efficient. The chef was obviously experienced but friendly. He had the customer's stomachs in mind. I like feeling like my stomach is well-cared for by good food from good people.
The menu also offers tuna don, sukiyaki and char-grilled chicken teriyaki. Everything was just a lovely step above a standard sushi restaurant. A little extra care here and there, made all the difference.
Expect to pay: $15 at lunch, $30 at dinner, plus sake or sapporo