Trust in your ingredients. Showcase the product. My enjoyment of the TV show Top Chef Canada has made these statements stick in my head to the point where they just sound like stupid TV buzzwords now. However, there is definitely something to be said for a more restrained approach – one where things are not overdone. The freshness and unique flavours of the ingredients are allowed to shine. Restaurant Park definitely falls into this category of locale.
Park is the brainchild of chef Antonio Park, formerly of Kaizen and someone I had heard many great things about. Funny enough, I’d had lunch there very shortly after the place opened and before word-of-mouth had actually developed. Fast-forward over a year later and I was back for dinner – very specifically for the Omakase, the chef’s tasting menu. When one comes to Park, this was apparently the way to do it. Simply let chef Antonio and his staff work their magic.
The first course was a Heirloom tomato soup with jalapeno and fried plantain chips. Now given this was a warm summer evening, the presence of a warm soup as a entree was a little odd but the flavours worked well enough. Nice sweetness of the tomatoes with the spicy of jalapeno mixed nicely. The consistency of the soup was nice and smooth all the way through. The fried chip added some crunch and the use of plantain added a little extra sweetness.
The second course was a zucchini flower stuffed with veal sweetbreads and tempura fried on a bed of heirloom tomato with 12 yr old Balsamic vinegar and natural yogourt. This looked so good that I forgot to take a picture before digging in so pardon the half-eaten one below. The sweetbreads were cooked perfectly. The tomatoes and the vinegar provided some acidity to balance the fattiness of the veal. The tempura added a nice crunch as well.
The next course was the Nigiri plate. This was the main event of the evening. Chef Antonio has a private fish import license so he brings over fresh, never frozen fish from places like Japan a few times a week. In some cases, the fish has been send over using Kaimin tai technique where the fish has been acupunctured to maintain a high level of freshness compared to traditional methods of killing and shipping fish. we were served 6 different kinds of fish – each on top of sushi rice and a small additional element/seasoning. The extra elements ran the gamut from a tapping leaf to chimichurri to marinated caviar to maple syrup and fresh wasabi. This was pretty much the freshest sushi I have ever eaten. Simple and elegant, there was no need for wasabi or soy sauce hence why there wasn’t any of the table anyway. The fish just fell apart in your mouth and the little extra each added a unique element but without overpowering the natural flavours of each fish. This Nigiri has probably destroyed my future enjoyment of Nigiri anywhere else in Montreal so I guess I will need to stick to maki rolls outside of Park.
The fourth course was fresh brown butter BC halibut on a plate of razor clams, radishes and Quebec corn. The overall technique and execution here was flawless. Beautifully fresh and flaky halibut with a wonderfully rich brown butter sauce. The combination of clams, radishes and corn add some lightness to the rich sauce. A very nice main course dish.
The final course was of course dessert. Chef Antonio served us Patbingsu, a Korean dessert of shaved ice and sweetened azuki beans. The flavours of the shaved ice were cantaloup, pineapple and watermelon and that was augmented with fresh fruits and hazelnuts. For me personally, this was the least successful dish of the evening. To be fair, I am not a fan of melons (yeah I know…. let’s just move on from here) so 2 of the 3 flavours didn’t work for me but the whole combination of everything felt kind of flat. No real punch or “wow” moment. A bit of letdown to finish the meal but the rest of the menu will eliminate this dish from my memory.
Omakase means “I’ll leave it to you” which in the capable hands of chef Antonio is definitely the right call. Everything Chef Antonio presents you shows a level of respect and reverence for the product which can only be described as elegant. Technique just shines through at every level. Restaurant Park is worth a visit if only to try the Nigiri or Sashimi but I suspect you will find other dishes to enjoy as well. Park may just have driven my sushi standards up a notch but if that means I have to come back more often for sushi, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
378 Victoria Ave.
514 750 7534