It’s hard to believe, but sometimes our dear Sensei needs time apart from his favourite ladies. This usually happens every Sunday when he can be found sitting at the bar of his favourite haunt, Big in Japan Bar, affectionately referred to as BIJB. We’ve shown up on occasion, more often than not just showing up because we know where he will be and at what time. He claims that it is his sanctuary away from us but we know he’s just playing hard to get. One night when Diva #1 and Sensei were at BIJB, the famous owner and hospitable host started talking about his restaurant just down the street. Diva #1 had never been to the Big in Japan restaurant and we started making plans, Sensei only had great things to say about the place.
The Big in Japan restaurant is located on St. Laurent at the corner of Pine. Whereas the bar of the same name screams elegance and class with its low music, respectfully quiet clients (even us) and eclectic ambiance, the restaurant is more spicy and upbeat. The atmosphere in the restaurant is very casual – mismatched chairs, counter seating and fun tables fill the dining area. We sat at the oldest table in the house, 45 years old with the original paint job almost intact. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations unless you’re a group of 8 or more, so go big or go home!
André, the chef, host, owner, manager, bartender and general connoisseur of fine food and cocktails, greeted Diva #2 and Sensei who were first to arrive. All the while, Sensei kept muttering about the others being late. But Diva #1 and Sweet Pea arrived somewhat on time, a rarity for sure, though Vegan Vixen was having trouble finding parking and sent us murderous texts threatening to simply go home.
We poured over the menu, one item sounding more delicious than the last. Our waitress delivered a ginger mint sake ice, on the house. The ginger was very dominant and this would have been the perfect palate cleanser between dishes, had we not drank it so quickly. We started making a list of what we wanted to order, and we ordered a pitcher of their punch while awaiting Vegan Vixen. The punch was very refreshing, it was composed of sake, whiskey, lemon and a ginger chai tea; we were hooked.
Suddenly, a plate arrived at our table and soon, a second, but we hadn’t yet ordered any food! Oddly enough we received every dish that we had wanted to order and more; we were astonished and quite pleased. The edamame arrived first, Sweet Pea loves edamame beans, and if she sees them on a menu she orders them at least twice in a sitting. Seasoned liberally with salt and pepper, and topped with an oil based dressing, they were more exciting than the usual steamed edamame beans with salt. Of course Big in Japan restaurant needed to add flair to this traditional snack.
The soy caramelized chicken wings arrived next, as did Vegan Vixen in a murderous mood. The chicken wings, not something that we would have normally ordered, were absolutely delicious! Sprinkled with sesame seeds and covered in a salty soy glaze that was crisped up when deep fried, the meat was still moist and the wetnaps on the table came in handy!
Eerily, the next dishes that arrived on the table were all on our list. We’re not sure how they knew but we were happy with the choices placed before us! The braised veal cheeks were tender and served with chunks of red beets, mushrooms and potatoes. A touch of yellow curry sat on the side of the plate, and you could incorporate as much as you liked for added spice and flavour. The broth was a rich dark colour and very flavourful, perfect for dipping the herbed toasted baguette slice that arrived with the dish.
The next dish made Sensei smile like a school girl. And we understood why once we took a bite of the BBQ pork steam buns. Each bun was so soft but held the ingredients perfectly without falling apart. A large slice of tender pork was nestled with julienned cucumber to add freshness and plenty of crisp bean sprouts. The soy sauce pooling at the bottom of the plate was perfect to dip the bun into.
Another great dish was the Japanese pork pancake topped with a shrimp salad, something that Vegan Vixen could finally eat. The pancake was almost caramelized, stuffed with divine shredded pork and absolutely mouth-watering. The Divas love Okonomiyaki, and this version at Big in Japan restaurant is our favourite Okonomiyaki in the city. The cold shrimp salad on top was full of black eyed peas, asparagus, different beans, herbs, mixed greens and of course, fresh shrimp. The contrast of the hot pancake and the cold shrimp salad was perfect, slightly wilting the greens and offering a lovely combination of flavours.
We were eyeing the tuna tataki on the menu and were happy when it arrived at our table. The Big in Japan Bar has a few small plates to enjoy in between cocktails and we had tried the tuna tataki at the bar so we were eager to try it as a dish at the restaurant. Topped with a small salad, it was very fresh and perfectly seared on the outside, yet cool and raw on the inside, with red caviar and herbs sprinkled on top. The tuna tataki was served with sliced tomatoes, crumbled feta, and salty capers to incorporate a unique and seemingly nontraditional element to the dish.
Definitely feeling full, André came by to check on us and see how we were doing. He promised a few more dishes and we tried to pace ourselves. The pan seared black cod and scallops dish arrived with a teriyaki and Oba sauce. It was topped with a sweet fried kale which made Vegan Vixen happy, though she prefers her kale raw…but we absolutely adored it fried! Healthy eating is for when you’re home, going out for dinner is about over indulgence and richness; one must never forsake flavour. The cod itself simply flaked apart at the touch of the fork and the scallops were lightly seared, and both paired well with the sauce. It was all served with a mélange of crisp vegetables and caramelized cipolini onions that kept the dish light and fresh.
The crispy pork surprised us. Pork can be easily overcooked, but this time, the pork was moist and the coating was extra crispy. The sauce drizzled over the pork had a little tang to it and it was served with a salad of beans, asparagus, herbs and mixed greens. Never has pork tasted this good! Sensei was very happy that we were falling in love with Big in Japan restaurant, usually he is rather disappointed in us so we were glad to get his approval.
The last dish, curry braised pork belly, was a large portion topped with arugula and pickled ginger. The pork was cooked perfectly and melted in your mouth, and like several of the dishes, had a dab of yellow curry paste on the side of the dish to add a little extra to your bite. At this point we were so full that we took most of the pork belly to go. André returned to our table and told us that in the next few weeks he was changing parts of the menu, and we are more than intrigued to return and try their new dishes, as we were completely wowed by everything that we ate.
André came back to our table and invited us to head up the street with him to Big in Japan Bar. When it’s a busy Saturday night, there’s often a lineup to get in. We almost don’t want to tell you where it is because it is always so busy that we love our little Montreal secret. The graffiti ridden door only has the smallest sign with Japanese lettering; you have to know where it is to find it. Nestled between a pawn shop and pataterie, you walk down a long hall before it opens up behind these two shops; from the outside you cannot tell that there is anything but a door tightly placed between buildings. BIJB is a well-kept Montreal secret. You can find BIJB on St.Laurent and Rachel because of the line of clients trying to get in, but we snuck in through the side door with André. The bar itself is dimly lit and perfect for a date. We sat at the bar, Sensei’s usual spot, and spent the night chatting with André, enjoying the finest cocktails in the city and watching the bartenders expertly craft our many drinks. We remember when Matt P, now the head bartender, was just the sweet doorman; we had a great time with him at the bar.
We also did our best to help Sensei pick up a lady from across the bar. He was sitting with three women but he is never satisfied! We told him to buy her a drink and we tried our best to behave when she came over to thank him and invite him to a nearby bar that she and her friend were going to next. BIJB is just fantastic, with their absinthe fountain, old world charm, seemingly endless list of cocktails, knowledgeable bartenders, and André, he truly makes the experience divine. He is a man who loves what he does, and if you talk to him you will see that he runs both Big in Japan restaurant and bar with a passion that makes you love the two places all the more.
Diva #1 can say with certainty that though she loves a Hendrick’s Tonic, her repertoire of gin-based drinks has truly expanded at BIJB, thanks to Sensei’s suggestions and their expert bartenders. According to Sensei, the night always begins with Death in a Gulf Stream, Ernest Hemingway’s hangover drink, then on to a Negroni, then a Goldberg, which is their own special creation. Save the gin tonic for other bars, move on to the specialties at BIJB. The first time that she tried an old fashioned made with Booker’s Bourbon was at BIJB, as well as a variety of shots, cocktails and concoctions made by the artisans behind the bar. We just hope that everyone doesn’t start showing up on Sunday nights, or Sensei is going to get crabby that we outed his favourite place!
We had a great night that started at Big in Japan restaurant with fabulous food, and ended at BIJB up the street with the best cocktails in the city. We dare you to name us a better bar in Montreal for cocktails, Sensei has been looking and he hasn’t found one yet! We called it a night, Sweet Pea left with her Haitian Immigrant, Diva #1 and Vegan Vixen paired off to meet up with Vegan Vixen’s #TinderLove, while Diva #2 and Sensei ended the night like so many do after drinking into the wee hours, with hotdogs.
Our Rating: Always on Thursdays
Tagged: 3723 St. Laurent Boul., 4175 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Asian Cuisine, Asian Fusion, Bar, Big in Japan Bar, Big in Japan Bar Montreal, Big in Japan Montreal, BIJB Montreal, Black Cod, Braised veal cheeks, Cocktails, Crispy Pork, Curry Braised Pork, Edamame, H2W 1Y9, H2X 2V7, Japanese, Japanese Pancake, Montreal Bar, Montreal Food, Montreal Restaurant, Okonomiyaki, Plateau, Plateau Restaurant, Pork Steam Buns, Sake, Scallops, Soy Glazed Chicken Wings, St-Laurent Boul, Tuna Tataki