When a restaurant has a lot of hype, your level of expectation increases. Especially when it is a hole in the wall but everyone is swearing by it. This was the case with Kazu, the little Japanese restaurant on St. Catherine in downtown Montreal. The Divas kept hearing good things and on two occasions, we were too hungry to wait in their long line. Sadly this restaurant does not take reservations!
We finally decided to stop in on a Saturday after shopping. Kazu opened at 5:30 and we were planning on being early. Well, at least Diva #2 was early. Diva #1 is chronically late, though this time, she was somewhat on time. P’tit Frère came with Diva #1 but our two other friends were the late ones and we missed the first seating, so we waited in between the doors to keep our spot. But there was no air conditioning. And no air flow. We were in a sauna the size of a shoebox with 7 people, 5 friends and 2 strangers who were, according to Diva #1, using up too much oxygen. We were slowly melting.
Our “hangry” kicked in. We tried keeping the door into the restaurant open but they kept telling us to keep it closed so the A/C wouldn’t escape. We even tried convincing the waitress that the 2 strangers in the sauna had diabetes so they would let us leave the door open. We tried to stare down people through the window who were enjoying their food at a leisurely pace. We even kindly asked people (raised our voices in a shrill manner) if they were almost done with their meals and proceeded to glare at them.
Diva #1 even went insane and snapped at a waitress because the heat was getting to her and hangry had quickly turned into f*cking crazy. We finally got our table and had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to order since they had handed us a menu while we waited in line. The Divas and P’tit Frere were going to share while our friends, who had special dietary restrictions that the Divas could not handle, were going to eat on their own.
We started with the tuna tartare. It was served with salad and topped with crispy air puffed noodles which added a nice texture to the tasty fresh tuna. A refreshing and satisfying dish. This was not a huge dish but it was flavourful and the crispy noodles added a nice texture to the tartare.
We also had the tuna salmon salad rice bowl. As you can tell from the name, it was served on a salad of romaine and steamed rice. Different from what we’re used to, it was dressed with salad vinaigrette. The fish was chopped in larger pieces and we enjoyed the combination and the freshness. The rice was slightly hotter than room temperature so as not to wilt the greens and the plate was rather large. We did not finish it, we needed to leave room for what was next.
Our next dish was something that P’tit Frere had spotted while we were waiting in the sauna. The crispy BBQ chicken tortilla doesn’t sound like it would be something served in a Japanese restaurant but it was one of our favourite dishes! It was presented simply with a piece of chicken and tomato wedge on a tortilla to wrap it all in. It was served with a salad topped with a creamy dressing in the middle of the dish. The chicken was tender, the tomato added just the right amount of acidity and the salad was surprisingly a welcome addition. We could have eaten another plate of this!
At this point, the dishes were coming at us quickly. And while we appreciate the fast service, as Divas, we usually like to take our time to eat. We felt somewhat rushed to finish our plates so that the next one could be delivered. We were eating quickly, our table was small and we were running out of room! Too bad the service didn’t feel so fast when we were in line and getting murderous.
Next came the pork cheeks. We were a little hesitant since the menu described it as a paste but we’ll put just about anything in our mouths! It turned out to be a great dish. Served with soft tortilla triangles, which were perfect to clean up the plate, the pork cheek paste was smooth and savory. There was also a little hint of spice in the sauce which added a little unexpected kick. This was one of Diva #1’s favourite dishes of the night.
When the shrimp burger came we were pleasantly surprised at how big the serving was. The burger patty was made with black tiger shrimps and the bread was a regular hamburger bun. It was served with lettuce and tomato and was really just bursting with flavour. We’re sure Vegan Vixen would have loved it and the shrimp patty was fresh and homemade by Kazu.
The Okonomiyaki was next. We had heard about this Japanese-style pancake with the option of having it with vegetables or with shrimp. We opted for the shrimp. Served with a small salad and bonito flakes on top, it was a thick, soft pancake, with tons of shrimp. Diva #2 took a bite too fast and burnt her palate. Sometimes, the Divas never learn! It was very filling and we had trouble finishing it. Not something that happens very often but P’tit Frere was there to help us out. It was a delicious plate!
Our last dish was the grilled octopus leg. Hidden under a mountain of salad and diced tomatoes, the octopus tentacle was very tender and had a nice charred flavour to it. The diced tomatoes lightened it a touch. We had not even seen this as an option on the menu, but advertised on one of the many yellow 8½ X 11 sheets of paper that decorated the walls listing the specials.
In between all this food, our topics of conversation were somewhat varied to say the least. From P’tit Frere and his friend discussing existentialism, atheism and the merits of religious conversion, to our other friend telling the Divas that her idea of Heaven would have a lot of cream cheese waiting for her. The Divas are clearly not Heaven material and we’ve accepted that. Plus, we think we can add a little spice to Hell and anyways, we wouldn’t have any friends and family in heaven.
Our friends enjoyed the traditional sashimi which was sliced tuna with a marinated salad with sesame and wasabi dressing. It was tasty but the portion was surprisingly small in comparison to other dishes at Kazu that were much bigger. It was nonetheless delicious but there are better things to return for.
Our friends also ordered the traditional Japanese edamame, boiled and salted soya beans. Diva #1 had never tried this before so she stole one and snacked on it while she was awaiting her own food. But beans are beans and once again, there are better things to be had!
We ended our meal with two flavours of their homemade soft serve ice cream. We chose the green tea and the new maple pop rock flavour. Other options included plum, sake, coffee, etc. Both the maple and the green tea flavours were very good and they used a green tea powder rather than have it already incorporated into the ice cream, the taste of the green tea was strong but it made for great ice cream. The favourite of the meal was the maple, creamy and smooth with crystallized pieces of maple, it was delish. After our big meal, the small portion was just right though for the price, a little more ice cream would have been nice.
Other things to return for include the 48 hours pork bowl that is made with pork that has been stewed for 48 hours and the very mysterious chicken skin that was advertised on one of those sheets of paper on the walls of Kazu.
So did Kazu live up to the hype? Definitely. If you get there when it opens, you’ll avoid waiting in line but really, the food is delicious and a half hour or so wait will be worth it.
If you’re in the downtown area and want a quick casual bite of quality food, check out Kazu and see what it’s all about. Our only warning is that this is not the sort of place that you linger and take your time, eat and get out but boy do you get to eat!
Our Rating: Splendid
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