Despite being an affluent community minutes away from downtown Montreal, the City of Westmount has very few restaurants (I can pretty much count all of the worthwhile places to visit on one hand). In fact, while not that great a place, The Wellhouse, has recently shut its doors, leaving the area with one less place in which to dine at. On Thursday March 1st, Westmount gets a shot in the arm as Chef Antonio Park’s exquisite Park Restaurant opens it’s doors to the public.
It’s very rare that I’m ahead of the curve when it comes to brand new or happening restaurants in Montreal. I had no idea that Park was arriving, nor did I have any clue that Antonio was secretly holding a two week long soft launch right under my nose so when the opportunity presented itself to try the new restaurant before almost anyone else, I jumped on it.
It all started a couple of weeks back when @FoodChick101 put out a tweet looking for adventurous companions:
I want to try @ChefAntonioPark’s new resto: Park, on Victoria. Anyone wanna join me this week or next? #foodieadventure
Being a resident NDGer, I knew there was no new restaurant on Victoria near Sherbrooke. Even driving down the street didn’t help hamper the mystery since I couldn’t see any new place with the name Park.
I was officially intrigued and so began the #foodieadventure.
Park is Chef Antonio’s (of Kaizen fame) baby. It’s nestled on the ground floor of Westmount’s growing Victoria Park health complex, where the now defunct Vic Market was located. As described on the restaurant’s Facebook page:
Executive Chef Antonio Park is known for his use of time-honored Japanese techniques applied to the finest seasonal western ingredients. His seasonal menu and specials will feature gluten-free noodles, Western and Asian organic salads, buckwheat buns, brown rice bowls and healthy Bento Boxes with a full-service bar including signature cocktails.
Fast forward to Thursday night February 23rd when I meet @foodchick101, @toulastake, and @gluttoners at the restaurant’s sushi bar. We spent the following 3 hours watching Antonio prepare the best Japanese cuisine and sashimi I’ve ever seen or tasted.
And so began an evening of education, laughter. and a tasting menu filled with outrageously fresh and delicious Japanese creations:
First up, a carrot soup with a Hokki Gai broth.
Hokki Gai means surf clam and so, I was expecting a very sea-like taste to the soup. Instead, the broth managed to dilute the carrot flavor enough so that what was left was a very smooth and subtle carrot soup. Simple and delicious. It was a good start to the meal and interestingly enough, everything that came after was even better.
Next up, Kampachi sashimi with a chimichurri sauce
Kampachi is a red tropical fish that is part of the amberjack fish family. This was by far my favorite plate of the night and it had everything to do with the chimichurri topping. Amazing. It added a wonderful little tang to the already out of this world fish.
The next plate was Irish organic salmon drizzled with maple syrup before being torched for a few seconds then finished off with a dollop of avocado.
This was really good. I always enjoy salmon but it’s never been my favorite raw fish. The avocado sauce helped since it was so damn tasty, plus, you can never go wrong with anything infused with maple syrup.
The next plate up was a one-two punch of red Hawaiian big eye tuna sashimi with a sweet onion and carrot sauce topped with Japanese mint and B.C. white albacore tuna sashimi with a basil sauce.
I love raw tuna. Always. So these were great. Mint on the other hand? Not so much, and I really can’t put a finger on why. The thing is, the Japanese mint, which costs about 70 cents per leaf (I need to get into the Japanese mint business) was so soft and mild it succeeded in adding a little oompf of freshness before receding into the background as the taste of the tuna and sauce took over.
If this meal were a Michael Bay film, this is where the ‘shit just got real’…
The next plate was a Kushiyaki in a bowl full of mixed fun.
Kushiyaki means mixed brochette. The skewer held a brussel sprout, a shrimp, and a chicken ball. It lay on top of Japchae (sweet potato noodles) and was joined in the bowl by additional brussel sprouts, grilled red peppers, and a carrot wrapped in chicken chorizo. Need I say any more?
Then we cleansed out palette with a hamachi (similar I believe to amberjack) ceviche and peach truffle.
Then we had Kaimin Tai (Acupuncture Snapper) with a thin soya sauce glaze.
Before Antonio carved into the fish (it’s always fun to watch someone else, whose more adept at playing with whole fishes, actually prepare them) he explained why it’s referred to as ‘acupuncture’ snapper. It’s a red snapper that has been ‘murdered’ using tiny needles. This preserves the quality of the flesh and is supposed to enhance the texture. I’m no expert in this field but I can tell you it tasted great.
In case you’ve lost count, by this point, we’ve each had seven different plates and I’m halfway through my second beer. “I’ve had sufficient” would politely begin to describe the full feeling I’m experiencing. It’s not over though. The last plate (before dessert) is thrown down in front of us before we even know where it came from.
A black angus 1855 tenderloin drizzled with teriyaki sauce beside a papaya and celery salsa and nantas carrots. Antonio then proceeded to add a small spoonful of his homemade Japanese caper peppers (Arima Sasho) pickled in soya sauce (for 2 years!) to each of our plates.
I’ve never had a steak as tender as this one. I’d sell my first born to be able to experience that steak again. Adding a couple of those pickled peppers to each forkful was heaven. We asked what 1855 meant and apparently it signifies the upper 10% of the black angus bovine breed. In other words, crazy high quality and wonderfully tender meat.
Then came dessert, a plate Antonio calls “L’Etagere”.
I didn’t catch all of the different layers as he was explaining it but it was mainly built of pistachio and apricot cake with a coconut foam sidekick. It was delightful, and I hate desserts. I don’t have a sweet tooth at all so my instinct is to generally ignore them. The thing with “L’Etagere” is that the sweetness is extremely subtle. I don’t even know how to describe it except that it was the ultimate palette cleanser at the end of a great meal.
We capped the night off with a classy sake bomb.
Before I wrap-up, I’ll fill you in on a few of the downsides I noticed that night. The biggest draw-back was the atmosphere. Being that we visited during the restaurant’s soft launch, you could tell that parts of it were rough around the edges. The place was missing any signage except for a computer print out that read “Restaurant Park” on the glass entry door. Additionally, the physical menus were far too simple for the type of place it is (just one step up from print outs as well) and there was a ladder standing up against one wall. Take all of this with a grain of salt as I’m sure when the place is in full swing, all of this will be neatly attended to.
Warning: Park is not cheap. You certainly get what you pay for so you shouldn’t be worried about getting bang for your buck, but you should expect to pay approximately $80-$100 per person if you decide to go with the tasting menu and order a couple of drinks. He does all his own stuff – soya sauce, mayo, marinated peppers.
The bottom line: Chef Antonio Park’s new restaurant is amazing. If you love raw seafood and Japanese cuisine, it’s a must visit. His passion for freshness and quality control (Antonio makes everything from scratch including his marinated peppers, soya sauce, and mayo) means you can’t go wrong. Add to that the insane flavor subtleties he uses in each of his plates and you really do get to experience the top tier fish in all of it’s glory. I would also recommend you sit at the sushi bar – it’ll make your meal just that much more fun as you watch Antonio work.
*I am not affiliated with Park Restaurant nor was this post commissioned by the restaurant.
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