Montreal has a rich food culture, which we have enjoyed exploring during past visits. We love Québécois food and all of its maple meatiness, but we wanted to try something different and lighter after our hearty “Thanksgiving” dinner at Au Pied de Cochon. Many world travelers would have gravitated toward more popular restaurants such as Joe Beef, L’Express, Toqué or Toqué’s sibling Brasserie T. But we’ve previously experienced many of those restaurants for better (Joe Beef and Brasserie T) and worse (L’Express – a disappointment), and we wanted to experience new Montreal cuisine.
Enter Antonio Park. A trailblazing Montreal Chef who is, in his own way, redefining an already great yet still evolving food scene. His Park Restaurant serves some of the best sushi in Montreal, but it is so much more than that. Park also features an omakase menu that allows the chef and his team to flex their skills and show off their culinary chops.
The restaurant, which opened in February 2012, specializes in creative, organic Asian food with a Montreal twist. The dining room has a clean, contemporary design with huge blackboard menus and an open kitchen right behind the sushi bar.
Chef Park, who was hard at work crafting sushi during our dinner, was born in Argentina of Korean descent and did culinary training in Japan. He worked at top restaurants in Montreal, Toronto, Japan and New York before opening Park in Westmount. Plus, he’s also the only chef in the province to be licensed to import fish directly from Japan. He procures additional fish from all over the world, including British Columbia and New Zealand.
We arrived at Park after a two-mile walk from the Musee Des Beaux-Arts de Montreal (a/k/a the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) in downtown Montreal, where we had just seen the History of Impressionism exhibit. Once at the restaurant, we relaxed in the dimly lit, yet energetic modern room. The noise level of the room was just right with fun music playing at the appropriate volume – a dining rarity these days.
We opted for sake instead of the usual wine. We chose a chilled floral sake that proved to be an ideal accompaniment to the wide-ranging food. Sip after delicious sip, we knew that we could become huge sake fans.
Food at Park Restaurant
The first course was a comforting vegetable dashi flavored with kombu.
The second course was a layered, Napoleon-like creation with thinly shredded yellow beets, tomatoes, crabmeat and burrata cheese. Flavored with a rice wine vinegar, the dish was both sophisticated and delicious.
The third course was the highlight of the meal – the most original and tasty sushi that we have ever eaten. The sushi arrived on a long rectangular plate, family style, with all sixteen pieces paired and lined up next to a hunk of pickled ginger. We asked about soy sauce and wasabi, but the server advised that Chef Park had already added the appropriate amount of seasoning into each piece. (Interestingly, world-famous Chef Jiro Ono gave a similar response in his biographical documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a movie that we wrote about earlier this month.). Without exaggerating, the sushi, which included yellowtail, trumpet fish, mackerel and white tuna, was extraordinary. Our stand-out favorites were the hamachi with chimichurri and the torched salmon toro (belly) glazed with local maple syrup. The hamachi’s sweet, fresh flavors intermingled with the chimichurri’s acidity in a way that reminded us of ceviche. The salmon was buttery smooth and also satisfied our desire for maple while in Quebec. Each piece was uniquely presented, but the true uniqueness was the freshness. If only all sushi were so well sourced and prepared!
The fourth course was pan roasted duck breast with petit squash, wild mushrooms and parsnip puree. Though the course was normal sized, it was dramatically served on a plate large enough for Henry XIII. We apparently enjoyed the sake, as it was gone, so we each had a glass of Chianti to complement the duck course.
The fifth and final course was dessert – chocolate soufflé with yuzu infused cream, blackberries and dulce de leche. Though the flavors were spot on, the soufflé was not light enough for our tastes.
We will likely plan another visit to Joe Beef the next time we travel to Montreal. In a strange yet funny coincidence during the meal, we happened to notice Joe Beef’s Chef Fredéréric Morin eating at the sushi bar. Though we didn’t bother him, he seemed to be enjoying his food as much as we enjoyed ours.
Park Restaurant is located at 378 Victoria Avenue, Westmount, QC H3Z 2N4, Canada.