We don’t realize how lucky we are in Montreal. Not every city can boast about having such a wide variety of ethnic food that helps to sever the divide between different cultures while pleasing our taste buds. We probably haven’t even stopped to appreciate that Asian food, in particular, is so rampant these days that it has become a natural extension of our North American diets. Just try walking into a modern French or Italian restaurant today and not notice the Asian influence in their dishes &- practically impossible. Elements of Asian cuisine are everywhere and this month’s column is a shout-out to three diverse and affordable spots that I can’t get enough of lately.
5 Saisons Sushi
5594 Sherbrooke St. West, 514-489-4555, Major cards accepted.
I’ll be the first to admit that bring-your-own-wine locales don’t have quite the same cachet as they did even a couple of years ago, when they were few and far between. However, I will say that sushi restaurants with such alcohol policies are relatively new on the Montreal dining scene and are a welcome addition for sushi fiends looking to save a buck or two on booze. While pure-bred wine snobs might tell you sushi doesn’t go well with wine and the flavour of the fish is best enhanced by sake or Japanese beer, I am no such person, which is why I’m recommending 5 Saisons Sushi. Although the eatery has been open for only a year, the individuals behind it have not only potentially discovered a fifth season the rest of us are unaware of, they’ve opened a restaurant where the quality of the food isn’t compromised by the BYOW aspect. Often venues of this sort rely on customers being too trashed to notice what they’re eating and use it as an excuse to serve lacklustre dishes. Unfortunately for them, I’m a little harder to please.
That said, I was immediately enticed by 5 Saisons’ substantial selection of chef’s specialty rolls. In a time when California rolls are as ubiquitous on grocery store shelves as mayonnaise, creativity and freshness are imperative to keeping a sushi spot from sinking. To start, I ordered the “chocotuna”: white sashimi accompanied by mango, grilled garlic and a light chocolate sauce. The fish tasted like it had been bought that day and although I wasn’t wild about the chocolate twist, I could appreciate it. The “red line” roll with red tuna, mango, tobiko, fried onion and crab stick in a soya bean leaf, as well as the “true blend” roll comprised of spicy salmon, ginger and tempura pilled atop a sweet potato, were more my style. I delighted in the original assembly of ingredients and the subtle spiciness. The rest of the rolls were hits, but my beloved salmon caviar was slimy, smelly and simply inedible. To make matters worse, upon noticing my untouched portion, the waiter remarked that everyone who ordered the caviar disliked it. Instead of taking a hint, he sped off with a giggle and didn’t deduct it from my bill. Some major points lost there, but my bottle of chardonnay and the overall quality of the sushi mean I’ll be back.
Mains: $15-24.95, sushi and sashimi $3-14 (plus tax).
2350 Guy St., 514-933-5041, Cash or Debit.
Care for some pig ears with spicy sauce? Not so much? Well how about some boiled pig intestines with spicy sauce? Perhaps the pork tongue in sour sauce is more your style? Really? Nothing tickles your fancy? When I first scanned Cuisine Szechuan’s menu, I seriously contemplated beelining it for the door and finding a Chinese restaurant better suited to my humdrum tastes. But, when my two friends arrived seconds later, I decided to suck it up. That’s when I recalled my sister’s explicit warnings to instruct the waiter to make sure nothing is spicy. She told me that even after she gave such specific instructions, her mouth was on fire till breakfast. The panic finally subsided when a second, more thorough inspection of the menu led me to discover several run-of-the-mill dishes amidst the more “inspired” ones. I was also reassured when the nice waitress repeatedly told me nothing would be too spicy. Despite her broken English, she came through. I wish I could titillate you with tales of my adventurous culinary experience at Cuisine Szechuan, but alas, when it comes to Chinese food, I’m as boring as they come. What I will tell you is that it’s been a while since I’ve eaten such delicious Chinese. From the ultra-crispy vegetarian imperial rolls and the chicken with green peppers to the Singapore vermicelli noodles with shrimps and the pan-fried noodles with vegetables &- everything was ridiculously tasty. Perfectly seasoned and oozing with flavour, we continued eating long after the alarm bells in our stomachs went off. Also worth mentioning is the home-style tofu served in a rich, teriyaki-like sauce. The jiggly tofu was melt-in-your-mouth awesome. For three people, our meal came out to $54.25 plus tip and we had enough leftovers to satisfy a hungry fourth person. Recently the downtown area west of Concordia’s SGW campus, between Guy and Lambert Closse St., is being heralded as the new and improved China Town by some critics. I need more evidence, but Cuisine Szechuan is definitely right on the pig’s eye.
Mains: $4.99-15.99 (tax included).
5703 Chemin De La Cote-Des-Neiges,
514-735-6949, Cash only.
A perennial favourite, pho (pronounced pha) soup spots have arguably become more commonplace in Montreal than poutine joints. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last five years, pho is a Vietnamese soup consisting of beef and rice noodles. Nowadays, it’s become more Americanized and many places also offer a chicken or vegetarian option. However, the widespread availability of the hearty soup doesn’t mean that you can walk up to any ol’ place and expect to hit the pho jackpot. Like with all other food, one has to be know where to go. I won’t even pretend to have tried every pho restaurant in town, but to this day, Pho Lien remains the undefeated champion in my books. The masses probably concur with me since, despite the endless choice of pho in the city, Pho Lien frequently attracts a lineup of people who will go so far as to brave the winter cold to get a coveted table. Luckily for them, the line moves fast in this small, dine-and-dash establishment. Food-wise, a good pho boils down to the quality of the broth and meat. At Pho Lien, the broth is so savory it can be eaten on its own &- without embellishment. The meat is also excellent, though the beef beats out the chicken. After all, real pho is beef-based and Pho Lien’s plethora of beef options reflect that. My top honours go out to the rare beef pho, but when I’m feeling less carnivorous, the chicken with vegetables and the 100 per cent vegetarian soups satisfy my cravings wonderfully. And F.Y.I.: there are plenty of main course choices other than soup.
Soup: small $6.75; big $7.50; extra large $8.25; Mains: $6.50 -9