I believe the words “mind-blowing” were uttered in a hushed tone a few times, our eyes rolling back as we bit down on the silkiest, smoothest, freshest piece of fish I have ever had the pleasure of tasting in Montreal… Every single bite throughout that whole tasting menu evoked the same reaction. If this is sushi, then what had I been eating all these years?
Park is the best kept secret in town. I had vaguely heard about it when it first opened back in February. It was on my list of places to visit but that list is long and it kept getting pushed back. However, in the past week a few events contributed to my increasing curiosity and I figured the universe was sending me a sign – several of them in fact – that I just had to go… and soon!
Chef Antonio Park’s eponymous restaurant is a casual place with a cool vibe dishing out incredible food. It is such a well kept secret that I wasn’t sure I was in the right place even after stepping through the door! The best seats in the house are definitely at the bar where you can watch Chef Park work his magic. His passion for the job and his respect for the ingredients is immediately obvious in every single one of his gestures but especially in his words. His journey is a fascinating one, from his Korean roots, to growing up in Argentina and Brazil, to culinary school in Japan. He’s worked in several kitchens in Montreal, Toronto, New York and more and was executive chef at Montreal’s private dining club 357 C as well as Kaizen Sushi. Even though Park has only been open for two months, it is quickly forging a reputation as one of the best sushi restaurants in town. The fish here is from private import only – a rare thing in Canada – and always fresh, never frozen. Chef Park’s privileged relationship with a Japanese fisherman allows him to pick his freshly-caught fish as it’s still on the boat in Japan about two or three times a week. It is then immediately flown over and is on your plate a few hours later for you to enjoy. The flesh of a fish this fresh is sweet, silky soft and melts in your mouth. Every bite is perfectly seasoned by the chef with fresh wasabi and the right amount of soya sauce needed.
In fact, some of the fish is so fresh it’s almost still alive when it gets to Montreal. Kaimin tai – or “acupuncture” fish (click on the link, it’s a fascinating read) – is so called because the fish is actually induced into a coma-like state by inserting seven acupuncture needles in it, a humane method of killing fish developed by the Japanese in 2005 in their constant quest for freshness. Chef Park is the one who first brought this fish to Canada and his restaurant is the only one nationwide that carries Kaimin Tai. The fish arrives to its destination so fresh its eyes are as clear as if it was fished a minute ago. It still holds its shape and its organs are still perfectly intact. In what must be a stroke of genius, Chef Park serves his acupunctured pink snapper topped with chimichurri, a nod to his native Argentina. Who could’ve guessed that the tart flavour of the chimichurri would be the most perfect complement to the sweet fish?
Park doesn’t just serve sushi. It is open six days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner and serves Japanese specialties, as well as Korean ones (kimchi BLT for breakfast anyone?). Chef Guillermo Russo (formerly of Laurier Gordon Ramsay) is also in the kitchen contributing to the creation of the omakase (chef’s choice) menu every night. His delicious contributions to our meal that night included a rabbit and soba noodle consommé, a beet-cured salmon dish and a stuffed rabbit loin. Not your typical Asian fair but oh so delicious!
I saw the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi not long ago. In case you haven’t seen it (you really should!), the movie epitomizes the craft, discipline and respect of the ingredients that it takes to become a great sushi chef. I was having flashbacks of it while sitting at Park watching Antonio at work. I haven’t been to Japan yet but I imagine the sushi at Park is the most authentic we have here in Montreal. I personally have never experienced fish so fresh and when you wake up the next morning thinking about that perfect bite of maple-glazed torched salmon toro, you know you’ve just experienced culinary greatness…
378 Victoria Avenue, Westmount
+1 514 750 7534
Park doesn’t have a website yet but they do have a Facebook page