I had my first omakase experience at Ten Masa, in Taipei, last year during Christmas break. Ever since a horrible Japanese food experience I had 3 years ago in Montreal, I never had Japanese food in Montreal again. It left with me an impression of expensive, poor quality, and lack of variety of fish. I always hold my cravings until I go back to Taiwan, where I can get authentic Japanese food without traveling to Japan.
Saikō Bistrot Izakaya is a Japanese restaurant located on Côte du Beaver Hall, which Station Square Victoria is the closest metro station. I’ve walked passed a lot of time whenever I am heading to Old Montreal, but didn’t look further into it. As I already had a big no to all the Japanese restaurants in Montreal, I was still doubtful when my friend suggested to visit this restaurant. I looked it up on Yelp, and it has a lot of good reviews, even from Japanese! Therefore, I decided to give it a try, especially when I found out they have omakase.
We made a reservation at the bar. By sitting at the bar, it allows you to communicate with the chef directly, and tell him what you like/dislike. They have quite a variety of choices on the menu, but we settled for omakase.
Yellowtail tuna (Hamachi) – First nigiri. As the chef placed the nigiri on our plate, he also explains what fish is it. Not all tuna parts are white. Yellowtail tuna is a young fish. It has a very luscious and buttery in texture, almost oily, possessing a desirable bold flavor.
Bluefin tuna (akami) – Bluefin tuna is a huge fish that it has various cuts, mainly akami, chu-toro, and o-toro. O-toro is the best cut out of all the parts. However, this is the akami, which is found near the top or back of the fish. It has pure red color. Since it has less fat content, the texture is tender, but doesn’t melt in the mouth. (ps. a way of looking whether the sashimi is fresh or not, the sashimi should have a shiny, oily, glossy appearance).
Black king fish nigiri (aka cobia; sugi) – I think this is sugi, if I remembered correctly. This was a piece of fatty fish. The texture was tender, and the buttery texture allows the fish to melt in the mouth, and combines with the sushi rice. The touch of wasabi gave a punch in the flavor, and brought out the sweetness of the fish.
Honestly, I forgot what this was called (something like “kimba”?), but it was one of the best I had of the night. The fish was slightly grilled/torched, and topped with scallions. The smokey flavored of the fish had a strong contrast with the previous nigiri. The fat is released upon the heating processed, hence the texture is still soft and tendered.
Masunosuke nigiri – This salmon has been marinated, and topped with yuzu. Personally, not a huge fan of salmon sashimi, but the pairing with yuzu is pretty nice.
Sockeye salmon nigiri – The salmon is from Vancouver. Sockeye salmon possess a bright orange color.
I forgot the name of this nigiri too, but it was also one of my favorites! (hmm.. why do I tend to forget the name of my favorites fish of the night..?) It was fatty, yet it melts right away in the mouth. The yuzu flavor kicked in right away after the first bite, but then, there was a hint of spiciness. I asked the chef if it’s topped with yuzu, he said yes, but it is “yuzu jalapeño”! No wonder I felt the heat afterwards.
Hotate aburi nigiri – “Aburi” is one of my favorite ways of preparing nigiri or sashimi. It is partly grilled (normally torched), and partly raw. This scallop was fresh, and as tender as tofu.
Ika nigiri – Ika is cuttlefish. It has a slimy texture, yet soft and tender. The cuts on the flesh is to cut off any extra tendons off, which makes the fish more tender.
Ama ebi nigiri – Sweet shrimp nigiri. Most ama ebi nigiri is served with two shrimps, but at Saiko, you get four! Healthy amaebi are clear and translucent. The flavor of sweet shrimp is exactly as the name implies, which are sweet and delicious.
Mackerel nigiri – Mackerel is one of my favorite fishes. If mackerel is not fresh, it has this stingy, fishy smell and flavor. However, the mackerel at Saiko is definitely fresh! I love how fatty it is. You get the fatty part and the lean meat in one piece.
Tuna, yam potato, and quail egg gunkan-maki – This was definitely the first time I had this type of sushi. With a base of rice, and topped with yam potato, tuna chunks, and quail egg yolk, and wrapped with tofu wrapper. Yam potato is a common staples in Japanese cuisine, and I loved it (especially just yam potato on rice, with a drizzled of soy sauce!). It has a slimy texture, which is not acceptable to a lot of people. However, it is a healthy food with lots of benefits, such as lowering cholesterol!
This is similar to the previous one, except without yam potato, and tuna is replaced with ikura (aka salmon roe). I love salmon roes, especially when I was a child. It was probably one of the only thing I would eat.
Now, this is something special. I’ve never had any Japanese food eaten this way. While sitting at the bar, there was a Japanese husband and wife sitting next to us. They drove all the way from Boston just to come to Saiko for sushi! The husband demonstrated the proper way of eating this.
Yes. You pick up a hosomaki, and dip it in the fish broth. Just like eating wontons, as he said. This way, the rice is soaked with the broth, and it blended so well. It makes the hosomaki less dry and sticky.
Unagi maki – If you’ve been following my instagram, you would know how much I love unagi. The unagi paired so well with the marinated shiitake mushrooms.
The chef was checking upon us constantly if we are full, if everything is alright. At last, after this piece of unagi maki, I was full. Then… of course – dessert.
Housemade matcha roll – I’m not a fan of sponge cake, roll, or cream. This roll seems to be a combination of all those. However, I do like matcha. This tastes like the milk rolls from Japan! The filling was creamy, and dense. The cake was spongey, but moist. (I hate it when it’s dry…) The matcha was strong too. It wasn’t just coloring. It was overly sweeten, as the bitterness from matcha balanced out quite well with the sweetness of normal dessert.
I went to the restaurant without any expectation, since I was afraid that the higher the expectation, the more disappointed I will be. However, I was satisfied in the end, and surprised the variety of fishes they have to offer, since Montreal isn’t like a coastal city like Vancouver. The Japanese chef was friendly, and the waiters were quite attentive too.
Omakase requires a lot of skills and creativity from the chef, since the items are not necessary on the menu. I strongly encourage you to try it if the budget allows. Unlike the omakase I had in Taipei, which started with appetizer, then sashimi, then nigiri, Saiko started with nigiri right away. It was definitely not the fanciest Japanese food I’ve ever had, but at Saiko, I found the taste of homey Japanese food – simple yet delicious. Moreover, can’t be doubtful when you heard a Japanese husband and wife drove 308 miles just to get a taste of home (he even brought a 3-layer bento box to fill it up for his trip back to Boston the next day!).
Saikō Bistrot Izakaya
1065 Côte du Beaver Hall, Montréal
Tel: +1 (438)-386-7888