A lot of friends we have spoken to recently have been asking us "Did you guys try Kazu yet?". So, we decided to go give what had been explained to us as a mixture between a pub and a japanese tapas bar a try. In a neighborhood better known for catering to the likes and dislikes of the local student clientele we were blown away by this bright light in an otherwise pretty dark culinary corner of our city. We arrived at about 6:30 PM and although it was raining, there was a line out the door and down the block. Initially we considered going somewhere else for dinner since waiting in line for a restaurant that refuses to accept reservations is generally not our idea of a good time. However, we had come to try this highly recommended hole in the wall, and would be lying if all these people waiting in the rain didn't evoke the idea that just maybe.... it might be worth the hassle. The rain stopped, and we chose to wait it out.
Inside, there are about 4 or 5 tables able to seat a combined 12 or so people in addition to approximately 10 seats at the bar overlooking all the action of the chef and his kitchen staff preparing what we now consider to be some of the most honest, delicious and unpretentious japanese food (NOT sushi) we have yet to come across. The menu is presented to us, but our attention is on the walls. Kazu has done away with the ubiquitous chalk board and gone instead with fluorescent colored handwritten pieces of loose leaf paper with the specials on them stuck all over the walls, everywhere you look.
The service is fast and very friendly and the staff is more than happy to explain what the not always elaborately explained special menu items are on the wall. We ordered the Gyoza on the regular menu & the following items from the wall which read verbatim:
- Pork cheeks
- Shrimp Pancake
- BBQ Pork Neck
- Tuna Belly *Very Large*
The BBQ pork neck came first, 4 large pieces of wonderful BBQ pig goodness with just enough char, slathered in a not-too-sweet BBQ sauce and sprinkled generously with green onion and black and white sesame seeds. Flavor that would rival even the best ribs you could find in this city and it goes down even better with a pint of Sapporo which they offer on tap.
Pork Neck - 10$
The shrimp pancake would best be described as a non-deep fried version of the best executed shrimp toast you will ever have. The well seasoned, finely chopped shrimp mixture is served on a lighter-than-air cross between a pancake and an english muffin; rather than the usual pitiful piece of processed white bread with the crusts cut off. The pancake was dressed with a slightly smokey, chili flavored homemade mayonnaise and topped with a light salad with bits of fried tempura batter for crunch in place of croutons.
Shrimp Pancake - 8$
The pork cheeks arrived in rillettes form, cooked down into a decadent spreadable meat product with some grilled pieces of tortilla to eat it with and some hot sauce which tasted similar to siracha, very tasty. The gyoza were pan fried pot sticker style dumplings filled with a pork filling. They were reasonable, but nothing to write home about. Slightly oily, but in defense of Kazu that may have been because we were spending so much time sucking all the meat from our fantastic BBQ pork neck that the gyoza sat waiting for us.
Pork Cheeks - 8$
Gyoza - 5$
Finally, the tuna belly. Our waiter explained that it would be slow cooked for 20 minutes so we would have to be patient. No problem, another pint always helps patience. Our tuna belly certainly lived up to the paper on the wall that read "very large" but it also should have read "very delicious". Needless to say, it did not disappoint. It was an extremely generous piece of melt in your mouth tuna belly slow cooked on the bone and served with a bright chili and sesame oil and simple salad. A beautiful dish for 2 that could have easily sold for twice the modest price it was sold for had it been served in a swank pretentious dining room and labeled "toro". We would have liked to try their home made ice cream for dessert but, as usual, our eyes were larger than our stomachs and we could go no further than the tuna belly.
Tuna Belly - 28$
We are happy to say that after eating there, the food at Kazu had lived up to the hype that has recently surrounded the name and although we never thought we would say so, it was certainly worth the wait in line. Perhaps some good things are worth waiting for after all. Hopefully Kazu will be around for a long time to come.
1862 Rue Ste-Catherine O, near St. Marc