Sunday, August 14, 2011

RYU TAPAS


This weekend was a first for Foodie Date Night. Recently we received an e-mail inviting us to come eat and review a meal at a new Montreal restaurant called Ryu Tapas. As our regular readers know, we normally arrive to prospective review locations anonymously so as not to receive any preferential treatment or skewed representations of the food or service; this way you, as a reader, can expect a similar experience to the one we have described. After a short e-mail exchange clarifying that we intended to reveal the bias of the invitation to our readers we felt honored and excited to accept this generous invitation.

Ryu describes itself as being a Japanese tapas restaurant, combining Japanese food with Quebec produce and a modestly portioned plate sharing concept familiar to many as tapas. We arrived on a Friday evening to a full and lively dining room, the restaurant is in a very accessible location in Outremont on the corner of Parc and Laurier. Upon entering we are immediately greeted by a friendly gentleman who would end up being our waiter for the night. He showed us to our table and provided us a menu to consult but informed us we would not be needing it because we would be eating in Omakase fashion. Omakase is a Japanese term that literally translates to "it's up to you" so all the dishes we were trying would be selected by the chef. Our anticipation peaked, we were very excited for the meal to come.

As we waited for our first course to arrive we began looking around the dining room. A very chic and modern looking bar spans the length of one side of the restaurant where you can see sushi chefs hard at work preparing very original looking maki rolls. The opposite dining room wall is covered with a large mural size piece of art that seems to be made of metal with a very organic looking design cut out and backlit with lighting that is continuously changing color. Silver colored banquettes with large cushions, white table tops and white leather low-backed chairs with chrome metal accents finish a very clean and stream-line look to the restaurant.

The first two dishes to arrive were lamb chops and an heirloom tomato salad. The lamb came as two double cut chops served with a vibrant Thai basil pesto. The lamb was perfectly cooked and paired splendidly with the pesto. Our only criticism of the dish would be that it was difficult to eat. Only chopsticks were provided at the table so we assumed the lamp chops were meant to be eaten sort of like a lolipop using the cleaned bone as a handle. Because they were double cut chops though, they were a little bit large to eat that way. Great flavor, very enjoyable dish but cutting four single chops instead of two double chops might be a good consideration.

Lamb Chops, Thai Basil Pesto

Although it's relatively rare that we do, the two of us disagreed on the heirloom tomato salad. The dish was a play on a mozzarella caprese salad using silken tofu in the place of the mozzarella and shiso in place of basil. We both agreed that the term "heirloom tomato" has been very loosely used here the same way it is with hot house tomatoes in those plastic clam-shell cases at the supermarket. It's become a catch phrase like "free-range" or "organic-sustainable" that a lot of people capitalize on for marketing purposes. That being said its not totally false, but personally we reserve the term for the kaleidoscope colored and zebra-striped, misshapen tomatoes that taste like tomato times ten that you can only find when you're lucky at the farmers market. Orange and red tomatoes were layered with ultra soft silken tofu dressed with a fresh light vinaigrette and topped with a chiffonade of shiso. The shiso in this dish is outrageously good and we both agreed that the tofu was a very original idea but we disagreed with one another on the success of the tofu as a mozzarella replacement, one of us liked it a lot, the other not so much. Also, we understand that salt and cracked pepper are not traditional Japanese seasonings, but given the tapas concept of the restaurant, traditional is not really the emphasis at Ryu; we feel that we're not out of line saying a little good old salt and pepper would have gone a long way on this dish. Verdict: split decision - one vote for, and one against on this one.

Heirloom Tomato, Silken Tofu, Shiso

Our following two dishes were a fish n' chips dish and a scallop ceviche, both of which were nothing short of fantastic. The fish in the fish n' chips was beautifully cooked and a really fun play on a British street food classic done with a lot of Japanese influence. Light, crisp and not at all greasy black cod was tempura fried in the place of the usually heavily beer-battered haddock. It was served with sweet and tender baked sweet potato bites, and a homemade tartar sauce with a welcome addition of whole grain mustard in it. An extremely tasty and very clever play on British mushy peas came as edamame beans that had been very well seasoned and pulsed in a food processor to a hummus like consistency. Everything on this dish was well thought out and tasted terrific, it was our favorite of the night.

Fish n' Chips - Tempura Black Cod, Edamame, Sweet Potato, Tartar Sauce 

The scallop ceviche was bright, bold and fresh testing.  The scallops were sweet and soft sitting in a pool of citrus juice, they were topped with a fine brunoise of refreshing cucumber, chive and a hint of heat from chili. The dish was well balanced and tasted like the scallops were fresh out of the water; another very big hit.

 Scallop Ceviche

The following two dishes were also very enjoyable, even on the heels of the last two dishes that we thought would be difficult to live up to.  A salmon sashimi "Ryu new style" and the "Ryu Club" arrived at the table. The salmon sashimi were rich and fatty belly cuts in a salty and acidic soy and yuzu dressing, each were garnished with a chive and a fiery julienne piece of raw ginger. The dish initially seemed like nothing we hadn't had before but turned out to be a particularly well seasoned and balanced version. It would be nice if salmon sashimi were always this good, but it's not. If you're looking for a top notch salmon sashimi this dish is an easy recommendation. 

 Ryu Salmon Sashimi "New Style"

The Ryu Club is a mixture of scallop, shrimp tempura, crab-stick, avocado, tobiko, and spicy mayo wrapped in a thin layer of sticky sushi rice and then again in a miso paper exterior. This club has no lettuce, bacon, chicken, tomato or bread. It comes cut in triangles and held together with a tooth pick, which is really where it's similarities to a classic club sandwich end. It is however a very addictive and satisfying sandwich of contrasting flavors and textures. The crispy crunchy bits of tempura and popping little briny bits of tobiko blend with the spicy mayo sauce and the sweetness of the scallops, shrimp and crab-stick. The mixture is all the spicy, sweet, crunchy heat you crave wrapped up in a convenient easy-to-eat form. We had never had anything quite like it before and would certainly return to eat it again.

 "Club Ryu"

We finished the savory portion of our meal with one of Ryu's specialty maki rolls. It came served with the classic soy, pickled ginger and wasabi as well a dish containing multiple other dipping sauces such as spicy mayo, teriyaki and chili and a ginger sauce that tasted similar to Wafu dressing. The Oba Roll is tempura shrimp, spicy crab meat, avocado, oba leaf and tobiko wrapped in miso paper instead of nori then topped with a very generous layer of tuna sashimi. The flavors for the most part were similar to those in the Ryu Club which we enjoyed a lot but the addition of the beautiful, super fresh tuna and the oba leaf as well as replacing the crab-stick with true crab really made this dish stand apart. We had never had Oba before, a quick google search informed us that it is in the mint family, similar to, but not the same thing as shiso (which we are familiar with and had earlier in the meal). The Oba leaf had a very strong perfume-like quality that was just as distinguishable in your nose as on your tongue when eaten. There's a first time for everything and we were certainly caught off guard and pleasantly surprised by the unique flavors of this dish. It's sometimes hard for sushi chefs to create a truly new and unique idea with maki rolls after they've been in the lime light for at least a solid decade but the chefs at Ryu have truly succeeded at, in a sense, re-inventing the wheel with this one. Another big success. 

 Oba Roll
 Soy, Wasabi, Pickled Ginger
 Dipping Sauces served with Oba Roll

At this point we were without question full, but even before we could throw up the white flag surrendering our appetites, our waiter arrived with a dessert maki roll. It was filled with fruit and Nutella covered crispy bits that we thought were a popular breakfast cereal but couldn't be sure. What we can be sure of is that the dish was a lot of fun, and it tasted great. We don't usually go for a dessert course after sushi but we were very happy we got to try this, it changed our perspective on something we don't normally consider.

Chocolate and Fruit Dessert Maki

We had a splendid evening enjoying our surprise menu at Ryu. Before going we questioned if the thought of "Japanese Tapas" was redundant; we thought - "how often do you go out for Japanese food and NOT order dishes to share"? But after visiting and seeing how at Ryu they have blended brilliant Quebec produce with a little bit of Spanish flare and influence incorporated with Japanese technique we can now understand that the concept truly does work. We hate to use the term "fusion" because it so rarely works as well as people hope, but here that's what it is and it truly does work very well. We can't pretend that having been invited for the meal didn't influence at least in some part how much we enjoyed our overall experience at Ryu but that doesn't change how brilliant many of the things we ate were. The flavors were delightful and not shy, the playfulness of the dishes were entertaining, and the presentation was consistently alluring. Every person you speak with insists they know "the best sushi spot", including us, but our meal at Ryu has given us food for thought about always keeping an open mind when it comes to a sometimes not-so-old favorite. 


Ryu Tapas
288 Laurier West, near Parc
Montreal, QC
514-439-6559


Ryu on Urbanspoon

5 comments:

  1. Is the "Omakase" menu available to the general public or was it a special with your invite?
    Either way i cant wait to try it out.

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  2. Hi, thanks for reading.
    Yes, there is an Omakase option on the menu.
    Hope you enjoy it!

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  3. culinary plagiarism alert! that japanese caprese salad is actually a (poorly executed) david chang/momofuku dish! and david chang's version is obviously seasoned with salt and pepper.

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  4. You make it sound delightful but what are the prices like...you omit that...

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  5. Hi Natalie, the reason we omitted the prices in this particular review was because the meal was complimentary. Prices are always included in our other posts. Since its tapas style, we cant give you a price range for appetizers, mains, etc... but the majority of items on the menu were listed in the 10-16$ range. Hope this helps, thanks for reading!

    ReplyDelete