Sushi is one of my favourite meals, but Montréalers are too often satisfied by the allure of all-you-can-eat sushi bars that lack quality. One visit to Park Restaurant will change your view of what good Japanese food can be.
Antonio Park is committed to serving crave-worthy dishes using sustainable fish, rooftop-grown vegetables, and local proveyors. He even developed the first Canadian Wagyu beef to use in his restaurants.
My visits to Park never disappoint and my meal a few weeks ago exemplifies the extraordinary cooking and service seen with Chef Park and his team. The restaurant recently underwent a redesign. Gone are the handwritten menus on chalkboards hanging from the walls. The walls are lightened up and Montréal is embraced in the design with pictures of the city featured throughout the restaurant. The vibe of the restaurant feels more relaxed and has a bright and airy feel.
If you plan on going to Park, I highly suggest doing the five-course chef’s tasting menu. The structure of the tasting is typically the same with changing flavours to reflect the fresh fish and seasonal produce available. You always begin with a broth-based soup. The soup I began with my last visit was my favourite one yet. Chef Park spent hours developing a kimchi broth and then submerged carrots, daikon, and green onions. You could still taste the slight spice inherent to kimchi in the broth, but much of the funky fermented flavour was removed. The carrots and daikon were perfectly cooked, as they maintained their shape but still felt soft while chewing. Finally, the green onions added much-needed texture to the soup, similar to how a peanut garnish on Pad Thai works. This soup was so satisfying, I would come back just for big bowl of soup on a cold winter day.
Next up was a snapper dish. In the tasting, Chef Park likes to offer a mix of cooked and raw ingredients. In this preparation, the snapper was crisped on the top but remained raw underneath. I thought the cook on the fish could not have improved. I adore the texture of raw fish but often times miss the bit of crunch that comes from pan-searing and this cooking method allowed me to enjoy both simultaneously. Accompanying the snapper was wasabi aioli, ponzu gel, thinly-sliced radishes, and marigold flowers. This dish was probably my favourite of the night, but in all honestly everything was so delightful that it is hard to choose a favourite.
Finally came the dish I always look forward to and what most would consider Chef Park’s claim-to-fame, his nigiri. This man definitely knows how to make some good sushi. The flavours are not typical, as Chef Park uses his Japanese-training and blends in his South American upbringing, Korean heritage, and even Québec as inspiration. The bruléed salmon nigiri featuring a drizzle of maple reduction is to die for. It just melts in your mouth and is the ideal combination of sweet and savory. This night at Park was also Toro night, meaning we enjoyed sustainable blue-fin tuna nigiri. We were told this is the most expensive fish in the world and you could definitely tell. It was delectable; the Toro’s mouthfeel was unlike any other tuna I have had before and its flavour blended right in with the sushi rice. It is always difficult to remember all the fish in the nigiri dish, but each piece highlights a different fish and topping. Some dressings include chimichurri, pickled caper berries, shishito peppers and jalapeños. I love the nigiri at Park so much that I often just go and just order nigiri. If you are a fan of sushi, don’t walk, run to Restaurant Park.
The fourth course of the night put the spotlight on swordfish. Swordfish is usually not one of my favourite fishes as it is often prepared incorrectly and dries out more easily than other fish, but this swordfish I could eat everyday. It was succulent and cooked in a manner where half of the fish was fully warmed, but the other half remained cold. The contrast of temperatures elevated the eating experience and highlighted both the flavour and wonderful texture of the fish. It was served with mushrooms (in my opinion, one of the best ingredients to use in any dish), romanesco (which resembles broccoli, but is even better), a spinach purée, toasted peanuts and thinly sliced papaya. The mushrooms and romanesco were a welcome addition of vegetables. The peanuts added texture while the spinach purée and papaya melded together to form a tasty sauce for the fish.
Now, we come to the dessert. When I say the dessert I enjoyed at Park that night was the best dessert I’ve ever had, I am not exaggerating. I still have dreams about this dessert. Three words – strawberry bread pudding. It was sweet, but not too sweet. It was sublime. There were three cubes of strawberry bread pudding that was moist but still had the texture of bread. I could have eaten a whole cake pan of the plain bread pudding and been content, but no, it got even better. This already delicious dessert was garnished with strawberry gel, white chocolate mousse, a white chocolate tuile, and sorel leaves. The strawberry gel provided an added punch of fresh berry flavour, the white chocolate mousse provided a creamy characteristic and the tuile gave both a crunch and a flavour that resembled the bruléed top of a crème brûlée. I could have perished immediately after eating this dessert and been happy. I wish I could make something as brilliant as that.
Park is without-a-doubt one of my go-to restaurants in the city. It may not be the cheapest, but the quality is a value for the money. Native Montréalers and tourists alike should all put this restaurant on their bucket lists as the food is breathtaking and the service is friendly.