Through the good shots and sometimes the bad ones, our restaurant reviewers share their experience, introduce the team in the dining room and in the kitchen, while explaining what motivated the restaurant choice. This week we bring you an iconoclastic Japanese cuisine experience at Otto Bistro.
Posted at 11:00am
Why are we talking about it?
Advances have been made in Quebec in the field of Japanese cuisine. Formerly almost exclusively synonymous with sushi and teriyaki, the Japanese restaurant here was first enriched with dozens of ramen addresses, more or less made-up izakayas, then small more specialized tables: yakitoris (skewers), takoyakis (octopus fritters), omakase formulas (carte blanche in many services). Although I haven’t had the pleasure of traveling to Japan yet, I feel at Otto Bistro the kind of tables that dot all the more underground big cities, where the chef allows himself to express his unique and personal style.
Who are they ?
In Montreal, that chef is Hiroshi Kitano. Born in Ise, a small town in the center of the main island, he found himself passionate about cooking through a small job in the kitchen. The expat then trained at the small and large tables of New York and ended up in a restaurant serving kappo cuisine, the most ceremonial there is. It was the famous Hirohisa, in SoHo. Not wanting to raise their family in the Big Apple, he and his partner chose Montreal, where Hiroshi participated in the creation of the small Otto group. Now separated from Otto Yakitori Izakaya and Bar Otto, the chef leads his boat on the Plateau, alone in the kitchens of his “bistro”. He wanted to devote himself completely to the kitchen and give up management. In the dining room he can count on Dominique Brown, hospitality incarnation from the start (four years ago). As soon as we set foot in the 16 to 18-seat room on Avenue du Mont-Royal Est, the smiling eyes and the overflowing kindness of the waitress immediately make it clear to us that we can feel at home and that the evening will be comfortable . Only one other employee helps. In times of shortage on the labor market, a restaurant with two and a half workers is ideal!
Otto Bistro is both a neighborhood restaurant, where you can devour a bowl of mazemen (‘dry’ ramen, i.e. no broth) with a beer and then return, and a destination to discover rare and high-end, in the most relaxed atmosphere that is possible.
The large paintings on the walls are by painter and tattooist Jonathan Bourassa. Other decorative elements were found in Japan by the chef’s brother. Eclecticism is the watchword. In the summer the “garage” door opens all the way and it is possible that reggae escapes.
Like most of his colleagues, Hiroshi orders his fish and seafood from major supplier True World Foods. He gets the most out of seasonal products. For example, during our visit, the Hotaru Ika (small firefly squid) was on the menu, in a ramen dish with clams and their juice.
But after a decent little starter of very good fried chicken – the classic karaage – and brussels sprouts bathed in a coated soy/balsamic sauce with tons of crunchy nuts, we opted for house classics instead.
First, there is the “sea” avenue. The sashimi changes regularly. It is possible to order an assortment of 10 or 20 pieces or, like us, to eat it in chirashi, this beautiful bowl of rice topped with various raw fish of the moment, egg, cucumber, a leaf of spicy shiso, wasabi and nori .
Then there’s the “terre” option, with duck confit mazes in particular. By cracking the very lightly poached egg you get a kind of carbonara that is really rich, salty, crispy thanks to the well browned duck skin. In the same style, there is also the “uni carbonara” as a starter, with sea urchin.
Since the expression “fusion cuisine” is almost taboo in 2022 (but the reality is still very much present!), Hiroshi doesn’t dare to use it to talk about his cuisine. However, he does not shy away from borrowing from Italian cuisine (mazemen burrata), Chinese (delicious and spicy mapo lamb tofu), Indian (curry keema), for example. You guessed it, the chef did not follow the “traditional” route, but the iconoclast. He had also told us several years ago that he could not imagine returning to the overly restrictive Japanese society. It’s good for us!
In our glass
It’s Dominique Brown who orders the liquids here. She always tries to keep a good selection of sake, although supplies have been hit and miss lately. “I love it when a customer tells me he or she doesn’t like sake. It becomes a personal challenge to find something he likes and I almost always succeed! ”, says the one who started the more serious study of this rice alcohol. She also chooses wines from agencies that work with artisans of the vine. There are several options by the glass whether it be rice, grapes or both!
Good to know
There are few vegetarian dishes and even fewer vegan dishes on the menu, but the chef can adapt a few to make them “meat and fish-free”, such as the mushroom maze.
A bowl of ramen, in stock or not, will set you back $17 to $26. The addition gets saltier as you “fall” into the fish, which is perfectly normal. Chirashi, for example, costs $38. Otto Bistro’s prices are very reasonable for the quality of the products. “Having very low personnel costs, as we are not many, makes it possible to have accessible prices,” explains Hiroshi.
Otto Bistro is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM and on Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 PM to 1:30 PM.
143 Mont-Royal Avenue East, Montreal