When Town & Country Magazine’s acclaimed food critic Alan Richman named Montreal the food capital of North America in 2016, surpassing the likes of New York City, very little was mentioned about the multitude of ethnic varieties that dot the city’s culinary landscape. From greasy spoon fares such as poutine (a heart-stopping marriage of potato fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy) to fine dining options, the article made no reference to non-European inspirations. This may change as more and more talented chefs from around the world seek refuge in this laid-back city with a highly knowledgeable palate and a deeply discounted real-estate market.
Many Montrealers come back from trips to Japan experiencing food withdrawal symptoms, but find that most restaurants at home do not replicate faithfully the flavors from the Far East, and those that come close are prohibitively expensive. Enter Otto Bistro, born from the visions of savvy restaurateur Hanhak Kim and head chef Hiroshi Kitano of the Otto Yakitori fame in the Concordia University district. Only a year and half after opening the city’s only authentic Japanese charcoal grill izakaya that elevated the famous Torikizoku experience to a new level, this humble location quietly established itself in the trendy neighborhood of Plateau Mont-Royal back in the summer of 2018. With its large garage-door frontage, bar stool and back bench seating for 34 guests, open kitchen, and food served in eclectic ceramic and earthenware dishes made by local artisans, it does not look anything remotely Japanese. The food… the food definitely was.
Otto Bistro aims to be a restaurant for every occasion. One can enjoy a simple bowl of ramen, or ask for a full omakase experience. The experience is one of discovery, as the specialty menu often changes with the season. Every week, it is updated with the highest quality imports as carefully selected by chef Hiroshi himself. Depending on the time of year, uni (sea urchin) from Hokkaido, live eels from Quebec, and even prized fresh ikura (salmon roe) make an appearance on the chalkboard.
“A good chef is able to make a dish out of pretty much anything.” – chef Hiroshi Kitano
At Otto Bistro, nearly everything is made from scratch. The end result is a unique flavor profile that is unlike any other Japanese restaurant in the city. The tofu is homemade with a special blend of nigari and fresh soy milk. Peppercorns are marinated to bring forward a different level of flavor. Miso and tomato paste complement each other to deliver a powerful burst of umami. With his creative usage of local, imported, and seasonal ingredients, chef Hiroshi takes on an old-world cuisine with a modern approach while preserving the essence of Japanese tradition. Without a doubt, his experience acquired during his days at the celebrated Hirohisa in New York City made a significant impact on his art. However, the strict kappo-style kaiseki service is replaced with a relaxed kitchen where he can freely explore new-world aromas and textures, but his level of attention to detail remains unchanged. Each dish is carefully designed down to the dinnerware used to keep the guest’s appetite constantly anticipating what’s coming next.
The restaurant has a regular menu that includes a selection of sushi, ramen, and mains. But the real Otto Bistro experience begins with a conversation with chef Hiroshi. There is no better pleasure to know that, once seated with one of their unique cocktails in hand, you can trust your tastebuds to arguably Montreal’s best (and now worst) kept secret culinary spot.