Set in the former Vic Market location on Westmount's Victoria Avenue, Park Restaurant serves traditional sushi with creative touches in an airy and unfussy environment.
“I came in here January 1st and started building the place with my buddies,” said Park. “I had no designer and no architect.” What Park did have was 18 years working in the restaurant business, enough to know that he wanted to run the entire show his way. After being recruited to run the kitchen at űber-chic club Le 357C, the 37-year-old former executive chef and co-owner of Montreal's Kaizen restaurant decided, after what he alluded to as a curve in the road, the time was right to launch his namesake project.
“I have no regrets,” said Park. “Things happen for a reason in life.”
Across from the polished concrete bar, the fully licensed establishment has an open kitchen and menu written on the oversized blackboard as strains of Park's handpicked 80s hits soundtrack pour lazily out of the sound system. All the custom-designed furniture is locally made using Quebec-sourced maple e and the barn wood covered bar is the real deal, reclaimed from friend Bernard Chamberlain's property up north. While the fish in Park's sushi is imported from international locales, his “local” credo extends as much as possible to the rest of the menu.
“Every one of our ingredients is organic,” said Park who uses locally-produced maple syrup from Quebec ingredient company Société-Original as well as domestic honey in his three variations of sushi vinegar, as opposed to the standard practice of using refined sugar. Park varies the traditional Korean bibimap meal of rice, seasoned vegetables, meat and raw egg which slowly cooks in a heated stone serving bowl by using only locally-procured in-season vegetables and using a combination of brown and mountain rice, and quinoa. “No white rice,” Park emphasized.
The late spring season also sees Park's bibimap containing fiddle-heads and baby broccoli. The restaurant also offers every menu item in an optional gluten-free format, using yam-based noodles in place of wheat ones.
Park offers an “omakase” an evening tasting menu, including seven courses with six different kind of fish in sushi and sashimi. The fish is delivered up to five times weekly via private import – from ports of southern Japan, northern Hawaii, New Zealand, Ireland, and British Columbia, each carefully laid out on cloth and individually sealed in plastic. The Argentina-born chef has just begun importing seafood from his homeland, and Park shows where each fish's tail is cut to release blood, thus extending the flesh freshness.
“Most of the work is already done by the fishermen,” said Park. “Every single fish is treated with love and care. The fish tastes good because the other 50 per cent of the job is done by the fisherman. I'm just trying to continuously improve on what they did.”
Every single thing that I wanted to do in a restaurant is here.” - Chef Antonio Park
Park decried what he sees as Montreal's trend to oversell the two sushi standbys – tuna and salmon - by burying them under unnecessary spicy sauces. He has begun introducing wild sea bass, loup de mer, and 'acupunctured' snapper, a process in which needles are inserted into freshly caught fish to essentially paralyze it, leaving it alive but unable to feel pain, preserving its lifespan for the voyage, and thereby, its freshness. Each fish treated in this manner is certified with a tracking number. Park only uses line-caught sustainable species. “I won't use anything else,” he said.
The multilingual chef who undertook sushi training in Japan, has lived in, besides Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, and has every intention to spend the rest of his life cooking.
“It's not just a place I opened because I want to make money,” said Park “Every single thing that I wanted to do in a restaurant is here.”
Restaurant Park is located at 378 Victoria Avenue. For more information, contact 514-750-7534.