Like many people, I’ve never been to a Thomas Keller restaurant, but I often fantasize about his magical, creative food. I wonder what it would be like to be fed by his team, to eat the beautiful dishes that I have admired in books, magazines, and, of course, the internet. (Making his perfect carrot cake is a small consolation).
So I totally did a little dance when I heard that Canadian-born chef Noam Gedalof, fresh from the French Laundry kitchens, was the new executive chef at sushi spot Kaizen. The restaurant’s sommelier, Cassady Sniatowsky, invited us to try the newly-revamped menu, one that reflects both Gedalof’s time at French Laundry and the restaurant’s Japanese roots. The dinner was a spectacular, surprising explosion of texture and flavor. It was just the right amount of experimental — everything still felt really heartfelt, thoughtful, and measured. There were so many beautiful touches, likes a whisp of radish, clinging to the side of a bowl, or oyster leaves, dancing across the plate. The poetic details were really seductive. I can’t wait to go back!
A small scroll of uni, poised expectantly in a porcelain tureen, was presented alongside a tiny pitcher of murky broth.
As the pitcher slowly emptied its broth, I saw that the soup was shockingly opaque — gorgeous, like thick green paint.
The taste of this cold soup was surprising, too. I was expecting something heavy, but the soup was cool, delicate and light, channeling the ethereal, vegetal essence of nasturtium and urchin, garnished with edible nasturtium flower petals. It was an enthralling beginning.
Wafer-thin crackers, dusted in seaweed powder, were gone in moments. (I love eating crackers at restaurants).
Cassady made some killer wine selections, including this tremendous Jacques Selosse champagne — apparently one of the most sought-after champagnes in the world. I adore champagne, and this was the nicest one I’ve ever had, a lively biodynamic version that was full of mineral and citrusy notes, and bubbles that disappeared rapidly.
Quebec Snow Crab, Razor Clams, Radish, Fuji Apple, Scallion, Tatsoi and Daikon Sprouts, Cara Cara Orange, Navel Orange, Blood Orange
Adam has eaten this radish and apple salad at the restaurant before, and requested it again so that I would have a chance to try it. I’m so glad he did — the salad was an effortless blend of delicate, sweet, and bitter flavors. If only there was a setting on my mandoline to get my sliced radishes looking that translucent!
Even better were the tiny pearls of crisp apple nestled in the salad. I kept picturing the world’s smallest melon baller punching out these adorable shapes.
Oyster & Pickled Cucumber: Lebanese Cucumber, Kumamoto Oyster, Dill, Crème Fraiche, Oyster Leaf, Pea Tendrils, Bachelor’s Buttons
Appearance-wise, this cold oyster salad was my favorite of the night. I loved the dashes of creme fraiche, and the dancing forms of oyster leaves. Unfortunately the slices of pickle overwhelmed my palate. When it comes to oysters, I don’t like much interference.
The champagne long finished, Cassady pulled out a 2007 bottle of Domaine Roulot Les Luchet Meursault, one of my favorite regions in Burgundy. I was thrilled at how well this Japanese-inspired food went with our French wines.
Egg, Uni Sauce, chard, eryngii mushrooms
Urchin made another appearance, this time as a silken bed of puree, upon which a slow-cooked poached egg (six hours in a specially controlled warm water bath!), chunks of oryngii mushroom, and a swiss chard quenelle (genius!) were perched. As much as I love a properly cooked hard or soft boiled egg, I have yet to taste an egg with as smooth or uniform texture as the one I had at Kaizen. The yolk was so creamy and soft — almost like a fresh, slightly firm tofu.
I couldn’t resist swirling the components into a confetti-like mess. Unfortunately, I was so seduced by the next dish that I must have forgotten to take a photo, but imagine a tangled nest of soba noodles, glistening with butter, served with little neck clams, Isle Magdellan mussels, rice lettuce, and shirako, or deep-fried fish sperm. Oh yes. First time for everything! The sperm? Deliciously crisp and salty!
Lobster, romaine, buttermilk vin, cauliflower, almond, carrot
For the final fish course we were presented with lobster two ways. My plate featured a “deconstructed lobster roll” (my words), with cold, poached lobster topped with thinly sliced carrots, cauliflower, romaine lettuce, and a delicious ranch-like buttermilk dressing. It was like the best Caesar salad ever.
Lobster, glazed sweetbread,braised salsify, crispy bone marrow, arugula
But it was Adam’s lobster, thickly glazed and paired with sweetbreads, braised salsify, and crispy bone marrow, that I really loved.
A dinner with Adam wouldn’t be complete without at least a few bottles of pinot noir. We adored this 1999 Domaine G. Roumiere Chambolle-Musigny.
Glazed terrine of foie gras, umeboshi glazed, pickled eggplant, turnip, beech, asian pear, mizuna
The final savory course was foie gras, presented two ways. I was served the chilled foie gras dish, plated with tiny mushrooms and pickled eggplant.
Sautéed foie gras, black garlic, roasted sunchoke, black trumpet, celery, almond
Adam’s foie gras dish, with its black trumpet mushrooms, roasted sunchokes and celery, was much more robust in appearance and flavor. Though both were memorable, I slightly preferred the heady, bitter flavors of the mizuna and radish in mine, which cut through the foie gras’ richness.
Thankfully, our dessert was simple — a fluffy chocolate souffle with an airy crumb — served with a beautiful Hungarian dessert wine.
For me, a visit to French Laundry is still a wild fantasy, but now I have something even better, a place right in Montreal that truly delivers boundless amounts of imagination, elegance, and surprise. Most tasting menus in Montreal leave me overwhelmed and uncomfortably full — endless iterations of venison, beef, foie gras, and cheese — but Adam and I sailed out of Kaizin feeling inspired and happy. I’m so excited to see what Noam will do next — I have a feeling he’ll make quite an impact on Montreal’s already-incredible food community.