My dad often says, “where ever the sun shines, you’ll find an Asian person.” In a city as multicultural as Montreal, this adage can also be applied to Asian restaurants. From the barren wasteland of the Westisland to the strip malls of Repentigny, there are Asian restaurants, not necessarily great ones, but ones you’ll be able to get your General Tao and MooGoo Gai Pan fixes. Being said, I’m guessing my dad has obviously never been to St. Henri and the Southwest where the Asian restaurant game is little to none and is practically an empty yellow-fearing void where even the once premiere Korean restaurant in the entire city packed up and moved downtown… until now.
I hit up Cho in St. Henri with a couple of friends to see what it was about. After having recently read on their Facebook page, “Restaurant Cho applies French culinary techniques to asian-style tapas”, boom, indirect disclaimer for pseudo Asian food. I took that with a gain of cynicism and a spoonful of expectation and optimism.
We started with the calamari salad. Mixed greens with cherry tomatoes, topped with shaved fennel, radish, carrots and daikon, the salad was dressed in a light vinaigrette. It was salad.
What stood out most was the mutant sized calamari that peppered the plate. Battered in semolina, it provided a great texture and taste contrast to the salad who’s sharp dressing cut through the batter (which wasn’t overly oily.)
The all dressed poutine; (opposed to the regular “Cho Poutine”, the all dressed sees the addition of marinated braised beef for a couple of bucks more,) is fries, topped with kimchi, said braised beef, scallions, gravy and cheddar cheese drizzled with mayo. The beef was broken down nicely and had a hint of sweetness to it. The richness of the mayo mixed with what I can assume was a gravy of braising liquid sat heavy; but this is a poutine. When you go in on a poutine, you go in hard and know that you’ll be coming out hating yourself a little bit – I’ve had five poutines already this Poutine Week (Feb 1-7), I hate myself a lot.
In light of poutine week (Cho is not participating) it’s nice to see yet another rendition of this classic Quebecois dish and this time with an Asian flare. It takes a restaurant from the big city to conceptualize a remix that would include fermented cabbage – I don’t see this dish popping up somewhere in Saguenay Lac St. Jean anytime soon.
The Cho “bucket” of fried Chicken. Fried drumsticks ordered in threes arrived in a fun metal bucket reminiscent of another spot that serves chicken in a bucket, but this one isn’t dumped on your table by some hot chick with tattoos. Incredibly crispy batter with what resembles rice krispies tossed into the mix.
The chicken is served with a sweet honey barbecue sauce which wasn’t happening for me. The chicken was juicy under the batter and ate better on its own.
Boas are all the rage and Cho is capitalizing by offering three different kinds; tofu, chicken or braised beef. We had the chicken – shredded confit chicken with a ginger-scallion oil dressed with hoisin sauce. The chicken was sweet and was cut by the salty punch of the fried ginger and scallion. Although a very generous portion of chicken, the buns themselves were modest in size and balancing the chicken while trying to take them off the skewer without them falling apart was a bit difficult.
“A trilogy of all beef hot dogs.” Three mini dogs each with unique toppings; Japanese mustard with a Sapporo beef sauerkraut, spicy mayo with kimchi and soy and sesame aioli with shredded toasted nori and wakame salad.” Fun to see creative toppings, the kimchi hot dog was the one that stood out the most. Although not overly spicy, the kimchi was loud and had enough kick to highlight the beef sausage and resist being sucked in and muted by the bun. The wakame salad as well has the beer brined sauerkraut already docile in flavour was lost, even the Japanese mustard (which is normally hot) was barely a whisper in each bite.
“Salt N’ Pepper Pork chops”. Lightly fried five-spiced pork chop topped with chop suey and green beans. The pork chops themselves had a nice coating of crispy batter that if you didn’t eat fast enough suffered soggification from the chop suey piled on top.
Aromatic in clove, cinnamon, anise, and peppercorn, the five spice powder added a floral aroma, but a salt and pepper fried pork chop needs to be prickly with salt and pepper – which it wasn’t. I have a deep love affair with salt n’ pepper pork chops. It was my go-to dish in Chinatown at 4am after coming out of the clubs in the days of my youth where copious bottles of drank were put away subsidized by shitty part time jobs. I hold this dish dear and when it’s not represented to its fullest, I take personal offence. The stir-fry vegetables were nice, sautéd with soy, is a classic side.
“Asian-style braised short ribs, served in a cassolette with a fresh watercress salad.” This is the bone people are referring to when they talk about sex. The short ribs flossed some serious lacquer and glaze. Sweet and savoury at the same time, it made me forget about the non salt n’ peppered, salt n’ pepper pork chops. Served au cassolette, the ribs sat atop of stewed barley and was dressed with a simple watercress salad. Peppery notes (not the same pepperiness missing from the pork chops) cut through the unctuousness of the beef ribs and sweetness of the sauce that begged to be all be eaten together in the same bite.
As a great addition to the neighbourhood that’s lacking any Asian culinary representation, Cho’s menu items consist of the three major Asian food groups, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, (fried, spicy and miso-based anything.) We were three and managed to explore the menu pretty extensively and put away seven dishes. Cho shows great promise despite falling short on a couple of dishes, I’ll be back to try what else they have lined up on the menus or conceptualizing in they minds – I’m certain that refinement will definitely find its way to some of the menu items. Cho means “butterfly” in Japanese, could this be some sort of light and flighty correlation in terms of their food and the delicateness of some of the dishes or the apprehensiveness of seasoning? The dishes found on the menu show signs of being solid foundations to some stellar players on their roster. A butterfly can only the flight once it’s ready to emerge from its cocoon, and right now, Cho is fighting to break the seal.
4450 Notre-Dame Street West