I work with a group of guys who seem to have a ravenous taste for sushi. One of my colleagues is so weird about fish that he loves sushi, but hates any cooked fish. One of the guys in our office outside of Montreal was telling us about this little sushi place that wasn't far from our headquarters. He said, "You wouldn't think by looking at this place that they have some great sushi, but they do." He handed me a take-out menu from Okinawa, the little sushi place. I was pretty impressed by the amount of different types of sushi they had to offer. I told him it looked good. Then he said, "Maybe we should go there for lunch today." I certainly couldn't say no.
During our lunch break from training on the Siltech and Crystal cable lines, a group of 10 of us went over to Okinawa to have some sushi. My colleague was right - from the outside, Okinawa didn't look like much. It wasn't anything more than a hole in the wall in the middle of a strip mall less than a mile - or for our Canadian friends - about a kilometer from our office (see map). But if anything is more constant, I've found that some of the best restaurants aren't all that inviting from the outside, while some bad places to eat are spic and span on the facade.
They tried their best to make the inside of Okinawa reminiscent of a traditional Japanese restaurant. There was a lot of bamboo fixtures and three private dining rooms where people would sit at a low table with their shoes off in the tradition of fine Japanese cuisine. While the menu had some beef, chicken and pork dishes, we were there for the sushi. There was a small sushi station toward the back of the restaurant.
Now, going to a sushi restaurant with a big group is sort of confusing to me. I don't know if I need to order for myself, if we're ordering for the group or whatever. We finally decided to team up in twos to order the sushi, I was paired with my colleague, Chris - the guy who loves sushi, but hates cooked fish. I know, it's weird.
I had a big breakfast earlier in the day back at the hotel, so I wasn't overly hungry. I decided not to get sushi but go with the sashimi - basically sushi without rice. I didn't want the rice to get me stuffed in a hurry. Chris ordered up sushi when we filled out the order form that we shared. I got a spicy tuna roll, however, as a start, then I picked out tuna, yellowtail, salmon, smoked salmon, sweet shrimp and something I don't see very often on a sushi menu, halibut. Given Montreal's proximity to the North Atlantic, I figured the halibut would be very good.
I really wanted to go with a Japanese beer with my sushi - they had both Asahi or Sapporo in bottles at Okinawa. But I was afraid of getting tired for the afternoon session. The husband and wife couple from Siltech/Crystal, Edwin and Gabi, had a 6 p.m. flight schedule to go back to the Netherlands, so they didn't have any problem ordering up beers to go with their massive amounts of sushi that they ordered. Edwin said, "We'll need to eat a lot of food now because we probably won't eat again until tomorrow after we get home."
The only problem with sushi places is the anticipation and the wait of getting good sushi. They usually bring the specialty rolls out first, but at Okinawa, they didn't. It was about 20 minutes before sushi and sashimi began to show up at the table. And by that time I was ready.
There was a time that I thought that sushi was nothing more than cut bait. I didn't really begin to like sushi until about 15 years ago. Since then, I've become somewhat of a sushi connoisseur - or as my wife and I like to joke, we're sushi whores. I immediately know when the sushi isn't that great - it doesn't have the wholesome taste or chewy texture that good sushi should have. From the first bite of my tuna sashimi, I knew that the sushi at Okinawa was outstanding.
My colleagues, Jon and Chris, eat a lot more sushi on the road than I do (they cover the west coast for our company). Both thought the sushi was great. One of my Montreal colleagues, Todd, who also eats a lot of sushi, yelled down the table to me, "Isn't this great? And it's cheap!" He and some other guys from the office go to Okinawa all the time.
My boss, Daniel, was seated next to me. He leaned over and said, "We have some very good sushi places in Montreal. But this is one of the best we've found."
A couple three of the guys had sushi for appetizers, but ended up getting teriyaki-marinated strip steaks for their lunch. Each steak wasn't very thick, less than a half-inch thick, but my colleague, Ian, said that it was "pretty damn good." The steaks smelled great when they brought them out to the table.
We had some fun at Edwin and Gabi's expense when they brought out a huge bamboo boat filled with sushi that covered our end of the table. It was so huge that they couldn't maneuver it to get to the multitudes of sushi they'd ordered. Gabi was gingerly trying to move it around and she ended up knocking over Chris' water glass which emptied into our much smaller sushi platter. She felt so bad that she immediately ordered up more sushi and sashimi for Chris and I. Quite honestly, it was no big deal for me. Since I was having sashimi with no rice, I was fine. But Chris' sushi got pretty soggy.
Anytime we get together to eat sushi, it's just a free-for-all with people offering samples of what they are having, or people jumping up with a pair of chop sticks to scrounge something off of someone else's plate. Todd offered me a bite of his unagi - which was fresh eel sushi. I declined, saying that eel wasn't quite a delicacy for me. He said, "No, no! You've got to try this. This is the best eel I've ever had!"
I tried it and, yeah, it was pretty good. Not good enough for me to order the next time we go to Okinawa - or at any other sushi restaurant, for that matter. But it was pretty tasty. Todd popped another one in his mouth and made a satiated "Mmmmmmmm....." sound with his mouth full of unagi sushi.
I was overly impressed with the sushi at Okinawa. As they say, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover and you shouldn't judge restaurants by their outside appearance. I trust the judgment and the expertise of my colleagues when they tell me Okinawa is one of the best places for sushi in the greater Montreal area. It was very, very good.