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New Northern joint in Chinatown 2 (long review)

  • porker Aug 22, 2011 07:08 AM

Mrs. Porker and I were in the same old quandary of where to eat. Being nearby, we chose to troll Chinatown 2 and parked on St. Catherine. After idle chat, we decided on the not-too-exciting, but perhaps reliably standard-fare of Pret a Manger (PM) a few doors west of St. Mathieu.

On the walk there, I noticed Buns now offers grilled eggplant (?) (and a lone customer @ 6:00pm on a Sunday). Also very peculiar was the double doors to Bar Diana wide open, showing a makeover of melamine fast food tables and the semblance of a rotisserie chicken counter at the front. Just weird as dive-bar meets chicken place? It seemed the back of the place still has a boatload of colourful characters.

Just about to PM and we notice a newish looking Chinese place. A sign says OPEN AUGUST 12 and theres still opening-day flower bouquets in the window.
A look at the menu showed Northern Chinese (introduced to me by this board by way of Tapioca Thé, Cuisine Szechuan, etc). We dropped PM like a hot egg roll and ventured into the new place.
I apologize as I don't remember the name. Its Bon-something and is 2 doors west of PM (tucked between PM and Bar Diana)

The place is brand spanking new, decor is Ikea-Japanese, lighting is somewhat harsh, background music seems to run from blaring to non-existent (although we didn't notice this with the chile induced burn/buzz of the meal), and is family run. 3 dining areas: one in the picture window facing the street, another a few steps down, and the main dining room (where we ate), down and at the back.
2 freebie apps were set on the table after we ordered; boiled, shelled peanuts and a small bean dish. Both enjoyable.

We ordered small hot&sour soup, green beans with pork, noodles with pork dressing, beef in chile sauce (their version of beef in water), pork in casserole and steamed rice. The friendly waitress was worried that our choices were too spicy. I assured her that it wouldn't be a problem, that we ate in similar places around the hood, and we *hope* it will be spicy. She was OK with that and the food didn't seem dumbed down.
The menu is chock full of pictures, descriptions, and numbers (a kind of slicked up, expanded version of the Tapioca Thé menu), yet not very specific in English. A seemingly running theme at the other restaurants mentioned above.

The h&s soup was a standard with an eggier consistency, but with the heat factor amped up (good&satisfying).
The bean dish was very dry (as it should be) with a scant sprinkle of minced pork. There was strong hints of cumin and ground szechuan peppercorn provided tongue and lip numbness (quite good).
The noodle dish was bowl of steamed noodles topped with a sour minced pork dressing (good and a bargain @ $5).
The beef in chile sauce was a real winner. Again similar to "beef in water" I've had, a cauldron brimming with dried chiles and szechuan peppercorns, sliced beef, and plenty of maturing bean sprouts. It was different in that the bowl didn't have a layer of chile oil and the "water" was more of a thickened broth (excellent).
Pork in casserole arrived in a mini stainless wok and set atop a sterno burner. Chunks of stewed pork sauteed with two kinds of pepper (one seemed like sliced cubano, the other all-heat birds eye). The pork was fantastic, apparently being stewed for a long time before entering this dish. The mini-wok and sterno burner are gimmicky and not needed, but the dish was otherwise excellent.

Service was friendly and attentive. There were about 40 clients (maybe 70% full) ranging from young people on dates to families to hipster groups. There were 4 westerners (including the Porkers). They have wine/beer/sake, not sure about hard stuff.
Dinner with a large Kirin beer, glass of wine, and a coke, $52 after tax, before tip. 3 containers of leftover takeout (had the noodles for breakfast and am thinking of that hell-fire beef broth for lunch)

The menu has lots to choose from and I'm hoping to return with a group to try more items. They have intestine, lamb, pigs foot, whole fish, pork belly (a favourite), and more.

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  1. Thank for the report, porker. This place sounds right up my alley. I guess it's in the local recently vacated by Ichiban ramen.

    1. Thanks for the review porker, this sounds very promising and I love the idea of the beef in water, but with a slightly different twist! Did you happen to notice if they had the matching dish made with fish?

      8 Replies
      1. re: unlaced

        Just had leftovers - had to douse the fire with cold stuffing from the fridge!

        I don't remember the Itchy Ramen, but if you go streetview on googlemap, it shows the location for rent between Diana and a clothing(?) store called Icici.

        They do have the matching dish w/ fish. In fact, I recognized the picture of the fish dish and asked the waitress if they made it with beef. She said yes, flipped through the menu to find the beef equivalent. I say it was "Beef in Chile Sauce" but that might not be the exact name. BTW this version had no tofu.

        Part of the adventure is unravelling the menu. Not all items have a picture and many descriptions are unspecific and fleeting. "Pork in/with ________" could be shoulder, loin, belly, bone-in, mince or skin. I assume the Chinese name is clearer.

        A guy next to us ordered chile chicken. I thought it might be cleavered bits of chicken on the bone dry sauteed with heaps of dried chili (the dish with its fans and detractors in the Tapioca or CS thread). But no, it was pieces of meat in a brownish sauce.

        I hope others post their experience with specific dishes, yeas or nays, reccs, must-trys, etc. I want to go back for pigs foot and the sliced belly.

        1. re: porker

          porky uh sorry I mean porker and mrs. porker.....loved the review...if you get there before the rest of us please write the name and address...also right up my alley. Looking on Google Map there looks to be two places that could inhabit this new resto...thx

          1. re: blondee_47

            Will do.

            If you zoom into the neighborhood on Googlemaps, then drag the googleman onto St. Catherine (streetview) just west of St. Mathieu, you should be in the area. If your view is North, you should see:

            (Bar Diana) (A Louer) (ICICI) (PM) (Tokyo Sushi) (Thai Pho)

            Bar Diana is at 1817 St. Catherine

            ICICI is at 1811

            A Louer (resto location) is smack between ICICI and Bar Diana, so I peg it at either 1813 or 1815 St. Catherine (west of course).

            Urbanspoon

            http://www.urbanspoon.com/nf/67/6717/...

            rates Ichiban as #5 in downtown Japanese restaurants. The address? 1813 St. Catherine.

            This along with SnackHappy's "I guess it's in the local recently vacated by Ichiban ramen" has me comfortable saying this Bon-something restaurant is at 1813 St. Catherine west.

            (it also seems that Urbanspoon #5 did not last?)

            1. re: porker

              Still waiting to see if this one has a name? Anyone else go?

              1. re: humbert

                It's called Restaurant KanBai, and is indeed in the spot vacated by Ichiban (1813 St-Catherine West, 514-933-6699). We ate there this evening, and it will definitely be added to our rotation of Chinatown 2 restos. We had the chili chicken, which was not at all like what porker described - it was fairly similar to Cuisine Szechuan's, but the meat isn't as heavily fried, so it's less crispy. No sauce at all, lots of szechaun peppercorns and red chili peppers...We also had the MaPo tofu, which has a different name on the menu (tofu in spicy sauce, or something like that). Also yummy. Everything was as spicy as I expected it to be. Service is friendly (although they were really busy tonight, which was nice to see, but a little swamped as a result) and prices are reasonable, which is a bonus...
                They will have takeout menus in about 2 weeks (although I'm sure you can order takeout in the interim anyways).

                1. re: cherylmtl

                  "It's called Restaurant KanBai"
                  Thanks cherylmtl - I feel like Loyd in Dumb&Dumber: "Samsonite! I was way off! I knew it started with an S, though", but I didn't even get the first letter right...

                  1. re: porker

                    I took a business card - otherwise odds are I wouldn't have remembered the name at all ;-)

                  2. re: cherylmtl

                    Interesting that you also chose the chili chicken. We liked that dish too, but thought the ma po was really stellar, with a great balance of Szechuan peppercorns and hot peppers, and happy to have figured out which dish it was. We thought it was the best in town so far (though Cuisine Szechuan also makes an excellent ma po).

                    Our other choice was the dan dan noodles. Also vaguely described but not named on the menu, but like the ma po you can ask for it by name.

                    Also saw a dish of what looked like cubes of pork belly in a dark brown but not opaque sauce. Looked wonderful, though probably too rich for a warm summer evening. Porker, was your pork casserole cubes of pork belly, or did we see some other dish?

                    I hope they'll add the names of dishes like ma po and dan dan noodle to the menu in Roman characters, to make it easier to find them.

                    What struck us is that this is a menu that makes few concessions to the Western palate. That's a good thing, because more adventurous folks don't need to ask for translations of the mysterious specials on the wall or ask for the "other menu" -- everything seems to be right there on the one menu.

                    But there are still options for the less adventurous, too. Including General Tao chicken, which really stands out like a sore thumb on the menu. While I normally wouldn't touch it in a place like this, I'm actually curious about it, wondering what such an excellent kitchen does with a westernized standard.

        2. Thanks! I'll be moving to the corner of St-Marc & Maisonneuve in November so I'll definitely have to check that place out!

          1. I tried to go yesterday for lunch. Posted sign said they opened at 11 but when I went inside, the guy in the kitchen said he would only be open for supper that night. Not nice to have an incorrect posted schedule, after I paid for parking to eat there.

            4 Replies
            1. re: reelection

              HA!, Exact same thing happened to me last week - parked practically RIGHT IN FRONT (feeling good about that), put a few bucks in the meter, started walking through the open door and noticed it was pretty dark inside with nary a soul around. Backtracking, I noticed a hand written sign on the door; "今天关闭 closed today". It was right above the sign showing their hours (saying they were open...)
              I was ticked.
              Walked around the corner to Restaurant de Bonheur and had thebest $8 lunch I've had in a while. I felt like Hawkeye in MASH as they serve from a buffet-steam table onto a tin compartment tray.
              To scratch the northern itch, we returned to Kanbai later on. I have picures that I hope to post sometime...

              1. re: porker

                Restaurant du Bonheur is still around? 'Snackhappy' had mentioned on this board, that Restaurant du Bonheur is gone, replaced by Restaurant Peng Ju Ge(Northern Chinese standbys & various hotpots).

                1. re: BLM

                  Yeah, I was going to ask...

                  1. re: BLM

                    As you can see from my posts, I don't pay much attention to names...
                    I ate around the corner from Kanbai on St. Mathieu. When recounting here, I google mapped the place and found du Bonheur.
                    I guess I actually ate at Peng Ju Ge. Still great value for their pick-3 lunch.

              2. Stopped in Sunday, 4th time in 2 months.
                Arrived a bit after 5:00pm with only 6 other diners in the place. By 6:00, the place was packed packed packed with people lined out the door. Apparently there was a review in the Gazette?

                Chicken in chili sauce app - cold, bone-in chicken (clever chopped) in a spicy sauce, fantastic.
                Their version of salt & pepper sparerib - crispy, chock full of fresh chile, utterly delicious (they offer a boneless version of pork chop).
                Their version of ma po tofu - *very* tasty, agree with Mr. F, "stellar".
                Szechuan cabbage - spot-on, wok hai, szechuan peppercorn adding a touch of burn, a *highlight*.
                Hairtail - a small type of bony fish, chopped, pan fried, then tossed in a dark, sweetish sauce. Not to my tastes, a touch cloying, fish tasted...tired? or too long in the freezer?.
                Pork "something or other" - cubes of pork belly in a brown sauce. On the sweet side, but not overly so (as with the fish), with overtones of heat. Very good.

                Disappointed: they did not have pig foot (seems always out) and just ran out of jellied pig skin.

                Want to try: on next table was an app of deboned chicken feet, looked amazing. Also a fried lotus root looked pretty darned good.

                Unanswered: beef manyplies. Same word in French, waitress could only say part of the insides of beef. Is this cow tripe?

                Service can be iffy depending on server; some are super friendly, going out of their way, some curt, doing the minimum. Hardly mars the the experience, though.

                1. FYI
                  Chatting with the owners (husband cook/wife front of the house) I discovered these two opened and ran Oui&Oui. They sold when family obligations had them travel to China then opened Konbai upon their return to Canada.
                  The husband is also a classically trained French chef - he went to culinary school for 2 years. He's thinking of a fusion of sorts, Northern Chinese meets French, but doesn't know how it'll fly.

                  I can't get their pickled chicken feet out of my head. Deboned (but still containing inedible tendon) and pickled for a week, they're really very good. Only problem is their availibility; of the last 3 times, they had them only once. They offered to call me when they have it, but I declined, preferring sponteneity and possible dissapointment over scheduled chicken feet.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: porker

                    I think that their food is Sichuanese, mostly. That's not "northern" but rather south and west. Sichuan is borders Tibet which in part is called Qinghai province.

                  2. The Mirror gave Kanbai a sprkling review today;
                    http://www.montrealmirror.com/wp/2012...

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: porker

                      After reading this, and having been meaning to go there for a while, I'm going there tonight! Thanks!

                      1. re: Chocolatesa

                        They have a cold fungs dish thats very good - kinda like tree ear. I love their pickled chicken feet (not always available) and they have a cold chicken appetizer thats very good (spicy and sour chicken leg chopped on the bone).

                        1. re: porker

                          I love chicken feet! And that appetizer sounds good! I didn't get to go there last night finally but I have planned an outing with several friends on Sunday night. I'll post back about what we had.

                      2. re: porker

                        BTW, I am taking my suspicion of Kanbai adding MSG back. I was in the resto again, about 2 weeks ago- good food, no super-thirst. We tried 4 dishes (spicy fish soup, pork with black beans, interesting tofu-soup with egg (ordered by my Chinese friends, I do not know the name) and eggplants- all dishes were testy. I am to Kanbai again.

                        1. re: indeed

                          I had the tofu/egg about 6 weeks ago. I actually found the taste somewhat bland, but what a great transformation (for me) after adding some of their house chili-oil.

                          I previously mentioned on another thread that I have concerns about their consistency. When the owner is in the kitchen everything seems very good. When he is absent, it can be hit or miss.
                          This may be an underlying factor in the on-again/off-again reports kicking around.

                          1. re: porker

                            I see... sounds like a good explanation. Very probable that the presence/absence of owner makes such a difference.
                            My MSG concern dates the time when the resto just opened (my visit there was withing 2 months of their opening date). May be then they used the powder, and now- not. Who knows...
                            Anyway, me and my friends from Chengdu loved the food. I thought if Chengdu people liked the resto, it should be authentic, no? :))) My friends said that there are some dishes from Harbin are mentioned on the wall- I want to try them next time.

                            1. re: indeed

                              Yeah, I believe Kanbai is going for Chengdu style, whilst other Sichuan places in town tend to lean more towards the bolder Chongqing style.

                              I'm curious about the Northern dishes you mention. Do you know what any of them are? I've been having made cravings for some good sweet and sour pork.

                              1. re: indeed

                                Either the chef is from Harbin and knows how to cook Chengdu style, or the reverse. Harbin food is very boring, and not one of the majro cuisine's of China. We have a friend from Harbin and we always joke about her cooking. It's a little strange, what you report. But if people from Chengdu vouch for the place, that's as good as it can get about Scichuanese. I think that there's two main Scichuanese styles; Chengdu and Chongching. So it sounds very good, but a little suspicious about the Harbin food.

                                1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                  Harbin, huh? I remember a peculiar Anthony Bourdain episode on Harbin - the most Russian city in China. Looked kinda cold as well.

                        2. Do they take cc or is it cash only?

                          Also, does anyone know if they deliver?

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: OliverB

                            cc is OK.

                            :))) Unfortunately, I do not speak/read Mandarin... So, I asked my friend, who was there with me how the dishes are called: Guo Bao Rou (Sweet and sour pork), Zhu Rou Dun Fen Tiao (Braised pork with vermicelli), Xhiao Ji Dun Mo Gu (Stewed chicken with mushrooms). There were more, but those 3 easily came to her mind.

                            1. re: indeed

                              Fantastic! Thank you

                              1. re: indeed

                                Not necessarily Chengdu (or even Szechuan for that matter), but they usually have a steamed fish on the wall. I think its turbot, whole (but without head), delicious, and relatively cheap ($15-$18 or so)

                                1. re: porker

                                  Awesome! Thank you for letting us know. I'll be asking waiters for some pointers then (since I cannot read what is written on the wall) :)))

                                  1. re: indeed

                                    I can't read either, but everytime I'm there, I ask whats written on the wall.

                                    Too bad they dropped some menu items shortly after opening - I would've liked to try their style of pigsfeet and a coupla others scratched from the menu.

                              2. re: OliverB

                                I'm 97% sure they don't deliver.

                              3. I finally went with 5 other people last night. We got the intestine dish, 3 chicken dishes (kung pao, one served in a cast iron pot over a burner, and the crispy chicken with lots of chilies), fish and cabbage soup, roasted duck with root beer (also served in a pot on a burner), shrimp won ton soup, hot & sour soup, spring rolls, and octopus balls. The spring rolls and octopus balls were both great. It was my first time trying octopus balls and they were crispy on the outside and nice and soft and gooey on the inside, and drizzled with a yummy brown sauce. The spring rolls came with a sauce that I initially thought was just your regular jarred sweet-and-sour but after a few bites I started to wonder if it was something else cause when eaten with the spring rolls it had some flavor that I couldn't put my finger on, definitely very yummy. The wonton and hot and sour soups were very good too.

                                I loved the intestine dish (I was the one that ordered it, only one other person tried it and she said it was good). It was really flavorful with some spices like maybe star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg? something along those lines. It had plenty of sauce, crunchy onion and bell pepper pieces and not too spicy. The waitress was surprised that I was ordering that, and when she asked if I was sure I reassured her that I've had it before and I love it.

                                Everyone else was happy with their dishes, I liked them as well, the only one I didn't try was the crispy chicken on a bed of chilies. The duck was my favourite out of the poultry dishes, it didn't have a distinct rootbeer flavor but was definitely delicious, if full of bones (which we were duly warned about). The kung pao chicken was suuuper tender, and the sauce was tasty enough.

                                The fish and cabbage soup was awesome, the fish was melt-in-your-mouth tender and the broth was so flavorful, it tasted of what I think might be szechuan peppers and lemon/lemongrass, and the cabbage was really good too, salty and spicy and flavorful. My dad took home the leftovers to my mom ($8 for a HUGE bowl) and she loved it too.

                                I can't wait to go back there again! I'll have to ask the waitress about some of the specials on the wall next time.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Chocolatesa

                                  I think the flavour in the spring roll sauce was ginger - at least, that was the unexpected flavour that we tasted. We also had (and liked) the octopus balls and the duck. I forgot about trying the fish and cabbage soup, but it sounds awesome so we'll have to go back.
                                  Thanks everyone for the suggestions and reviews. We really enjoyed KanBai.