It’s a winning combination: a Japanese chef with almost 30 years experience sets up shop in Griffentown, Montreal's hottest foodie neighborhood.
The designer dining room of Restaurant Shinji consists of two long, communal tables with sufficient space between chairs, as well as a pull-down screen for additional privacy. If you can snag a seat at the sushi bar, you'll have even more privacy, and there's a good chance Chef Shinji Nagai himself will serve up his specialties.
Meanwhile, the patio offers a quieter dining experience and a great people watching spot.
Chef Shinji Nagai — Photo courtesy of Will Nguyen / Shinji
Nagai sticks with the many rules of properly preparing traditional sushi and sashimi, minus the gimmicky items found in other Japanese restaurants. This genuine Japanese restaurant gets the details right, from the slicing of the fish to the preparation of the rice. And there's always an odd number of sashimi pieces on the plate, and not a sushi pizza in sight.
Nagai's best work shows up on the sushi platter for two, which can serve up to four light eaters. The artistically arranged platter consists of decorative maki rolls, slivers of nigiri sushi and slices of glistening sashimi.
The lobster roll sushi, with bits of orange, demonstrates Nagai's skills of balancing flavors, as does the Alaskan black cod served in a light maple and miso sauce. These are both good choices from the regular three-page menu, which is explained in great detail by the knowledgeable servers.
While sushi and sashimi are the chef's specialties, the light and crisp mushroom and jumbo shrimp tempura appetizers served at the perfect temperature hit the spot, as does the substantial Wagyu beef dumplings and the sea urchin. The popular seafood tartare, spiced with wasabi and miso, features sustainable fish.
The sake, wines and particularly the cocktails pair well with the sushi and include interesting combinations, like sake paired with tea and lime. While dessert is available, the Japanese Cosmo – made with ginger, basil and white cranberry juice – is much more interesting and tasty.
Dessert purists, however, will love the lime cheesecake. The creamy confection perfectly sweetened with just enough lime tartness is a tad small for sharing, though. Best to order one per diner.
While starters can be had for a few dollars and sushi à la carte ranges from $5.50 to $15, main courses run from the high twenties to $40, while the Omakase menus top out at $75, making Shinji one of the pricier Japanese restaurants in Montreal. But quality ingredients and true food craftsmanship are priceless.