When Takuya Matsuda was an up-and-coming sushi chef living in California, he said he spent a lot of time in Las Vegas. It was there, at a Cirque du Soleil show, that he came up with the concept for his new Montreal restaurant, Okeya Kyujiro, which opened downtown for take-out on Friday, January 8, 2021.
Part sushi spot and part theatre, Okeya Kyujiro promises to be an experience unlike anything the city's ever seen — or tasted — before.
While other Montreal sushi restaurants offer omakase-style service at specific times or in addition to other menu items, this is the first one that's just omakase — a set menu, chef's choice, by reservation only.
When indoor dining resumes, the plan is to do two sittings per night, each for ten people, each two hours long, and each consisting of a 20-course meal.
We spoke to Matsuda, who's both owner and chef, to find out more about his exciting addition to the local food scene.
Some people might not see the connection between sushi and Cirque du Soleil, but Chef Matsuda makes it clear as he recalls the experience of seeing a Cirque du Soleil performance.
"I was so impressed," he says.
"I [didn't] really understand English but they don't speak so everyone all over the world can enjoy it. I was thinking that sushi and Japanese food is [a] kind of entertainment too."
For starters, Chef Matsuda tells us that food is a way for him to bring Japanese culture to other parts of the world. Like Cirque du Soleil, there's a universality to food that bypasses language barriers.
Then, there's the performance aspect. By cooking in front of customers, Chef Matsuda says he wants dining out — when it's possible again — to be a spectacle.
"We care for the tools, we care for the uniform, we care for the music. Total coordinat[ion]," he says.
He plans to install a screen or curtain that will rise when the show — aka dinner service — begins.
He also refers to his staff as his cast.
His "performance team" includes Madame Sake, an international sake sommelier who many Montrealers will recognize from her workshops and tastings around town.
"And we may have a ninja. My hometown is very famous for ninjas," he whispers.
"If I’m a ninja, I’m not going to tell you."
Another advantage of cooking in front of customers, Chef Matsuda explains, is added freshness.
Rice will be cooked, dashi broth will go from stock to soup, fresh ginger and wasabi will be grated, and sesame seeds will be roasted — all in front of the customer, using traditional Japanese tools, served right away.
"That smell, it’s much better," he says.
"Also, food is very [...] visual [...] so we try to show everything in front of the customer."
Even bamboo leaf garnishes will be carved into artful designs before customers' eyes, a Japanese practice called sasa-giri.
Each dinner service will conclude with a tea ceremony, says Chef Matsuda, using organic tea supplied by his parents — tea traders back in Japan.
The ChefIlana Belfer | MTL Blog
Matsuda, an award-winning executive sushi chef who's worked in the food industry for more than 20 years, comes to Montreal via Toronto and Vancouver.
Before that, he lived in Los Angeles, San Diego and Osaka, though his hometown is in Mie Prefecture, Japan.
As Chef Matsuda points to different aspects of his restaurant, two things stand out.
One: The man loves his knives.
Two: Each element has been hand-picked with love, much of it courtesy of artisans he's met on his path to the present.
He tells us only 20 people in Japan can make his handmade rice steamer basket — a waitlist two months long.
The charcoal he uses for grilling and smoking, kishu binchotan, is supposedly the most expensive in the world and difficult for even Michelin-starred Japanese chefs to get.
"[But] I have a connection," he explains.
The Japanese characters on his logo were drawn by his friend, a monk, and his intricately painted Ko-Imari porcelain plate was designed by the father of his friend who runs Utsuwa-No-Yakata, a Japanese tableware store in Vancouver.
As he puts it, "I have a lot of friends."
Personable as he is, you might want to befriend Chef Matsuda should you ever eat at his restaurant. But don't get too chatty during dinner.
"[The] chef make[s] food. Has to concentrate on cooking," he says. "If a customer asks us to drink some sake or something, this is not professional. Drink and cooking doesn’t work."
Don't worry. Sake servers dressed in kimonos, he says, will explain what he's doing over the microphone.
Chef Matsuda may be starting Okeya Kyujiro in Montreal (and, yes, he says it's partially due to it being the home of Cirque du Soleil) but he tells us he has big plans to open restaurants all around the world.
Many restaurants start in Toronto or Vancouver then come to Montreal, but he says he wants his restaurant to be the other way around with Quebec as its headquarters.
He already has plans to open a second location in Vancouver this summer and is aiming to open in Toronto in 2022.
Address: 1227, rue de la Montagne, Montreal, QC
Details: Open 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. for take-out bento boxes while curfew is in effect. Pre-order. When indoor dining resumes, there will be two sittings per day by reservation only.
Why You Need To Go: Top-tier sushi served in a Cirque du Soleil-inspired atmosphere to delight all your senses — your chance to experience traditional Japanese omakase in Montreal!