Culture  Heart food

Why people wait 40 minutes for a taste of Kazu

If there is a line up, then it must be worth the wait. Located at 1862 Ste. Catherine West, right at the corner of St. Marc, a unique Japanese restaurant has gotten Montreal’s food enthusiasts talking and passers-by intrigued. Locals and tourists line up for it, and people all over the world who tried it write about it. A fan from London commented on Kazu’s Facebook page: “I miss you from London…Kazu has gone international!”

So, what is so special about Kazu? What makes people willing to wait at the line up for 15 to 40 minutes, and why do they keep coming back?

Étienne Clément, a student of Asian cultures and languages at UQAM, is trying to get in to Kazu for the fifth time. The hype and the line up drew him here, but the line itself is also the reason why he is still wondering what Kazu is all about. After thirty minutes of waiting on a busy Sunday night, he walked away once again without getting to feed his curiosity.

However, unlike Clément, the loyal Kazu fans out there like Aaron Neifhoff, a Political Science student at McGill, whom I also met in line, have relived the Kazu experience several times: “I’ve been here many times before. The food is incredible, because it’s really authentic and I really like the character of the place,” Neifhoff said.

Dubbed the best Japanese restaurant in Montreal by many delighted customers and known for its originality, it quickly gained popularity through word of mouth and positive reviews online after opening on March 1, 2010.

When I asked Chef Kazuo, founder and owner of this restaurant, what is so special about Kazu, he simply said, “Heart food.” Curious, I also asked if he knows how popular his restaurant is on the internet and how everybody is talking about it, he replied in his thick Japanese accent, laughing, “No. I don’t know. I don’t have time to check.”

For starters, Kazu does not serve sushi. Instead, you’ll discover Japanese food you won’t find anywhere else in the city, such as their famous shrimp burger, grilled salmon head, and Kazuo’s favourites: pork neck; their salmon and tuna bowl, which is served with salad and topped with crispy rice noodles; and their homemade sake ice cream – all made with Kazuo’s meticulous delicacy.

I asked Kazuo why he doesn’t serve sushi, to which he replied, “I need an ocean, but there is no ocean.”

Illuminated with Japanese lanterns, the first things you will notice at Kazu are the menus, which are handwritten with markers on white sheets of paper. They are posted on the walls where patrons can easily read them. The place itself is tiny and low-key. Everybody sits elbow-to-elbow with one another at the bar or at small tables. The friendly waitstaff wear jaunty kerchiefs. Demonstrating his commitment to his tiny but remarkable restaurant, Kazuo is often at the bar cooking with his sous chefs, greeting both new and regular customers.

A must-order dish at Kazu is the Japanese version of bibimbap, a Korean dish. Served with rice, fried egg, and salad, the tender, juicy marinated beef rib will definitely make you want to order a second round. As for dessert, the homemade wasabi ice cream, which came from Kazuo’s imagination when he was thinking about a spicy ice cream, is a must-try. It is made for food adventurers.

Although the wait may be long, the service is undeniably fast. The average price for a dish ranges from $10 to $25, but with $20, you can still enjoy a full meal followed by dessert. The menu may be a bit pricey for students on a budget, but Kazu must be on the “try list” of every would-be McGill foodie.