Alas, subsequent visits, while not devoid of positive points, didn't live up to the first. Still, there are redeeming qualities to this restaurant, even if it's not the perfect spot.
The ambiance at Kyo is warm and upscale. The decor features thick wooden tables, stone and brick walls, a good number of tables, and lots of seating on bar stools. There is very little seating at the sushi bar itself. The intended emphasis is obviously on the izakaya bar atmosphere, where food is served as something to go with the drinks.
One of the reasons I enjoyed my initial dinner so much was the gyutan, a generous helping of thinly sliced beef tongue grilled and served in a very tasty sauce for only $7. It's the best deal on the entire menu. The kakuni (braised pork) is also a good value. The gindara saikyo yaki (blackened cod) was more of a splurge at $19, but worth it. The cod had been marinated before being cooked and it melted in the mouth. The sashimi plate was also more than acceptable.
Some of the dishes didn't measure up, though. A sushi roll was run-of-the-mill, while the beef sashimi was sliced too thick and was not as tender as it should be. Overall, however, I really enjoyed the food and looked forward to coming back.
Kyo has a happy hour menu for which I returned to the restaurant not long after my first visit. It was fine, but less satisfying than the dinner, primarily because the 5-à-7 menu doesn't present a significantly better deal on food than the evening menu. Prices are less, but so are portion sizes.
It is the lunch service about which I am the most ambivalent. There is less variety in the sense that each dish is intended to be an entire meal instead of a small plate to share, and prices are on the high end for lunch. My dining companion chose the bento box. While the sushi roll and shrimp and sweet potato tempura were good, the soba noodle salad was disappointingly bland, and the salmon was flavored well but slightly overcooked.
I had the chirashi and was somewhat shocked, especially considering the $19 sticker price, to see that it featured processed crab stick front and center.
My opinion didn't improve when I dug into the rice, which had had far too much vinegar added to it, to the point where I didn't want to finish it. The raw fish in the chirashi was generally pleasant, although some pieces were not in as good a condition as others.
Hit or miss
Although there have been notable highlights during my several trips to Kyo, my experiences have unfortunately been marred with inconsistencies. In addition to the issues with the food described above, I have also had problems with the service, in particular with the pacing of dishes, which has varied from nearly instantaneous to glacial, and with overall attention given to the table.
Because of these hit-or-miss kinds of experiences, I hesitate to give a glowing endorsement of Kyo. At the same time, there have been aspects I liked and I certainly wouldn't rule out returning for another try. Maybe you just have to catch it on the right night?
From January 9, 2014 until February 2, 2014 the Happening Gourmand culinary event in Old Montreal features specially priced menus at various restaurants. Kyo is offering a $25 3-course evening menu, which might be a good opportunity to try the place out for yourself and see what you think.
Kyo Bar Japonais
711 Côte de la Place d'Armes
Metro: Place d'Armes
Dress: Casual or business casual.
Price: Allow $20 - $35 per person for lunch, tax and tip included. allow $30 - $60 per person for dinner, tax and tip included.
Highlights: Nice ambiance. Beef tongue. Blackened cod.