The Grilled Sanma at the Hakata Ramen Restaurant in Montreal was well plated, and visually appealing, but the general execution was mediocre.
Hakata Ramen, as the name suggests, specializes in Ramen dishes, but they also have a wide selection of Japanese and Korean appetizers and main dishes. Some of these are very good, and can be incorporated into a Ramen-based meal, but a number of items I tried there were not especially impressive.
The fish you see pictured above appeared on the Hakata menu as ‘Saba Mackerel’. In actual fact, Saba is the Japanese name for the ‘Chub’ or ‘Pacific’ Mackerel, while the fish grilled at Hakata is actually a Pacific Saury, or ‘Sanma’ in Japanese. I have previously introduced this species in my review of the, somewhat similar, Grilled Sanma at Ken’s in Ottawa. It is worth having a looking at that post just for the purposes of contrast and comparison.
Anyway, the Hakata version of this dish certainly looked appealing once it arrived. The skin was grilled to an appealing golden brown and toasted to a slight crispiness. There was even some charring in a few spots here and there, which generally adds some pleasing notes if not overdone. The sweetish glazing sauce which allowed for this pleasing caramelization may have been a simple Teriyaki style blend but was, I am fairly sure, a Kabayaki Eel Sauce.
The issue here was the overall taste. The grilling job was sufficiently well handled to leave the flesh tender, and not dried out at all, and there was a pleasing sweetness to the flesh closest to the bones. Unfortunately, the skin, and also the flesh near the tail and the gills, had a noticeably, and somewhat mystifying, bitter aftertaste.
If you look at the Ken’s version, you can see that there is no glaze and the grilling job was very light as compared to the Hakata Ramen Sanma. In Ken’s case, however, both the skin and the flesh were sweet and delicately flavored everywhere so I am fairly sure that the bitterness at Hakata had nothing to do with the natural qualities of the fish itself. Clearly, something happened before or during the grilling process at Hakata that produced this rather unfortunate artifact. It wasn’t a glaringly horrible effect but, overall, it left an unfavorable impression.