I grew up a voracious teenager, and I’m sure my adolescent appetite was by no means atypical. I’m talking two pizza pockets and a bowl of cereal before having seconds for dinner. Thinking back, this informs my current-day capacity to enjoy the most grease-laden or needlessly sweet things I can lay my hands on. But my gut’s getting weary.
Montreal, I love your all-dressed dogs and hamburgers; your once-embarrassing national dishes that I won’t write out here for fear of developing a craving; but I need to mix it up now and then. The worst is to come when I’m looking for bar food, which is typically all of the above. It’s not doing me any favours when I’ve got friends visiting from out of town, the kind of folk that — as much as I love them — have more of a meat and potatoes sensibility. So it’s nice to find a spot that achieves some sense of adventure while still giving that familiar abdominal weight of carbs and dairy.
Pikeos is one of those restaurants. Discreet in its location, it opened a little over a month ago in the previous address of a brunch spot called Ozeu & O’Boeuf in St-Henri. From the outside, the space looks like the vaulted entrance to a condo. A new face for the neighbourhood’s main strip in terms of variety, after Tiradito it’s the second in town to be serving Nikkei cuisine, the hybrid child of Japanese immigrants and Peruvians cooking side-by-side. Compared to Tiradito, Pikeos’s chef Angelo Reategui Rocha leans more towards the saucy, salty and bar-based eats with Peruvian twists. It’s a more carefully plated follow-up to the enterprise’s first business, the Peruvian burger joint Sandouchon in the Cours Mont-Royal.
As you suck back a tallboy of Tecate or sip on a pisco sour, a look at the menu immediately reveals booze-friendly bites with the listing of mac & cheese with huachana sausage ($10), or orders of yuca fries with a chipotle-leaning “Pikeos” sauce ($6); perfect for those meat and potatoes visitors I mentioned. Meanwhile, the rest of the menu provides some chances to try out something “new:” There are the antichuchos ($8), marinated and grilled duck hearts with sweet potato and crispy kernels of choclo, or the more classic papa rellena ($7), balls of panko-encrusted potato stuff with sausage and aji panca pepper with a rocoto pepper emulsion sauce. As ornate as these options might have seemed to my guests at the time, the duck hearts are juicy and none too offal-ish in their taste to get a nod from the table, and really, how can you go wrong with fried balls of taters stuffed with sausage and paired with a mildly spicy sauce?
Soon enough, there’s more than one fork poking at my steak à la pobre ($12) or breaded and fried beef on yuca fries, plaintain chips, creamy tari sauce and topped with a fried egg. The same goes for my “slider” ($8) of an arepa topped with braised pork, sweet potato, salsa and a black mint sauce — this one is possibly the most heavy out of all the dishes we ordered, but with enough space left, it’s time to order one more dish. Wanting something a bit more strictly Peruvian, I order up the conchas a la parmesana ($14): scallops baked in the shell with béchamel, and mildly spiced. It’s one of those briny but savoury dishes that evokes that rich history of eating out of the sea in Peru, an aspect of the culinary culture that was endearing to Japanese immigrants.
There are dishes at Pikeos that are commonly regarded as being Nikkei, but there’s enough here to be more Peruvian than Japanese. It’s by no means a failing of the restaurant, however. There are ample options that meld that distinct marriage of chili with soy, of seafood with frying oil. I’ll just have to return to try them next time. As for this visit? Still satisfied.
By the end of the meal, we’re all amply stuffed, and no wonder: All choices ordered leaned more towards the heavier side, starches and proteins with sauce and/or cheese on top. That’s all the more impressive when considering the portions are tapas-sized, but substantially laid out. A bang for the buck, plus a couple handfuls of cold ones or the stems of cocktail glasses, and Pikeos merits a second act. ■
4293 Notre-Dame W.