There is no perfect food service inspection system but Montreal's could stand to be a little less opaque. True, the city's Inspection des aliments promulgates a monthly list of offenders but the lag time between initial incident and judgment can be as long as a year. Moreover, severe violations are described in deceptive, general terms on the department's website, which compels the likes of Stéphan Dussault at Le Journal de Montréal to file requests for information.
Dussault most recently wrote about a grisly scene at Big in Japan, a popular Montreal restaurant featured on Anthony Bourdain's now bygone show, The Layover, in 2011. In response to customer complaints, inspectors discovered rodent excrement, food stored at dangerously low temperatures, and mildew on the walls at the Japanese-style pub on the Main. A judge ultimately fined Big in Japan $1,500 this past June (which seems a rather mild penalty).
Sites like Yelp can sometimes paint a spotty picture about a restaurant but they can be a useful tool. In Big in Japan's case, the reviews are not all bad. Far from it. Yet to date the restaurant has an average score of three stars (on five) on Yelp, and has garnered as many 'Average' to 'Terrible' reviews on TripAdvisor as 'Very good' reviews. Grain of salt? Of course. But still, here are ten times Yelpers warned Montrealers about Big in Japan [emphasis ours].
"After seeing this on Anthony Bourdain, we had high hopes. Boy, were we disappointed. [...] I was sorry to waste a meal in this wonderful city at this establishment. With so many great restaurants in Montreal, don't waste your time at a place so mediocre." - W W.
"The open concept kitchen let's you watch the staff at work, which is fun, but I've lost count of how many times I've watched the owner verbally abuse and bully his staff over the most trivial of things. It's always made me uncomfortable, and really detracts from the dining experience." - CT M.
"I waited 20 minutes for my bill. I followed it up and was surprised how rude the manger Andre was. He actually told me rudely to have some patience. He even went as far as to scream at me that I'm never allowed back. Try somewhere else. I have to rate it one star but from my experience it was a zero." - David F.
"The ramen was actually the worst ramen I ever had. Actually I'm pretty sure the pork was the same cut as the buns. It look like it was pre-cooked frozen pork." - Vincent E.
"This is the second time I was at Big in Japan. I was there when they first opened in 2007 and wasn't impressed then. Well I wasn't impressed tonight either. Was this place really featured in the Montreal episode of Anthony Bourdain's new show? How embarrassing." - Partypoli T.
"Yuck. A long wait. The place seemed dirty and smelled bad. Nice staff, but understaffed. And the food was bad in Japan! How do you mess up edamame? We left hungry because the first three dishes ranged from icky to so-so." - Bonjour B.
"As for the food, I ordered the pork 'miso ramen.' It came in a dirty- and oily-looking brown broth that did not even come close to real miso ramen in taste intensity. It came with a standard soft-boiled egg that was cold on the inside - made me question how long ago it was prepared." - Anton B.
"The service was less than stellar. The waitress, along with the other employees seemed to be focused more on their hipster attitude to give enough of a shit and give some decent service. [...] When we were done with the meal, I wasn't even asked if the meal was ok - even though we had left a good 75% of my plate there. No acknowledgement at all." - Davide G.
"More, when I asked if the draft beer was from Japan, the staff (whose glasses' size might compete with her snobbery) gave me the weirdest look ever. [...] Despite the contemptuous service, food was good." - Numa P.
"Never go there. While waiting for a table the manager was berating staff in front of us so we should have known what we were in for. Had the pork buns, they were fine. Very mediocre. Then came the tuna tartare with rice. It looked like canned tuna but tasted worse. As fishy as anything I've ever had and I've eaten raw fish all over the world. I told the waitress it was terrible and asked for it to be replaced with fried chicken. No chance I would order any seafood again. First time in my life I'd ever sent back food in a restaurant. She said sure but returned shortly after to tell us they would not take it back but we could take it to go!!! I asked for the manager who fought with us before walking away. He refused to change the bill. We left but did NOT pay the full amount. NEVER EVER GO THERE." - Trevor M.
Negative TripAdvisor reviews depict a more dire scenario at Big in Japan, and, indeed, Big in Japan Bar (which, full disclosure, is on our list of essential Montreal cocktail bars), specifically with regard to owner André Nguyen's manners. To wit:
"I found the manager very disrespectful since he was screaming at the waiters/bartenders in front of us and swearing at the customers and exactly saying: 'I DON'T GIVE A **** ABOUT THE CUSTOMERS HERE, IF THEY DON'T FOLLOW THE RULES (NOT WALKING IN BETWEEN) OR WHATEVER THEY CAN JUST LEAVE AND YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO TELL THEM TO LEAVE. YOU ARE THE BOSS HERE NOT THEM.'" - Observerhal
"Very poor customer service; owner doesn't know how to treat a lady, let alone an honest and loyal customer. I will never go back there unfortunately." - Maude P.
"Le bar est beau, design, bonne musique et les cocktails sont corrects mais le manager est juste horrible. Il m'a même fait peur lorsqu'il a jeté un verre sur le sol en plein milieu de la salle. On n'a pas compris tout ce qui se passait mais des bouts de verre sont arrivés jusqu'à nos pieds. De plus, il se permet de crier sur ses employés devant les clients. Son attitude gâche complétement l'ambiance zen et sophistiquée du bar." - Amanda R.