Small, family-run restaurants are easy to root for. Noren, a new pocket Japanese kitchen on Rachel, across from Mission Santa Cruz, is the city's latest example. The fetching little 10-seater from Élyse Garand and Hidenori Tsuda, designed by former tenant L'atelier 3/4, focuses on two bellwether, addictive Japanese snacks: takoyaki (colloquially known as 'octopus balls') and okonomiyaki (a savoury pancake). Garand and Tsuda have only a modicum of prior restaurant experience (the couple worked for a brief spell at Mile End's Café Falco), but come to the project with a lot of enthusiasm.
Noren, named after the traditional Japanese fabric divider, is an homage to the tiny, family restaurants that proliferate all over Japan, explains Garand, who grew up outside of Montreal. "I spent seven years in Japan [Kyoto] with my husband. These kinds of restaurants are everywhere. And they tend to specialize. So we came up with the idea of a small takoyaki shop there."
The couple's first theoretical menu was originally more extensive. "We thought we might do yakisoba too, the stir fried Japanese noodles," says Garand. "But it's just the two of us. Takoyaki and okonomiyaki are enough. Already we have some customers asking if we do ramen!" Aside from takoyaki (both traditional and vegetarian) and okonomiyaki, Noren offers a salad, a weekly special (a Japanese curry plate was featured this past week), and a coconut tapioca pudding for dessert. Beverages include Japanese soft drinks, and coffee. Nothing on the menu exceeds $9. An application for a liquor permit was initially rejected by the Plateau borough; now that her lease has been finalized and the restaurant is up and running, Garand has asked for a revision.
It's likely that Noren will strike a chord with the neighbourhood's residents, and workers in the nearby 4200 Saint-Laurent office tower. There's only so much Portuguese chicken, empanadas, and poutine one can eat for lunch. "When we decided on this place, we honestly didn't know about the other lunch options," laughs Garand. "We chose it because we liked the size and the area, but we didn't think too much about the business. I think I'll have to buy a couple more chairs. Maybe a bench!"
Status: Noren, 77 Rachel Ouest, (514) 397-1141. Now open Wednesday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m., and Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from noon to 9 p.m.