I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time in my life hunting for amazing ceviche, and I’m so happy to say Montreal now has a place doing a decent version with fish.
Anyone (even me, even you) can do a tasty version with cooked Nordic shrimp or snow crab. But to do a raw version with sustainable fish bought in Montreal? Super hard.
In Peru, the best fish for ceviche is corvihna, but it’s very expensive. And not always sustainable. At La Mar, one of the best cevicherias in Lima, it’s worth the splurge. La Mar is owned by Gaston Acurio, arguably the country’s most famous chef, founder of a chef school for underpriveledged chefs-to-be and mentor to much of the country’s culinary revolution and pride.
But La Mar’s outposts in other cities and countries (I’ve been to the one in San Francisco) don’t always offer corvihna. I like to think it’s for environmental reasons. Price is probably also a factor.
Why is corvihna so essential to amazing ceviche? Because there aren’t a lot of fish with the right texture and enough flavour to stand up to a sharp lime juice marinade (the limes are also different in Peru). Often the fish will be too rubbery or it’ll fall apart. Or there’ll be no flavour at all, which is what I usually think about cardeau, the fish used at Tiradito in Montreal in place of corvihna.
But it works!
Tiradito’s chef uses fish broth to enhance the lime juice marinade (called leche de tigre). I’m thinking he uses the trimmings of the fish that are the result of cutting the fillets into fairly large cubes (Peruvian style). They should be at least 1/2″, which is hard because a fish is not shaped like a cube or even a rectangular prism…
Plus, since the pieces are usually so big, if you use bland, thicker fish, that’s a lot of bland fish you’ll have to chew. So it has to be tasty. Hence fish broth. More fish flavour.
He serves the ceviche almost Lima-style, with sweet potato (cut into steaks, not chips), and fresh hot chili pepper. It’s not the traditional ají amarillo, though, because we can’t get that fresh here commercially; instead, the paste is stirred into the leche de tigre, more like a tiradito-style marinade than a straight-up clear ceviche one, but I’m not complaining. There’s also a mixed seafood ceviche with octopus and sea snails on Tiradito’s menu, but that’s a Montreal adaptation. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just not as much of a bargain price-wise, and the texture won’t be smooth yet toothsome like the fish broth-ed cardeau.
Is he a genius, Chef Marcel Olivier Larrea? I think so. He even gets extra points for not wasting those fish trimmings.
Big points also go to consultant Dave Schmidt for the drinks list, and for hiring Val Chagnon, formerly of Le Mal Necessaire, to pull it off perfectly. She’s also the former Drunken Masters champion and my favourite badass female cocktail mixologist in the city.
These people are so much cooler than me. I wish I could come up with a rum, Scotch, Chartreuse verte, pineapple purée and toasted sesame cocktail. I realized I also used the word ‘genius’ above in reference to the chef, but when you sprinkle toasted sesame on top of a giant Old Fashioned ice cube so that you smell the sesame every time you take a sip of the refreshing cocktail, that’s genius.
It’s also pretty smart to put a chewy, sweet, soft piece of soursop (aka guanabana) in the concave part of an inverted, squeezed lime half (again, anti-waste) and then get customers to slide it into the bright red top of the drink and mix to combine.
I was actually attracted initially to this place because of the cocktail menu, thinking the food would be an afterthought. But now it’s time to go back to eat my way through the rest of the menu. I doubted you a little, Chef Larrea. Now, I have some faith.
What I’m looking forward to tasting next time:
Causa. It’s probably made with farmed Atlantic smoked salmon, hence unsustainable. But that’s to be seen. Causa is a spiced mayo-whipped mashed potato stacked into layers with seafood and/or avocado. Tiradito does both versions but with smoked salmon instead of raw salmon or cooked crab. They also do it with maple syrup for a locavore splash.
Octopus Anticucho. These are usually charcoal-grilled skewers of meat. They’re like our poutine – drunk food. You get them in Barranco at this giant, multi-level open-air restaurant and have steins of beer with them. They come with different hot sauces for dipping. The most popular are beef hearts, but you can also get chicken. Not as many places do octopus because it’s easy to overcook. Or, they do it, and then they overcook it. So you shouldn’t order it. We’ll see what happens at Tiradito.
If the chef’s kimchi is gluten-free, I’m interested in that, too. There’s a big Chinese and Japanese population in Peru. I didn’t think Korean was as big, but unlike the Peruvian potatoes dish with fresh cheese (which I can’t eat because I’m lactose intolerant), the kimchi dish with the amarillo pepper confit could be fair game.
And I’ll be back for the Maracuya sour with Tequila, lime, egg white, passion fruit and bitters (I think I love everything drinkable with egg white because it’s lactose-free but super creamy) and the Pedrito with Mezcal, Vermouth del profesor and montenegro, a sweet and bitter herbal combo thanks to the artisanal red vermouth and amaro.
Until next time.
Where: 1076 rue de Bleury
Hours: Tues-Fri 11:30am-2pm, Tues-Sat 5-11pm
How much: ~$45 for two cocktails and a ceviche to share