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Montreal Japanese Cafe Throwdown: Le Cafe Falco vs. L'Entoilage

Posted by Amie / March 15, 2011

Montreal Japanese Cafe throwdown - L'Entoilage vs. Cafe Le FalcoCriteria: Best Japanese Snack Food, Best Lunch Deal, Best Beverage, Best Dessert, Best Atmosphere, Best Saturday Brunch

Two Japanese cafés have set up shop around Ubisoft. L'Entoilage is situated directly on St-Laurent, taking up prime pedestrian traffic area while Le Café Falco is tucked into the big warehouse district east of St-Laurent, where Mile End hipsters wouldn't think to wander, at least not without a map.

Menu items like ton katsu (breaded pork) are found on every Japanese restaurant and most sushi restaurant menus in the city, but you don't normally see it as a sandwich on ciabatta bread with sprouts. And you rarely see the mayo-sweet pancake, okonomiyaki, or un-squished onigiri rice balls stuffed with savoury meat, fish, tofu, or vegetables. Even more unusual is seeing sprouted mung bean, seaweed and sesame seed salad with a maple syrup-based vinaigrette, or siphon coffee, or pistachio macarons.

Both are contemporary Japanese cuisine in a cool Montreal café setting, but despite everything they seem to have in common, Le Café Falco and L'Entoilage are more different than they are the same... which is great because it means I don't really have to pick one over the other. Worst throwdown ever!

20110309_Onigiri-and-salad-at-Le-Cafe-Falco.jpgOnigiri and Salad at Le Cafe Falco

Best Japanese Snack Food: How do you compare onigiri and okonomiyaki? The triangles of seasoned rice eaten with small strips of nori versus the steaming, sweet and savoury, mayonnaise-y pancake with a sweet teriyaki-like sauce and fish or pork toppings? One is a simple snack with a few mouthfuls of surprise inside, like the soy and miso-sweetened chopped tofu skin onigiri filling, or the slightly bitter mustard leaves and soy with turmeric and vinegar, sautéed in soy sauce. The other, okonomiyaki, is a comforting plate of thick, molten pancake cut into pizza-like wedges, perfect for eating with you hands so the messy dish doesn't squish out from between your chopsticks. Even if the Japanese sweet mayonnaise and sauce on top of the okonomiyaki aren't home-made, the fluffy L'Entoilage version is more concerned with being delicious than fancy.L'Entoilage menu with okonomiyakiOkonomiyaki in top-right corner

So for a snack you want a few onigiri at Le Café Falco, but for a meal you'll want the okonomiyaki at L'Entoilage.

Cafe le Falco HammockBest Ambiance: Le Cafe Falco

Le Falco has a hammock. You know how I feel about hammocks. It's not really a napping hammock, which definitely makes it lose points, but you could sit in it, so it's quasi-functional. The art and décor of the café are also done by the owner's husband, and the décor creates a very zen feeling in the café. Cafe Le FalcoYou're most likely to find office workers from the neighbourhood talking quietly and somberly while sipping cups of coffee with a brioche from Boulangerie Guillaume or a cookie outside of meal times.

That stands in complete contrast to L'Entoilage's whimsy. Everything is colourful and bright, and the whole place feels cute in a Japanese animé kind of way. Falco is more like the elegant, refined older sister and L'Entoilage is the boisterous J-Pop-loving younger sister who bounces around on a permanent -- though adorable -- sugar high.

Best Lunch Deal: Café Falco for a small lunch or just a sandwich, L'Entoilage for a hot meal.

Since these cafés are basically making their money at lunch time off the hordes of hungry Ubisoft and office workers east of St-Laurent (Le Café Falco closes at 5pm daily and is only open Saturday for brunch) the best time to check them out is from 11:30-12:30. Le Café Falco often runs out of onigiri and sandwiches by 2pm.

L'Entoilage SandwichesFor $8.50 at L'Entoilage, you get a sandwich (spicy Thai chicken, beef burger sandwich, ham and cheese, tuna and cranberry or a huge slice of brie with pesto, carrots, red peppers, and lettuce for the vegetarians), soup or salad, and a drink. That's a lot for your money. I also love that the vegetables on them them are not standard - the slices (not sticks) of carrots, for example - in the same way that they use the stems of broccoli in the homemade soup. Nothing's wasted.L'Entoilage Sweet and Sour Chicken SandwichL'Entoilage Sweet and Sour Chicken Sandwich

For $11.50, you get an entrée (okonomiyaki, ginger pork, homemade beef or vegetable soup with fresh noodles, ginger chicken or pan-fried gyoza dumplings with black vinegar dipping sauce), soup or salad, and a drink.

At Le Café Falco, you make your own combo from a choice of sandwiches, soup, salads, and onigiri. The onigiri are $1.75 each, and two with a salad (marinated daikon, Japanese lentils, beets with tahini using local vegetables whenever possible) is under $6. Sandwiches are a little more expensive in the $7-$9 region, but a bowl of home-made soup (carrot-orange one day, celery and celeriac the next - not so Japanese in flavours but Japanese in simplicity and quality) won't break your budget.
Sandwiches at Cafe Le FalcoThe sandwiches are a mix between what you'd expect to find at upscale cafes (the ones that make their own, not the ones that have them brought in) and Japanese flavours - thin omelets made with organic eggs are folded into ham and vegetable-stuffed baguette or organic chicken with onion confit and coriander. And there's usually a vegetarian option with egg-free mayo.

A coffee or tea at Café Falco costs extra, though, so you'll end up paying more overall (and generally receive smaller portions) than for a combo at L'Entoilage. The money's worth it, though, since every little bite is full of flavour and the cafe owners support local and organic as much as possible. They even bike around the neighbourhood (to Guillaume's Bakery and to Jean-Talon market) to pick up ingredients and brioche instead of using a car or having items delivered to the cafe.
Cafe Le FalcoAnd for that eco-friendly reason Cafe Le Falco wins the Best Beverage category too.

When I asked the owner why the café only does siphon pot coffee (beakers of glass on the wooden counters make the place look like the most friendly science experiment you'll ever walk into), she said it's because siphon coffee doesn't use electricity. So you may need to wait a few extra minutes for your coffee, but you get to watch it pass through the glass apparatus which is fun (at least the first few times). After that you can just sit yourself down on the hammock and take a load off while you wait

Best Beverage Runner-Up: L'Entoilage
L'Entoilage bubble teaThe bubble tea and fresh juices at L'Entoilage aren't as eco-friendly as the siphon coffee at Café Falco, but they can be just as green. The flavour powders that get added to your choice of black or green tea with or without milk (though for all the lactose-intolerants and vegans out there, the powders themselves do contain milk) colour the drink. So either suck up slippery balls of tapioca from your matcha green bubble tea through a straw ($4) or try the fresh kiwi juice ($5). The drink menu (like a cocktail menu but made from teas and fruit juices and no alcohol) is pages long, though, so you can from everything from a matcha latte, to a "Yin" (pomegranate juice with aloe), mint lemonade, creamy milk tea with strawberries, the "Japon" made with pomegranate and luchee juice, or the "Down To Dust" - blackberry juice, orange juice, lemon, and honey. If you've never had bubble tea with little tasteless but addictive pearls of joy, though, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

Best Saturday Brunch: L'Entoilage

Even though L'Entoilage isn't open on Saturday until noon, I still say it's one of the best brunch options in the area. The menu is the same as always, but the restaurant is an open, calm space that is a world apart from the cacophony of most brunch places.

Besides, this is (Japanese) comfort food, and that's what brunch is all about. The okonomiyaki is kind of like a pancake or an omelet, and if you're craving pig you can get the pork dishes.

Café Falco offers a special $18 brunch menu on Saturdays, but that's not a cheap brunch. Again, you pay for quality: a small bowl of satisfying miso soup, a bowl of short-grain rice with sautéed tofu or pork with ginger and shiitake mushrooms, Japonese lentils, the chef's salad of the day, a siphon coffee or a tea, and a small green tea muffin with mini chocolate pieces to end the meal on a slightly sweet note. In true Japanese fashion, the meal is just a little balanced taste of everything - never too much or too strong a flavour.

Macarons at L'EntoilageBest Dessert: L'Entoilage

L'Entoilage's pistachio macaron is the best thing ever, with the black sesame version coming in a close second mostly because it's generally smaller and less gooey. L'Entoilage Pistachio MacaronThose are contentious adjectives to use when referring to macarons, I know, since macarons are maybe not supposed to be that gooey, or that big, but you bite into these things and the meringue outer layers don't crack everywhere like they've been in a box drying out for a few days. They're so fresh and crusty on the outside, but so soft inside that you expect them to still be warm. There are nine flavours to choose from, though, so some will inevitably be less fresh than others.
L'entoilage Boston Cream crepe CakeIf you're not feeling like a crazy sugar rush (especially from the candy-like, bright-red taro macaron), you can opt for the millefeuilles/crepes cream cakes (chocolate-topped boston-style or green tea).

L'Entoilage Green Tea CakeOr the checkered green tea cake, the cheesecakes, or the smaller oatmeal cranberry, chocolate chip or green tea cookies.
L'Entoilage CookiesThe cream in and on top of the cakes isn't too sweet, and you can actually taste just a little vanilla flavour (as opposed to custard cakes where the custard tastes more like whipped cream), and the pastry layers are thicker than millefeuilles so there's more to chew. All this makes the cake tastes a lot lighter than it actually is...

Le Café Falco
Where: 5605 rue de Gaspé
Hours: Tues-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 10am-4pm
How Much:

Where: 5251 Saint-Laurent
When: Mon &Thurs 11:30am-5pm, Tues-Wed & Fri 11:30am-9pm, Sat noon-9pm



Madeline / March 14, 2011 at 09:11 pm
I understand that Falco's brunch is high quality, but $18? Come on.
On another note: I'm sure I'm not the only displaced Vancouverite who's excited to see more Japanese food in Montreal. The situation was looking pretty dire till places like Kazu started moving in.
Amie / March 15, 2011 at 01:38 am
Kazu is pretty delicious, it's true, but it's not cheap either. AND they don't have a hammock...
markefrank / March 16, 2011 at 10:02 pm
Another thing: I don't think the owners at L'entoilage are Japanese. Aren't they Taiwanese or something? Do they actually say their cuisine is Japanese somewhere, and if so, should we dock them points if they're not Japanese (or not)?! I love Falco, I'll be honest...but I am going to try L'entoilage now just to see what it's all about. Thanks! :)
Amie / March 19, 2011 at 05:01 pm
I think one of the owners is Taiwanese-Canadian (via Vancouver) and the other is Japanese. I think the chef is from Osaka, though. So they do pan-Asian with a Japanese focus. Let me know what you thought!
Jason / March 27, 2011 at 01:43 pm
The Chef at L'entoilage is Japanese and so is most of the kitchen staff. Docking points because the owners are not Japanese but serving Japanese inspired food seems silly.
marke / March 27, 2011 at 05:06 pm
i was joking about docking points! what i was really getting at was that it didn't seem like a japanese restaurant to me. It says asian cuisine on the window (not japanese), so i was wondering why the article was billed as the japanese café showdown.
karl / May 17, 2011 at 04:35 pm
For having tested both, I have my preference for Falco, which has the mood of some of my favorite cafes in Tokyo such as Eau Café (Daikanyama), Pile café (Daikanyama), mois café (Shimokitazawa), etc.

For Japanese food places, Furusato (ex Osaka) and Azuma. Kazu is good but the dishes in which the food is served set me off. Too heavy, too big.
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