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2115 St-Denis (at Sherbrooke) Website:

Mon - Fri 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM; Sun 4:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard. Tel: 282-1966

I just had my taste-buds tweaked by a one-ton bison, and boy, was he hot.

Fortunately, the whole encounter occurred in the placid confines of a shôji-enclosed oasis to the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald and the occasional Erhu.

Formosa is Portuguese for "beautiful," and to be sure, this restaurant is pleasing to the eye. Recognized for "outstanding design" in a local design contest for a spot among the best-looking places in Montreal, it's a tranquil Asian-themed retreat of rice-paper screens and, fittingly for its cuisine, fireplace demons. It also happens to be a very good place to eat.

The menu is hybrid Chinese/Thai/bit-of-Japanese but leans towards Thai when cornered. A quirk here is that the food is guaranteed 100% peanut-free, as a result of a family allergy to peanuts. "Our seven-year old nephew was hospitalized due to a mishap involving peanut butter cookies at his nursery school a few years ago," explains founder Jacklin Lu. "You can be absolutely assured that any food produced in Formosa's kitchen will be 100% peanut-free."

You'd never know that there were any restrictions on the cooking here. The table d'hôte on the night I was there featured Pork with basil and hot peppers ($15.95), Creamy Chang Mai noodles with chicken ($14.95), and Chef's wok-seared salmon with sake ($19.95), among others, and included steamed rice (white or brown), wonton soup or Imperial rolls, and coffee or tea and the dessert of the day. This is not your ordinary Montreal Asian resto fare.

An order of Gyoza (Japanese-style deep-fried pork dumplings) was sizzling and succulent with a gingery soy dip, and an order of Imperial rolls delivered an impeccable duo of crispy vegetable-filled cylinders with a subtle blonde plum sauce. One disappointment was the Won Ton soup which came with the table d'hôte, which could definitely have used some more assertive flavouring, as it was quite bland.

While a full two pages of the menu feature "Gastronomie Thailandaise," it's clear that Formosa has decided not to stray too far from its roots, which are most definitely in China, so you can expect a confluence of the two styles here.

My main dish choice was from a slyly worded "The Wilder Side" portion of the menu, which featured selections of Ostrich and Bison. I ordered the Bison (raised right here in Quebec) with Thai Basil and Hot Peppers upon the recommendation of the server (a stylish Blade Runner escapee) and, with my first bite, knew I/he'd made the right choice. The chef had taken my request for "extra-spicy" quite literally and the result was an incredible sweet-hot epiphany of Basil and Bison, the taste of which must be experienced, as it is beyond my powers of description. It was difficult to concentrate on the rest of the food after that.

A spicy Shanghai noodles came unexpectedly in a thick udon-style, instead of the usual vermicelli—another indication that the chef is thinking "outside the box." The beef and three mushroom dish from the table d'hôte was chock-full of Shiitake, Straw and white bell mushrooms in a tangy hoisin-type sauce. The steamed rice, something I consider to be a major indicator of care in an Asian kitchen, was fluffy and impeccable—and you wouldn't believe how many restaurant folks get this one important item wrong.

Desserts, on the "Exotic" side of the menu, include Fried Bananas served with Honey ($3.50), Lychees ($3.50) and Seasonal Fresh Mangoes with Thai sticky rice ($5.00), among other staples like Green Tea ice cream. More conventional offerings include Pecan mocha mousse and a selection of pies. My "surprise" dessert of the day was a sinuous Raspberry Mousse Chocolate cake. A good espresso with a Sambucca rounded everything out and left me with a sigh of satisfaction to absorb the decor and ambience.

This place is a welcome departure from the Chinese/Thai resto grind, and Chef Samuel Lu seems determined to escape the hackneyed confines of stereotypic "Asian" cuisine with a careful attention to all the facets which make up a good Asian meal. It doesn't hurt to experience it in a great-looking place, either.

Formosa deserves to be ranked among the top Asian places in Montreal.—
Reviewed by Nick Robinson

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