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Industria Brasserie Italienne

27 Dec

The Holidays are a time to enjoy and celebrate with family. They are also a time to catch up on my writing. The next few reviews are a few months old now…. sorry for the delays. First up, I got a chance to visit Industria Brasserie Italienne for a mini McGill Football alumni get-together for homecoming. The results of the weekend weren’t as we hoped on the field but I hoped at least I would get to enjoy a good meal at a place I’d had on my list for a while.

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Located right in the epicentre of the Griffintown boom at the corner of Peel and Wellington, Industria is a project started by the Houston restaurant chain and chef Sergio Mattoscio – formerly of Macaroni Bar. Since first opening in Griffintown, they have opened a couple of other franchises in Montreal and Ottawa. The concept, according to them, is a modern pizzeria with an emphasis on sharing plates. Walking in, the venue is very sprawling and is definitely going for an industrial loft style with its high ceilings, metallic chairs, wood topped tables and black leather-ish banquettes. The bar area has plenty of TVs and the dining area has a huge glassed-in wine cellar. Frankly the space didn’t work for me – felt way too big and lacked focus. The bar and dining areas feel very distinct and separate. One section to another felt like totally different restaurants. Coupled with the loud music, Industria felt more like a supper club than an Italian Pizzeria. I may be of the age demo who would like that ambience but personally it doesn’t do it for me.

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As I was drinking my Aperol Spritz, I was hopeful the food would spark my enthusiasm more than the ambience and the decor. The menu focuses on plates to share as well as some pizzas. As a group, we ordered a bunch of the starters to share. A mixed bag overall. The salad of mozzarella di bufala, tomatoes, cucumber, celery and fresh basil was solid with a freshness to the tomatoes and the mozzarella. The fried calamari with spicy mayo felt bland and came off as store bought honestly. They felt overly chewy and lacked seasoning. The meatballs with tomato sauce, ricotta, parmesan and basil were excellent – the meatballs were tender and juicy and the tomato sauce was wonderful. The pulled bacon lollipops with maple reduction had a nice crunch on the outside but the bacon inside was way too soft and mushy in texture. I know it’s pulled bacon but it still needed a bit of crunch to really enhance that fatty bacon flavour. The maple reduction brought a nice sweetness level but the texture of the bacon sunk it for most of the table.

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As chef Mattoscio is known for his gnocchi poutine, I couldn’t come to the restaurant without ordering it. Fried potato gnocchi covered in a light chicken sauce and served with cheese curds that I am pretty sure were mozzarella and not traditional curds, I was left very disappointed in this dish. Flavour-wise, it felt way too rich and yet without much kick to it. I loved the gnocchi themselves but the cheese didn’t bring that squeak you want from a poutine and the sauce really didn’t do it for me.

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Thankfully the pizza finished my meal on a more positive note. I went with the Carnivoro – italian sausage, salumi, bacon, tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. Wonderful crunch to the crust, a nice zesty tomato sauce, tons of mozzarella and meat toppings, the pizza is the only dish I ordered that I would come back for.

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In the end, Industria left me disappointed – the pizza was excellent but the rest of the menu was a mix of disappointed to okay. Add to it a look and ambience that I didn’t take to and I left with no real desire to return. Perhaps for a pizza and a drink on happy hour but not sure about a full meal. Industria certainly tried to be a looker but in my case, she just ain’t my type.

Cheers!

Industria Brasserie Italienne
100 Peel #112
514 931 4545

Industria - Brasserie Italienne Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Taverne Sur Le Square

13 Sep

With the rapid succession of new restaurants that open in Montreal, it is sometimes very easy to focus on the new stuff without considering some older more established spots. Just because they aren’t new doesn’t mean they aren’t worth visiting. I was reminding of this a few weeks ago when I met up with my girlfriend and some of her co-workers for a post-work dinner at Westmount Square and more specifically at Taverne Sur Le Square, a place I had never been to before somehow.

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The second of chef Stephen Leslie’s three restaurants – after Monkland Taverne and before Le Sieur d’Iberville – Taverne Sur Le Square called itself comfort food with international twist. The space is one befitting its place in Westmount Square – one of our city’s architectural beauties. The open room is warm and welcoming while keeping that touch of refinement. We chose to sit outside on the terrasse gently lit by patio lights strung across the space. Because of the risk of rain that evening, we were pretty much alone out there – one should never turn down some terrasse time especially with how short terrasse season is for us but I digress….

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Looking at the menu, I decided to go with the table d’hôte whereas my girlfriend went with a couple of starters for a lighter dinner. My selection of the table d’hôte gave me a salad to start – very simple and served with roasted seeds over top. The roasted flavour of the seeds was a nice touch. The portion was very generous as well – very uncommon as a table d’hôte starter.

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My girlfriend’s first starter, the salmon tacos with Pico de gallo and avocado, was a slight miss. Loved the soft tortillas and the creamy avocado and the fish was fresh but it felt bland. The pico de gallo didn’t have much punch to it and the portion felt a little small even as an entree.

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The second starter was more along the right track – Grilled octopus with chickpeas and red pepper puree, sauce vierge, parsley and red onion. The octopus was plentiful and grilled nicely with just a bit of char to it. The puree was nice and creamy and the sauce vierge paired nicely with the whole thing.

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As a main, I decided to go with the soft shell crab served in a bun with remoulade, tomato, pickle, lettuce and tavern sauce. This item was the reason I went with the table d’hôte for a change. The soft shell crab was plentiful and had a great crunch. Add some fresh veggies, a creamy sauce all put between a great soft bun and you had an awesome sandwich to enjoy. Plus, it was served with a nice of wonderfully crunchy fries to enjoy. Goodness all around.

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The last I got to try was their creme brûlée – always a sucker for a creme brûlée and a little sweetness to finish off a meal. A very solid creme – nice caramelization on the top with a richness and creaminess underneath.

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Despite a couple of neutral or slight misses, my first experience at Taverne Sur Le Square was a solid one. You can see how this restaurant has survived being in the relatively dead zone restaurant wise for over 14 years now. A place where you can grab a quick bite and drink after work or have a nice refined dinner for a special occasion. Taverne on the Square isn’t perhaps on the forefront of the “Hot” restaurants in Montreal but if you willing to deviate from the current trend and try a classic, you may wonder why it’s not on that list to begin with.

Cheers!

Tavern on the Square
1 Westmount Sq Ste
514 989 9779

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Tuck Shop

7 Jun

About 5 years ago now, I read a review from Lesley Chesterman in the Montreal Gazette about a restaurant in St-Henri – a neighbourhood I knew nothing about – called Tuck Shop. Everything about what she wrote about the restaurant – from the food to the decor to the music even – peaked my interest and I made a note of it. Fast forward to now – I have moved to Pointe St-Charles and have spent tons of time in St-Henri visiting all the great new restaurants and spots that have popped up…. except for Tuck Shop. The one initial reason I even knew about the neighbourhood. Well that needed to change. Taking advantage of a rare evening free for both myself and my girlfriend, I set up a last minute dinner date to finally see if Tuck Shop was worthy of its high spot on my to-visit list.

Relatively nondescript when you walk by, Tuck Shop is a 40-ish seat place with a great mixture of hardwood floors, white brick tiles and wooden walls. The open kitchen in the back creates a more dynamic feel to the space and I love the granite countertop bar in the middle of the room. The room is adored with mason jars filled with marinades and sauces which provide a homey touch. The music the entire night was right up my alley and kept me humming along the whole meal – from CCR to Grease to Steve Miller Band. Noise level was moderately high – you could still have a conversation but not in a hush tone. Service was punctual and on point – I particularly enjoyed when we received our menus and were recommended to try a cocktail…. especially since the server in question was the one who made them. And in fact, the menu said cocktails by Seabass. Loved the friendly and fun way that was done. The entire team all night brought the same energy and vibe. Well done.

After being sold by Seabass, I couldn’t say no to one of his cocktails. I went with the Maple Rhubarb – Brandy, maple syrup, mint, lemon and rhubarb bitters. The rhubarb taste was subtle but there. The overall drink was sweet enough that my girlfriend enjoyed it but balanced enough that I could taste the brandy and not feel I was being stiffed. An solid starter.

We decided to share an appetizer and went for the Florida soft shell crab with green papaya, coloured carrots, cucumber, radish, coriander, chili, peanuts and kaffir lime mayonnaise. A wonderfully light but flavourful dish. The crab was beautifully rich and tender with the outer crust providing a bit of crunch. The green papaya salad underneath provided some sweetness and a bit of heat which could be countered by the lime mayonnaise. A beautiful dish throughout.

The first of our mains was the fish of the day – in this case, salmon – with herbed ricotta gnocchi, morels, fiddleheads, fava beans, carrots, Tokyo turnips, sorrel, daylillies, salsa verde and root vegetable puree. The fish was beautiful but the star here was the herbed ricotta gnocchi – rich and fluffy delights. The inherent earthiness of the fiddleheads, morels and fav bears were an interesting pairing with the creaminess of the puree and the fresh kick from the salsa verde. Enjoyable all around.

Our second main was the Cornish Hen with Littleneck clams, homemade chorizo, fennel, white beans, kale, coriander, chili, charred onion puree and tomatillo. I simply loved this dish! So much going on but oh so good…. The chorizo was the driving force flavour-wise – spicy almost to the point of overwhelming the palate but it didn’t. The hen was juicy and crisp on the outside. The underlying clams and white beans helped to dull the chorizo as did the sweetness of the puree. The jalapeño added even more hotness if you were so inclined.

With a bit of room left, we went for the brownie with noix de Grenoble and homemade vanilla bean ice cream. Loved the ice cream – great rich vanilla taste however the texture of the brownie was a bit too dry for my preference.

Outside of the minor quibble at dessert, Tuck Shop was exactly what I had hoped it would be even all the years later – A beautifully relaxed atmosphere serving kickass refined comfort market driven food. My biggest disappointment is that I waited so long to eat there. Believe me, that will not happen again. It’s great to see such an awesome spot holding down in St-Henri for this long now. There were one of the first here. Here’s hoping they continue to do so for many years longer.

Cheers!

Tuck Shop
4662 Notre Dame Ouest
514 439 7432

Tuck Shop on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Gema

16 Aug

Ever since Stefano Faita and Michele Forgione of Impasto announced their second project would be a pizzeria, I have been eagerly anticipating its opening. The level of craft showed from them at Impasto left me no doubts that their approach of pizza would worth the wait. Each instagram post from Chef Forgione of his test runs made me more and more excited as we saw the level of perfectionism in its purest form. This pizza would be no slouch. Finally, at long last, I could find out for myself. Pizzeria Gema opened up last month just across the street from Impasto in the heart of Little Italy making the corner of Dante and St-Dominique an happening culinary corner.

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Gema itself is a relatively small restaurant – all of about 40 seats probably and they don’t take reservations, so you may have to wait to get in. In our case, we waited about 30 minutes. The nice part is that they will take your phone number down and call you so you can go from a walk or grab a drink elsewhere in the meantime. If you prefer, there is a takeout window on the side where you order a pizza to-go or some frozen custard. The interior is sparse but clean – old wood panels on the wall, aged hardwood on the floors with a weird light “tree” in the middle of the room adding some color to the space. The other focus point is the bar with its marble countertop although I got a good laugh that the bar chairs are the same Ikea ones I have in my apartment. The space isn’t a looker like its neighbour Impasto but that’s not an issue for me.

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The menu is small and concise. A few entrees, 8 or so pizza options and some frozen custard for dessert. As a starter, we went with the fried calamari. A nice portion of fresh calamari with a good crunch to them. They are served with a couple of lemon wedges, no mayo because they don’t need any sauce to enhance flavour. The calamari have plenty of flavours all by themselves.

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On the pizza side, we got 2 pizzas to enjoy. The first one was their basic “1889” margarita pizza with tomato sauce, fior di latte and fresh basil. The second one, because I am a huge meat-lovers fan, was the Giovanni Deluxe – tomato sauce, zampina, pepperoni, porchetta and lardo. Boy, did these pizzas not disappoint…. the pizza crust is just insane. Ridiculous. Whatever positive superlative you want to use applies to this dough. A nice crisp seer on the exterior without a single burnt spot to be seen…. and completely soft and moist inside. This level of dough mastery deserves the highest praise. Props to you Chef.

And we haven’t even gotten to the toppings yet. The classic margherita was excellent – the tomato sauce was tangy, the cheese creamy and rich, the basil brought that freshness and the overall ratio on the pizza was excellent – none of the ingredients were too present or not present enough. As for the Giovanni deluxe: house made pepperoni, the porchetta from Impasto, zampina, lardo…. this pizza had me from the description. Great combo of fatty rich meats on top of the base margherita. Simply heavenly. I just wished it had been bigger so I could enjoy it some more.

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Whatever you do however, make sure that you have room left for dessert because Gema has frozen custard… not ice cream but custard. The difference comes in terms of a richer, creamier texture which personally bought to mind a creamy version of Dairy Cream which hit childhood nostalgia for me every time. Gema has chocolate or vanilla so of course, we went with a twist of the two. There is also a handful of topping options – we went with crumbled baci, mixed nuts and butterscotch sauce. A perfect dessert for a pizzeria.

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Once again, Chefs Faita and Forgione hit it out of the park. Gema is a wonderful addition to the pizza scene in Montreal and for me, is currently the champion hands down. That crust means business. If they offered delivery to the McGill Ghetto, I would seriously be a weekly caller. At present, I will definitely be a regular visitor because they are other topping combinations I need to try and that pizza is too good to pass up for too long.

Cheers!

Pizzeria Gema
6827 Saint Dominique
514 419 4448

Pizzeria Gema on Urbanspoon

Bevo Bar + Pizzeria

16 Jul

I like a good pizza. Scratch that – I love a good pizza. It has gotten to the point where I am experimenting at home making my own… and getting decent success as I keep working out the kinks. It’s not perfect but in the meantime, that is what good restaurants are for, am I right? Last month, following a wonderful few hours at La Mondiale de la Biere enjoying many many brews, my friends and I got the hankering for some pizza. Thinking about the options closest to us, I figured a visit to BEVO in the old port was in order. So we casually walked over ready to enjoy some good Italian cuisine.

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Located just off Place Jacques Cartier in the heart of the Old Port, BEVO visually is in keeping with many of the Old Port establishments – a mix of the old brick and stone foundations of the area buildings with some more modern elements to add some glam. In this case, BEVO uses red tinted glass around the atrium, a very large chandelier and an tile entry wait which includes a glass wine cellar. The first floor has a huge bar area where the backbar is lit up in red and the front of the actual bar is just a light box. Add an area where there are 70s-style hanging bubble chairs and you have a spot that is clearly a solid happy hour zone.

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On this occasion however, we were there too late for happy hour and too early for any late-night bar scene. The two dining areas are more straight forward than the bar – wooden tables and chairs, paper tablecloths with cute info-graphics about pizza making and red checkered napkins for that little old school Italian restaurant touch. On the first floor, the wood-fired pizza oven is visible for all to see and gets you excited for what is to come.

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Our first starter was salsiccia e Rapini – a house made sausage with garlic rapini. The sausages were delicious although a little small for my liking. Rapini is one of those vegetables you either love or hate – personally I am a fan of its bitterness. The combination of bitter with the garlic made a nice partner to the fatty sausages.

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The second starter was arancino – saffron parmesan risotto balls with meat ragu and mozzarella. The risotto ball itself had a good crust to it and that didn’t come at the cost of drying out the risotto itself. It still had nice creaminess although I really didn’t get any hint of saffron personally. The meat ragu draped over it had a nice meaty richness to it and paired very well to the ball itself. Like the previous starter, I just wanted more!

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Because one of the friends with me doesn’t eat cheese (i know, i know…. i’ve tried to show him the error of his ways) we did order one non-pizza main dish: the cavatelli bolognese – dumplings, meat ragu and fresh parsley. Excellent plate of pasta – same delicious meat ragu as before with the perfectly cooked cavatelli. A little bit of parmesan would have been nice but that was a lost battle from the start in this case.

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Now we arrive to the main attraction: the pizzas. First up, I got the parma in blanco – prosciutto di parma, arugula and reggiano. This is probably my favourite pizza type when dealing with classic thin crust pizzas. The salty rich prosciutto, the pepper arugula, the sharp reggiano and a little bit of olive oil… a perfect balance of items on top of a pizza. However, all of that is wasted if the actual pizza isn’t up to snuff. BEVO doesn’t have that problem. The wood-fired oven gives a nice crispness to the bottom but allows for just enough rise to create some chewiness. A wonderful pizza.

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The other pizza we ordered was the cotto e bocconcini – prosciutto cotto, portobello, tomato sauce, mozzarella and bocconcini. Same solid crust as my pizza although this one had been cooked a little more as the extra charring around the edge demonstrated. The melted bocconcini brought some more creaminess compared to just the mozzarella and the earthy portobellos added some contrast from the prosciutto. Another excellent pizza.

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BEVO is a solid experience from beginning to end. Solid starters, delicious pizzas and good pasta. All the beers from Beerfest prior eliminated our desire to test the cocktail and wine lists which seemed interesting. There was also the temptation of the nutella pizza for dessert but we decided to pass. Just gives me another reason to return. If you are looking for a good pizza in the Old Port or just a place to go enjoy a drink and a quick bit, BEVO is worth your consideration.

Cheers!

BEVO Bar + Pizzeria
410 Rue St-Vincent
514 861 5039

BEVO Bar + Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Le Petit Italien

24 Jun

There is a certain timeless quality to Outremont. The nice residential townhouses, the mature tree lined streets, the old theatre, the many cafes with beautiful terraces to enjoy – this is a neighbourhood that, if I could afford, would love to live it. I don’t really spend enough time on Bernard street as I love it so much. A few weeks ago, at my sister’s recommendation, we went to Le Petit Italien, a restaurant I had gone by numerous times but never actually tried yet. As the name implies, Le Petit Italien is a old school Italian restaurant – here was hoping however that it would rise above the base level Italian and show me something more – because there is nothing quite as sad food-wise as an Italian restaurant that seems not to try. The food just seems lifeless in those cases.

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As this is an Outremont restaurant, the space is rather compressed and longer than it is wide. As such, Le Petit Italien needs to utilize the space efficiently and they do. A moon-shaped bar divides the interior dining area in two. The overall look is one of modern elements within a old space. I particularly loved their use of the exposed brick walls and tomato sauce cans as decor accents. Sadly the weather was not up to par for sitting outside so the beautiful terrasse was not available. Too bad.

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We started with 2 appetizers. First up, whipped ricotta with black pepper, thyme and grilled bread. Whipping the ricotta added a light and fluffy texture to the inherently creamy and rich cheese. The addition of pepper, thyme and olive oil brought some extra elements but nothing that took away from the ricotta itself. Spread on the grilled bread and enjoyed thoroughly.

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The other appetizer was the insalata prosciutto – prosciutto, arugula, red onions, parmesan and white balsamic vinegar. The first thing that hits you when you see this dish is that amount of prosciutto draped over the salad. As a lover of prosciutto, automatic winner for me already! The prosciutto was perfect, cut nice and thinly. The salad itself was nicely balanced but nothing special – the peppery arugula, the sweetness of the red onions, the rich parmesan and the acidic dressing all worked well together. Another solid dish.

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I got to try three different mains after that. First up, the risotto fruit di mare – shellfish stock, mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, red pepper puree and fennel. I am not a huge risotto guy – I enjoy it but it is rarely something I will order myself. This one was pretty good – the seafood was plentiful and the addition of the shellfish stock brought a deeper seafood flavour to the dish. The risotto itself was creamy and the rice was perfectly cooked – always a concern when one deals with risotto.

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The second dish was the classic veal parmigiana served with pappardelle and pomodoro sauce. A large breaded veal cutlet covered in melted mozzarella, the veal was cooked well and still moist. The pasta choice of pappardelle and pomodoro was excellent and complimented the veal well. Another solid dish.

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The final main was the penne con anatra – duck confit ragu with bell peppers and green onions. The real star here was the duck ragu – deliciously rich and meaty. Everything else here was simply a platform on which the duck was presented. I honestly barely remember any hint of pepper or green onion but frankly the ragu was so good, I didn’t even care whether the pasta was penne or a simple macaroni. Loved this plate – thankfully since it was what I ordered myself.

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For dessert, they had cannolis on the menu, so of course I had to have one – my addiction to them is too strong. Something about the combination of ricotta, orange zest and that crunchy shell gets me every time and thankfully I wasn’t disappointed here. Not necessarily as fluffy as I expected but the cream was nice and rich – the orange zest brought a little acidic and chew that was noticeable. The outer shell itself was good as well. After i finished it, I wanted another one…. usually a good sign and further proof of my cannoli problem.

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Lastly, we had a trio of profiteroles with chocolate ganache. Excellent cool gelato, fluffy buns and a rich decadent chocolate ganache. I was happy I had the cannoli first because it ensured that I wouldn’t eat most of this myself. A excellent way to finish the meal.

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Le Petit Italien was Italian cuisine done right which made me happy. It is not doing anything revolutionary menu-wise but everything we had was honest and well executed. A nice little evening in Outremont. The only true downside of the meal was not being able to sit on the terrasse but that just means I need to re-visit them again eventually.

Cheers!

Le Petit Italien
1265 Bernard Ouest
514 278 0888

Petit Italien on Urbanspoon

Impasto

6 Oct

After a few months of waiting, I finally had the chance to check out the Italian restaurant everyone is talking about right now – Impasto. This small space, located in the heart of Little Italy and only a short walk from the Jean Talon Market, was born of the collaboration between Michele Forgione (formerly of Osteria Venti) and Stefano Faita, host of CBC’s In the Kitchen. Impasto aims to provide great Italian food with no shortcuts – almost everything is made in house. Walking into the space, that level of craft permeates even the decor. Beautiful open kitchen with wood panel walls, leather banquettes, terrazzo floors, Pelligrino bottles lining the ceiling and just enough lighting to really brighten up the room. I sat down with a Negrini in hand, ready to enjoy a wonderful meal with a group of friends.

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First up, we have the Insalada di Moscardini – baby octopus, fennel, potato and red onion salad. A beautifully balanced salad. The freshness of the fennel combined nicely with the bite of the red onion, the starch of the potatoes and the fatty octopus. Add a little olive oil and some herbs and you had a great starter to the meal.

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The other starter I got to try was the housemade Apulia style sausage with pan seared rapini and apple vinegar. Great texture to the sausage as well as great flavour. The combination of the rapini and the apple vinegar adds some nice acidity to the fatty sausage. I know rapini isn’t everyone’s thing but I personally love it so that worked for me.

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The next course was the pasta course. I went for the ricotta gnocchi with basil infused tomato sauce. This dish is probably Chef Forgione’s speciality and I had heard so much about it that I wasn’t sure it could meet my expectations. Well….. it blew them out of the water. The slow pillowy texture of each morsel. The rich ricotta flavour. I have never had gnocchi that literally melt in your mouth like these ones did. Lightly tossed with a simple but very flavourful tomato sauce, this was pretty much the best pasta dish I have had all year almost without saying. Bravo Chef!

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I also got to try another pasta dish – the mafalde with rabbit ragu, chicory and olives. The mafalde pasta itself was wonderful – great texture, indicative of people who know how to make great in-house pasta. The combination of the rabbit ragu with the chicory made for very earthy notes – a nice contrast to the richness of the ricotta gnocchi I had previously.

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For the next course, I went with Nonno’s porchetta roast served with a vanilla pear, pan seared rapini and some candied fruits. This was an amazing roast – deliciously rich and fatty pork meat with crispy skin. The skin wasn’t the crispest I’ve ever had but still wonderful. The inclusion of the vanilla pear and the candied fruits provided some sweetness to balance with the inherent saltiness and fattiness of the roast itself. I love porchetta and Impasto’s take just reinforced my love.

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For dessert, we went with the Tiramisu and the chocolate tort cake. I’m not a big fan of Tiramisu due to my hatred of coffee but this one was milder in terms of the coffee taste and had a wonderfully smooth texture. The chocolate cake had more of a brownie texture – very dense but still moist. Very well executed.

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This was a great meal all around. Impasto aims for great Italian food and they hit on all the notes. As a party, we did find the service to be slightly slow in terms of bringing water and taking wine orders but it is a minor quibble. Now, the menu changes seasonly and ironically enough, they just changed the menu for the fall so you won’t be able to try the dishes I described above. However, that should not stop you from going menu unseen. I have no doubts you will be as satisfied as I was. Now, I just want to go back to see what Chef Forgione and company have in mind for the current season.

Cheers!

Impasto
48 Dante
514 508 6508

Impasto on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Napoletana

9 Jun

If there is one blind spot in my Montreal food repertoire that I feel somewhat embarrassed about, it is Pizza. Despite my absolute love of all things Pizza related – I could honestly eat pizza everyday if such a thing were reasonable from a dietary point of view – I have not exploring many of Montreal’s fine establishments. If someone were to ask me where to get a great slice of pizza, I honestly wouldn’t have an answer that I could base on personal experience. Well… I want to change that. So last weekend, I took the opportunity after a visit to Jean Talon Market to try a Little Italy institution, Pizzeria Napoletana.

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Right off the bat, I am not a staunch advocate of either thin crust or deep dish pizza. I give equal time to both sides… as long as it is done right. In this instance, we would be treated to a classic Italian thin crust pizza. When coming to a place that has been doing it since 1948, one hopes you will be getting a great slice of pie. With thin crust, you are looking for a nice crisp base but one that still has a bit of chewiness to it. Too thin or crisp and you get something that tastes completely burnt. On the toppings front, you want a nice tomato sauce and good cheese. You want just enough of both to cover the dough but not so much that it overwhelms the flavor of the crust.

I decided to go with a Quattro Fromaggi pizza for my first try. Before I add extra ingredients, I want to see if the basic pizza is done well. Napoletana uses Mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano and bocconcini for their version. This was a very well done pizza. It pretty much had everything I was looking for. Crispy yet tender crust – check. Bonus points for the slightly burnt edge as well. Right amount of both sauce and cheese – check. Tangy tomato sauce – check. Nice mix of cheese – check. Very satisfying pizza overall.

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My sister went with a even simpler pizza on her end – the classic Margarita. Once again, a very nice pizza with the same characteristics of the previous one minus the added notes of the Romano and bocconcini cheese.

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As the 1st true entry in the Montreal Pizza search, Pizzeria Napoletana was exactly what I expected from a Montreal Institution – a place that serves solid pizza, tried and true. It was a good initial benchmark to set my expectations for a good Montreal Pizza. Walking into the restaurant, you absolutely get that old school pizzeria feel – the pictures of celebrities on the walls, all the staff in restaurant t-shirts and caps, paper placemats and the fact that this still only take cash. If you’re looking for a classic Napoli style pizza, this is a good place to start.

Cheers!

Pizzeria Napoletana
189 Dante
514 276 8226

Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

Nora Gray

24 Mar

I had first heard of Nora Gray from Lesley Chesterman’s review in The Montreal Gazette last February. Having never been to either Liverpool house (where the principal proprietors had been prior) or its brother Joe Beef at that point, I made note of it and put it on the quite lengthy “places to go” list. Fast forward one year later and Nora Gray had become one of my most anticipated restaurants to check out. Luckily, I was finally able to enjoy a Friday night dinner there a few weeks ago with my family.

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Walked into the approximately 50 seat space and right away loved the look of the room. Chic and modern with wood paneled walls, dark banquettes, black and white frames, dimmed lighting and a beautiful looking bar that I would love to spend hours at. Add to that the great alternative music that I became aware of over the course of the dinner and you have a space that certainly appeals to my sensibilities. This is a restaurant that screams timeless classics but with a young and hip touch.

As for the menu, it changes regularly and if I had to characterize it, I would say it is one of Italian influences but certainly not one shackled by what one expects from a typical Italian joint. To start off with, given co-owner Ryan Gray’s reputation as a sommelier and knower of things cocktail and spirits, I started with their “My Buddy Frankie” – Maker’s Mark, Campari and Vergano Mauro Vermouth. Very nice and balanced cocktail although if you don’t like Campari, I probably wouldn’t recommend it as that is the spirit that comes out the most. The wine list is mostly French and Italian which is not our family’s forte however our waitress was quite helpful in recommending some options for us and both selections she brought forth were enjoyed by all of us. Ryan also came by to see if we had any other questions about the wine list which was appreciated.

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As appetizers, we started with the rabbit liver pâté with caramelized onions on top of housemade cornbread. This was a great dish – a perfect combination of everything you would like to have – the richness of the rabbit liver with the sweetness of the onions and the warm cornbread. Definitely something I would eat again…and again… and again. This was a one of those dishes where, after eating it, I went “I now want to try making this at home so others can try the combination”.

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The next entree was grilled octopus with spicy red pepper sauce. Very nice again. The octopus was grilled perfectly and the sauce added a little kick to the whole dish.

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The final entree was crispy sweetbreads with honey and horseradish served on a bed of crispy spinach. Now, sweetbreads is something that often automatically turns people off and as someone who only had some for the first time at Cabane PDC a week prior because it hadn’t been presented to me in a desirable way, I get it. However, when cooked and prepared properly, sweetbreads are a wonderful treat to enjoy. Nora Gray’s version is along those lines. By frying them, it creates a nice crispy texture to pair with the softer interior. The touch of honey brings a great sweetness that mixed nicely with the naturally fatty and earthy tones of sweetbreads. The crispy spinach was perfectly done as well.

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Two mains were ordered amongst our party since a few redundancies took place between the 4 of us. The first one was the chick pea hot pot. I personally didn’t try it but my sister rather enjoyed it. The chick peas were of the right consistency and the whole thing had a nice basil taste to it.

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I ordered as a main the porchetta with potato and broccoli cake. In Nora Gray’s version, the roast was stuffed with pork and veal. The roast was just perfectly cooked. The interior was soft and moist whereas the exterior skin was golden crispy. Rich and delicious in every way. Under the roast, the potato and broccoli cake was a nice contrast to the fattiness of the pork and veal. Very good plate across the board.

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Next up were the desserts. First up, the ricotta tort with blood orange. Exactly as rich as you expect with something based primarily out of ricotta. The blood orange added a very distinguished citrus note to it. Very well done.

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The flourless chocolate cake was quite good as well. No complaints here.

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The one miss of the evening was the Concorde grape jelly. The execution was spot-on. The jelly had exactly the right texture however the flavour really didn’t step up like we would have hoped. The only negative in an otherwise amazing meal.

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Nora Gray was a great experience that lived up to everything I had hoped it would be since I placed it on my to-go list over a year ago. The service was friendly and very timely. They were also quite understanding when I called ahead to say we would be late by 20 mins or so. They simply thanked us for the notice and mentioned to us that there was a reservation after us so we would not have as much time to eat by arriving a little late. Despite that, they never rush us and we left quite satisfied and of our own accord well before the next party arriving. I would have no reservations whatsoever recommending this place to anyone… As long as you can get a reservation of course! Now I just need to go back to spend an evening at that bar…

Cheers!

Nora Gray
1391 Rue Saint-Jacques
514 419 6672

Nora Gray on Urbanspoon

New York 2013 – Eataly

6 Jan

The final post from my New York experience is one reserved to the place so nice, I actually went twice – and I was only there for 4 days! That place would be Mario Batali’s Eataly. From the uninitiated, Mario Batali is one of the first big celebrity chefs from the early Food Network days. He has built up quite a little restaurant empire within New York and a few years ago, he opened up Eataly near the Flatiron building in midtown Manhattan.

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At its core, Eataly is a Italian food market and quite an amazing one at that. Whatever Italian speciality ingredient you are looking for, they probably have. Aisles of olive oils, pastas (gluten-free or not), wine store, cookbooks, amazing meat counter, housemade mozzarella counter, chocolates, gelatoes, a bakery, coffee shop…. This place is a food paradise. I could have spend hours in there sampling all the food in there.

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But the brilliance here is not the amazing quality of the market but how Batali has incorporate restaurant experiences within this setting. In the same space, surrounded by all this wonderful food to buy and bring home, there are 7 sit down “restaurants” where you can enjoy a nice meal – that utilizes the same things you can buy inside. Each one is located closest to the market area that services the majority of their menu.

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On our first visit, we chose to sit down at Manzo – the restaurant “attached” to the market butcher. I ordered the Pappardelle with braised pork and radicchio. Just a great plate of pasta with absolutely no complaints from me.

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And then on the way out, I stopped by the dessert counter and picked up some fresh cannolis. Wonderful fresh ricotta based cream with pieces of candied orange mixed in. Add the light shell covered with cinnamon and you get an amazing dessert.

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On our return visit, we “sat” down at La Piazza – which is serviced by their mozzarella, salami and cheese counters. For the occasion, we ordered some wine and got a tasting plate of cheese and meats. Great mix of different meats and cheeses to enjoy with bread, some olives, figs, honey and candied oranges. Not a single bad items on the entire table. I could have stood there for a few more hours and simply continued to order more wine, cheese and meats to enjoy. Just a great experience.

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From a foodie’s perspective, Eataly is simply an heavenly experience. Any future NY trip will most definitely include return visits because I simply didn’t get to try everything this market has to offer. New York is very lucky to have a place like this to call their own.

Cheers!

Eataly
200 5th Avenue
New York, NY
212 229 2560

Eataly on Urbanspoon

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