Tag Archives: Ryan Gray

Elena

20 Mar

When I heard that the group behind Nora Gray, one of my favourite restaurants in the city, was opening a second restaurant, I got excited. When I heard that it would based around pizza AND be in St-Henri, closer to my neighbourhood in the Point, well that made me very happy indeed. For many months, we heard online about details of the upcoming space until eventually Elena opened up. Reviews were very positive to start so I found myself there for a relax Sunday date night hoping that I had found a great pizza place to enjoy.

For a Sunday night, Elena was certainly busy! The space is a sparse modern vibe – lots of whites and grays. The lighting is mostly ambient and indirect – a strong similarity to Nora Gray but the size and colors of the space make Elena less intimate compared to its sister. The interesting element of the space is the serving counter in the middle of the room used for alcohol, olive oils, salt, pepper, wine glasses, etc. It adds a interestingly retro element but the modern style of the table fits the look they have going.

The menu is small but covers more than just pizza. There are also some salads, some entrees, some meats and pasta options to enjoy! We decided to start with a plate of Gnocco fritto – basically fried pizza dough puffs served with housemade red wine sausage, mortadella, soppressata and marinated eggplant. I found the soft pillowy texture of the fried dough nice but the real treat of this dish is the homemade charcuterie. Nice and rich across the board – I was a big fan of sopressata and the sausage.

For mains, we had a desire for pizza so we stuck to pizza. My fiancé went with the margherita – tomatos, basil and mozza di bufala. I went with the Bianco – potato, pancetta, onions and kénogami cheese. Elena does Napoletana-style pizza – the dough is lightly chewy, the crust barely charred and pillowy. There is no crunch to the bottom. The pizza requires you to fold it because it will not hold on its own. Based on that style, Elena nails the dough – if you are expecting a crispy base, you will not get that here. I enjoyed the chewy pillowy texture immensely.

However, we both had issues regarding the topping on our pizza. For the margherita, my fiancé found the tomato ‘sauce’ very thin and watery. It felt like the pizza should have had more tomatoes than it did and thus the balance between the cheese and tomatoes felt off. In my case, I liked the flavour of the Bianco but I also felt like there is a lack of the quantity of the toppings. When I compared to other Napoletana-style pizzas places in the city, I feel like I got more toppings on the pizza than this. It is a subtle thing but we both left feeling slightly disappointed in our pizzas.

I love Nora Gray so this visit was a bit of a letdown for me personally. It was fine but given how highly I rate Nora Gray, fine is not what I was expecting from their pizza. I am now very interesting in seeing what I get while in Naples this summer on our next trip because I wonder how close Elena is to traditional pizzas and how what I have had locally impacted my enjoyment of their pizza. Pizza can be a very personal experiment so I’m sure Elena’s pie will satisfy many but for the moment, it is not my preference.

Cheers!

Elena
5090 Notre-Dame Ouest
514 379 4883

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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

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