Industria Brasserie Italienne
100 Peel St. (at Wellington St. in the Alt Hotel)
Chef Hats: 3.5
Sometimes one must venture out of their territory to find good and adventurous things. This was the case this time when our craving set in for a slice of good pizza and not much was to be found in the Grand Island of wasteland called the West Island. What is happening people!
While every neighborhood in this city is booming with new restaurants opening daily, the West Island has become stagnant. On top of that, the long list of restaurants cited for unclean conditions on one street alone is enough to make you hurl. Do West Islanders have no imagination; all one can find is a list of franchise type restaurants that can be found all over the city and the ones that are independently run are mediocre at best. I returned lately to my beloved Mozza Enoteca and their pizza fell flat, Del Friscos is pathetic, Le Vieux Four needs a whole rehab of their staff and menu and then we are left with the generic pizzeria, but who wants those. The crust is too thick, the tomato sauce is stale and the cheese looks plasticized. Not fit for human consumption, I wouldn’t even serve it to my dog. So for now till someone wakes up and realizes that some of us humans in the West Island do have discriminating palates and good taste buds, I will be eating elsewhere in our vast city.
Enter Industria Brasserie Italienne in Griffintown, situated in the new hip Alt Hotel (Le Germain Group) at the base of Peel Street. Industria has its soft launch on July 11th 2014, along with GEMA in Little Italy that day serving pizza for $ 5.00 a slice. Competing head to head with Stefano Faita may seem a little pretentious, but hey, if you think you have got it flaunt it. Industria is run by chef is Sergio Mattoscia of the now defunct Macaroni Bar on St Laurent. Mattoscio made his name as a contestant on Top Chef Canada and his claim to fame has got to be his famous gnocchi poutine.
Industria is located on the second floor of the hotel in an industrial looking space. The restaurant can be a pleasure or a disturbance on the senses. Depending on what type of person you are, let me extrapolate. The place is vast and can be a little cold. Not cold in the sense of decor as the red hues of the plush red lounge chairs add a vibrant color to the room, but cold in terms of heating. With its high ceilings, metal chairs, black leather banquettes and floor to ceiling glass wine cellar the feeling is cold especially if the heat is not turned up.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking the place. I loved the decor as soon as I walked in. A little Las Vegesque, I found the ambiance to be very hip young urbanite. The music was cool, the lounge area relaxing and the bar area fun. It’s a great place for all age groups, no matter where you sit. The space is immense and we got to sit in an area between both that was very private. I was in a good mood and looking forward to some decent food.
We decided to start of our meal by warming up with two glasses of red Santa Christina from the region of Tuscany, Italy at $ 10.00 each. Our waiter Marc, very hipster looking was very accommodating and efficient, not your average serious Italian waiter, he fit perfectly with the look and feel of the restaurant.
We ordered our usual, a plain Margherita pizza at $ 15.00 for Frenchie and a Pizza Freschezza -$ 19 for me which consisted of Prosciutto, arugula, cherry tomatoes, and parmesan cheese and truffle oil. A reasonable price to start with. We were brought a little bowl of red chili pepper paste as recommended by our waiter to enhance the pizza and a pair of scissors.
Our pizza arrived shortly thereafter on two separate wooden butcher blocks. Two slabs of thick square shaped pizzas with generous amounts of fresh cheese. The Margherita had one sliver of sardine on it, but could have done with a little more fresh basil. The Freschezza had a generous portion of prosciutto and not much arugula which suited me fine as I always feel some places top it with too much salad anyways.
What I found super different was the scissors and I made a comment to the waiter that I felt right at home as my mom used to cut her pizza with a scissor instead of a pizza cutter. The old fashioned way, we laughed about that. You can tell that the chef is a true Italian when he serves you scissors with the pizza. The pizzas were both tasty and of the right consistency and thickness. Not too thin and not too doughy. The pizzas were topped with fresh quality ingredients and they were just plainly delicious with the right seasonings. The spicy chili mixture enhanced the pizza furthermore, but I did not really taste the truffle oil. The pizzas were both filling and satisfying, we devoured the entire pizza not leaving a piece and we moved on to our night cap, coffee. We had the usual, one short and one long espresso. This completed the meal perfectly.
An hour and a half into the meal we were done. I was still cold and I opted for the warmth of home. Too bad it was about a 35-40 minute ride back, but worth every minute. Maybe I will move to Griffintown, the place needs more Italians.
1595 St-Laurent Blvd. (de Maisonneuve Blvd.)
Cost: $ 164.40 (excluding tip)
Chef Hats: 4
Don’t get fooled by it’s location, Bouillon Bilk is not situated on the coolest strip of St Laurent street but it surely can compete with the ones located a little further up on the street. You must have driven past it a dozen times or more, but would have never noticed it because it doesn’t have a flashy neon sign above the door. Situated in the old “Provisions” locale, it is nestled amid grungy clothes stores, wholesalers and camera shops and may seem a little out of place but not out of the ordinary. Bouillon Bilk is a must try.
I believe everything has a good story and a reason for its madness. This area which seems to be going through a revival since 2008-2009, was known as part of the Montreal Red light district. In 2009, I worked for a Real Estate developer for a couple of months who was revamping the area with new condo developments. The Spectacles des Arts was in construction and the idea was that with its completion the neighborhood would boom with young urbanites. Relegated to the bowels of a dusty building, I needed to get out for lunch. Provisions which had just opened its doors provided great food at reasonably good prices and seemed to be doing well. Then it closed, people were not ready for it as they seemed to still prefer the upper St Laurent area above Sherbrooke.
Then I heard that in 2011 Bouillon Bilk had set up shop in the same spot. It was getting good reviews with its innovative techniques and fancy dish preparations. Bouillon Bilk was at the top of the echelon with some of the best restaurants in Montreal. Owned by Francois Nadon (Bronte, XO, and The Globe) and Melanie Blanchette (Lemeac) the influence of having worked with the top chefs of these restaurants is apparent here. Each dish masterfully created and presented with an artistic flair and the flavors are beyond belief. Who would have thought that this obscure restaurant has made it to the top 10 best restaurants in Montreal the last couple of years!
Why the name Bouillon Bilk? Bouillon is deriving from a type of soup kitchen that appeared in Paris in the middle of the 19th century serving popular cuisine at small prices. The owners wanted to serve comfort food. Bilk was chosen as an afterthought because it stuck in their heads as a catchy word. One might think it is not an appropriate as it has a derogatory meaning, but it fit well and they stuck with it. Bouillon Bilk was born, but it is far from a soup kitchen and one may go as far as saying it is a far cry from comfort food as we know it. You will not find home cooked dishes here but beautiful master fully crafted representations of foods we like and the prices are high.
This evening, even though parking was sparse on this side of town, I managed to arrive a few minutes late to hold our table. I was greeted by the maitre d with a smile and pleasant welcome and felt right at home. The bar area was already full and buzzing and I got a table at the back of the house, in a little corner, which suited me fine. I love corners and I had a great view for people watching. The crowd at Bouillon Bilk is of a mixed age group, we had a very young couple next to us that looked at the menu and walked out, and maybe they felt bilked. What a shame, because they surely missed out on a very special meal. Whatever their reason, it is not cheap considering the area. You will find a lot of older couples catching a pre show dinner. Then you will find the foodie who just comes for the good food and wine.
The decor here is minimalistic, white cream walls and wooden tables, yet its appealing, with a clean and crisp modern feeling. The place is busy, very busy and every table is full.
Our waitress Veronique brought me the menus and patiently waited for Frenchie to arrive as he was still looking for a parking spot. Meanwhile I ordered a bottle of Sparkling water and two glasses of Burgundy Pinot Noir Amiot by the glass at $14.00 each. Then I waited and waited and waited, no sign of Frenchie…I think he went to park the car in Quebec City! Finally I saw his head pop through the door, a little out of breathe he told me he found lots of parking at the UQAM building on Ontario St. (which is virtually empty at night).
After catching his breath and scanning the menu Veronique re-appeared and asked us if we were ready to order. She described their specials for the evening and proceeded to tell us about their amuse bouche, which we never received. We decided to share an entrée, as I wanted to leave room for dessert. I hear the dessert here are exceptional and did not want to miss out. Not being much of a dessert person I usually don’t go for them, but always end up feeling my meal was not complete.
We started with the Pork dumpling at $ 14.00 (not meant to be shared but we were advised by our waitress). The dumpling was one large flat dumpling topped with a tige of deep fried crispy rice, enobi mushrooms, sautéed green onions and celery, corn kernels, and cubes of sweet prune. This was delicious. The pork meat mixture inside the large pocket was flavorful and not overpowering with too much ginger or scallions. The toppings of vegetables really enhanced the dish. A mix of textures, with the crunchiness of the celery and sweetness of the prune and corn kernels. An earthy taste from enobi mushrooms and the sticks of fried rice were decadent. We should have had one each, sharing was not enough.
For our main meal, we both went with fish this evening, I took the Scallops, with shitake mushrooms, squash and pears topped with watercress and beurre noisette at $29.00. The scallops were perfectly sautéed in the beurre noisette giving it the whole dish an earthy taste. The scallops were tender and not overcooked, not rubbery.
They tasted very light, the mushrooms enhancing the earthy taste even more; the slivers of zucchini crunchy under the palate.
Frenchie took the Sea Bass with carrots, pistachio crumble, Brussels sprouts and a mushroom called “pied de mouton “at $ 30.00. A large portion of sea bass, with a sautéed charred cumin crispy topping surrounded by a pistachio crumble topped with slivers of carrots and sautéed mushrooms and greens. He admits it was one of the best fish dishes he has had in a while, the flavors complimenting each other perfectly, making this dish out of the ordinary. The presentations were magnificent and very artistic, very eye catching.
After marvelling at the creations we had just completed, we felt we had enough room for dessert. We decided both to order our own dessert and not share. I had the Pudding a pain at $9.00, with quenelles of granita, walnuts and maple syrup. I found my pudding a pain a little dry. Pudding a pain should be as it states, bread make with pudding, making it extremely moist. Almost creamy pudding consistency, this was not. The flavors were great but my quenelles did not taste anything granita, it had more of a creamy ice cream consistency, but was good. I focused on eating that and left the bread pudding on the side.
Frenchie had the Brioche at $ 10.00 topped with chocolate ice cream and peanut crumble, halved red grapes and foie gras. People with food allergies need not apply here. His dish tasted much better and the brioche was moist. This was the way to go here, but if you don’t like chocolate or can’t have peanuts it’s a no go. They do have plenty of other items for dessert that look equally as appetizing. But I feel my dessert fell a little flat. The presentations are great but I would stick with ordering more appetizers.
Upon paying our cheque a guy dressed with a colorful bow tie and hipster hair came to ask us how we liked the food and if all was according to our taste. He must have known we were bloggers from all the pictures we were taking. Frenchie being the ultimate ‘’ Chiaccarone” blabber mouth lately ranted and raved about the food.
All in all Bouillon Bilk is a great experience; maybe we felt bilked but did not mind at all.
Mercuri- Opening of Foyer à Bois (Fire Pit)
645 Wellington / Sœur Grises
Telephone: # 514-394-3444
You could imagine the excitement when I received an invitation for a cocktail dinatoire at Mercuri’s Restaurant for the official launch of their new Foyer a Bois section on November 12th. I was not going to miss this for the world as Mercuri Restaurant is one of my favorite Montreal restos and my top picks of new restaurant for the year. Since my last visit in spring, the new casual section was still in the works and the opening had been highly anticipated.
The new section attached to the restaurant is a more laid back casual affair with its long, high, light colored pine wood tables and chairs. The look is clean, slick, set in a minimalist decor with an open fire pit that warms up the room on any cold Montreal day or night.
The menu for lunch includes a mix of grilled favorites of both fish and meats at reasonable prices. In the evening you will find a more complex menu, dedicated to a vegetarian side and meat section for an array of tastes.
When we arrived at Mercuri’s this evening the place was already packed, I spotted my favorite bloggers The Montreal Food Divas at the bar and a few other familiar faces that I keep running into at these events.
Frenchie and I headed over to the bar to get ourselves some bubbly to start off our evening. For me it was an opportunity to finally tell the Montreal Food Divas how much I appreciated their blog and how much they had inspired me to finally start my own. I found Diva #1 genuinely super nice and hope I did not spook her out too much by introducing myself to her like that.
We then moved to the tables that were set up with generous platters of appetizers of mixed warm kalamata and cerignola olives, mixed grilled vegetables of carrots and what looked like parsnips or salisfy, herbed lemon potatoes and garlic mushrooms and grilled country bread slathered in olive oil. We manged to squeeze into the crowd and grabbed enough food for a few starters.
During the night, the food kept pouring from the fire pit, perfectly grilled tender succulent chicken breast on the bone with nineteen secret spices. Turkey wings in sweet BBQ sauce marinated in stout beer , and fish tacos with miso dressing and goat cheese, Gaspar pork ribs in a sweet & sour bitter orange and garlic sauce, grilled Mackerel infused with lemon and herbs and very tender and grilled flank steak laced in coffee and roasted garlic and red peppers.
We moved from table to table and when we could move no more we finally nestled in a corner and watched the fire pit roar its wonders. We asked the staff making the fish tacos if they were going to be an item on the menu and were told that it had not been decided yet, too bad because they were delicious.
We watched Chef Joe Mercuri work hard in the heat of the fire pit, spinning his magic. He stopped long enough to look up and say hello and chat for a few seconds. I even managed to get a kiss from my favorite chef and let him know how much I appreciate his hard work. I was in foodie heaven. Mr. Mercuri has got to be the most humble chef in this city. This evening you could feel not only the warmth of the room but the great aura he emanates with his generosity and passion for what he does. I am truly appreciative of his qualities, and the fact that he treats everyone as if we were in his home.
After a couple of glasses of wine, and more pickings we called it a night but as we put on our coats, he came to shake our hand and invited us back. Definitely!
Laurie Raphael- Montreal
2050 rue Mansfield/President Kennedy
Chef Hats: 5
Cost: $269.33 (excluding tip)
We are almost at the end of our top restaurant wish list, the year is quickly coming to a close and for my first year as the Foo-Foodie I wanted to bring Frenchie to the city’s top restaurants to have him experience what I have eaten past and present. In other words I am trying to turn him into a foodie, not that I need try very hard, because he does this very well all on his own. I believe that his palate is more refined than mine at times, as I will eat anything and will always try something once. Moreover, I love what he calls junk food, mound of poutine with foie gras, humongous burgers in gargantuan portions with all kinds of toppings, pizza galore, and food trucks. It may come as a surprise but he detests poutine, so the adage that all French Canadians eat poutine does not apply here.
For my birthday this year I had booked Restaurant Laurie Raphael in Montreal months ahead. I always wanted to visit the one in Quebec City as far back as I can remember, but it seemed quite a way to go just for dinner and when I was visiting the city I never had the time to make reservations. Therefore it was only forthcoming that when Chef Daniel Vézina, the father of the nouvelle cuisine movement in Québec opened up a second Laurie Raphael in Hotel Le St. Germain in Montreal in Fall 2007 that I would eventually make my way there. This place was listed on my top favorite five restaurant wish list to dine at for the last seven years. As I said before, life got in the way but at least now Frenchie is there to help me indulge myself in life’s little pleasures. Since then the restaurant which has so appropriately been named after Vézina’s children Raphael and Laurie is manned by his son Raphael Vézina who is now in his late twenties.
So decked out in our finest, Frenchie in his James Bond Tom Ford Suit and me in my little black dress and leather jacket headed downtown to Laurie Raphael’s on this warm fall Saturday evening. We walked into this charming boutique hotel and up the marble stairs to the restaurant. The décor is modern chic with its dark wood wall panelling and glass chrome railing. Not an expanse of a place in terms of floor design, more like pockets of L shaped angles. Once you reach the top of the steps you will find banquettes to one side and the bar to the right. In front of you at the reception desk cleverly masked behind the wood panelling hides the cloak room. The Maitre D directed us to the back of the room to our table which was parallel to street level on the second floor. The area holds about 20 tables draped in white linens with about 40 comfortable black leather seats. The decor is a pleasant shade of brown and taupe’s. The lighting arrangement which consists of a multitude of white circles strung together cascading down the ceiling between the exterior windows of the hotel and the glass railing separating the tables create a whimsical fantasy of lights in purple hues.
The place was very quiet and you could hear a pin drop, at first I was a little intimidated being here, having heard so much about this chef and having watched him numerous times on French media on various shows on the Zeste channel and lately on ‘’Les Chefs”, which is a spinoff of America’s Top Chef.
I was afraid I was out of my element here.
I was soon comforted when our young and very shy waiter approached and started to explain the menu. I felt he was even more uncomfortable than I was, so I had to kind of break the ice by asking lots of questions. After a long discussion I decided to go with the Chef Chef Menu at $65.00 which I thought was a good deal. It gave me a starter, main meal and dessert, enough for me to chew on. The only issue here was that the names of the dishes are not listed and were going to be a total surprise, making it difficult to choose the proper wine. I asked if I could have a hint if my meal was more meat or fish heavy to help us in our selection. Our waiter then fetched the sommelier Hugo Deschenes who helped us choose the proper wine for both our menu choices, a red 2011 Memeloose -Estate Cabernet Franc -Idiots Vineyard –Columbia Gorge, of the Washington Oregon region in United States at $81.00. The wine was exceptional and it complimented my meal perfectly bringing out the flavors of the red meat. The sommelier was one of the best and knowledgeable that I have encountered in a long time. Very charming and charismatic and putting us totally at ease. Taking a wine course with him at Laurie Raphael would be something to think about in the future.
We sat there ingesting the scenery for a few moments before our wine arrived. The special lighting effects and our perfect table overlooking President Kennedy Avenue made this a special moment. We had gotten one of the best seats in the house, very nice I thought. With our first couple of sips of wine, the nervousness starting melting away and we began to relax and started to anticipate the meal ahead.
Our first courses arrived. I got as an entrée, Beef Tatami that was perfectly seared with a deconstructed kind of feel to it. It consisted of three pieces of tender squares of beef, with green and white asparagus tips, mixed greens and a sautéed crispy black poppy-seed garnish with an emulsion of Port Madeira sauce. It was delicious, tender and the flavors were enhanced by the wine tenfold.
Frenchie ordered the Potato Onion confit which came with a variation of roasted and pureed baby potatoes, caramelized onions, dates, burnt miso aioli and topped with Grés des champs cheese at $14.00. The melange was heavenly with the sweetness of the dates, the creaminess of the cheese balancing with the variation of potatoes and the aioli sauce was what brought it together and made it delectable.
For our main meal, my surprise dish was Wild Boar, again deconstructed, which consisted of two pieces of seared meat, not at all gamey, served with wild barley, sautéed oyster mushrooms and poached parsnips and onions in a sweet wine vinaigrette and cream reduction sauce. The taste of the boar was a mix between beef and pork. It was my first time trying boar; I found it different but savoury, the rest of the ingredients on my plate just as good and mixing well to bring out all the flavors of this dish.
Frenchie had Seared Foie Gras at $30.00; it came on a tourchon of foie gras, with a side order of sweet potato croquettes, sautéed figs, macadamia nut crumble, in a vanilla sauce topped with homemade chips. Absolutely decadent and a must try if you are a foie gras lover.
As an extra to complete our meal we ordered a platter of cheese to complete with our wine. It came on a wooden plank, six slices of Quebec Cheese: Chèvre, Elizabeth Blue, Oka, Brie and Emmenthal and a soft cheese from Charlevoix region with six variations of fruit to go with them to enhance the flavors of the cheese. We were brought extra bread and just these were delicious on its own, we had three variations of breads to choose from, olive, baguette and integral. And the bread kept coming throughout the meal.
For dessert, I ordered an espresso and the deconstructed orange sponge cake with slices of orange, dabs of lemon cream and sour cream quenelles atop a splash of chocolate sauce that was too dry and caked on to plate. My dessert was not much to write home about, I found the cake morsels dry, and too small. I would have preferred a portion at least about two inches in diameter and maybe a little more chocolate sauce to go with orange slices, cause the flavors paired wonderfully. The lemon cream and ice cream were delicious and I focused more on completing those, which was satisfactory for me, as even though I did not get much food, I was full.
Frenchie had two espresso alone with the deconstructed chocolate cake ,which contained sprinkles of powdered salted caramel, dabs of caramel and cream sauce and a quenelles of ricotta hazelnut ice cream and pieces of dark chocolate.
I can only recommend Laurie Raphael as the meal was closest to perfection as one can get. But do not expect big portions here. With the food being so good, one would like more. This was the biggest disappointment; otherwise it was a great dining experience all around for this foodie.
16 rue Maguire/ St. Laurent Blvd.
Tel : 514-507-2900
Cost: $43.98 before tip for 2 people
Chef Hats: 3.5
It’s another Friday night again after a long hard week and I don’t feel like cooking, dead to the world I can only muster up enough energy to sit in the car and get driven to a good pizzeria. It is Friday after all so it has to be pizza and nothing else. I had heard about Magpie from Mr. Malibu, who had gone there with his film cronies and suggested I try it. ‘’Magpie’s is a no-nonsense type of place and but the pizza’s are good’’.
So we headed to the Mile End, found parking right in front across the street. It was late, too late for dinner, the place looked dark inside. For a moment I thought they were closed, but as we approached the door was open and we stepped inside. The place was empty, except for a few patrons at a table facing the bar. We got a seat in front of the window on a tall bar type table. This was simple, easy and no-nonsense I thought, just the way I like it when I am very tired.
Rachel our waitress came out from behind the bar and gave us two menus, which consisted of a few items, like oysters, salads, one pasta dish of ravioli, Beef tartar, nine types’ pizza, desserts, beers, cocktails and various beverages. They had the Foo foodie’s favorite pizza with arugula, prosciutto and bocconcini and Frenchie’s classic Pizza Margherita. I did not see any wine on the menu and I couldn’t see the blackboard sitting as far back as we were in the dark. Our waitress who at this point looked very tired and did not mention they had wine on the menu, she left us to our own demise so we ordered St Ambroise Beer and a coke. No alcohol for tonight, but never any shortage cause we had plenty at home and knew that we could always finish off the night with a nightcap at home later.
We ordered quickly and as we waited I took a look around and noticed the wood burning oven in the back corner of the restaurant, how stylish I thought, first time I see a black one, they are usually red, this one was covered in small black mosaic tiles and even had on the side a picture of a knight on a horse…how regal I thought. I mentioned this to Rachel who began to tell us the story of the famous wood burning oven and its journey. Apparently it was the old oven from the now closed Tutto Bene restaurant on St Viateur. They had fork lifted it from the windows because it wouldn’t fit through the door and they rolled it down the street to its present location at Magpie. We would have liked to know more about this infamous oven, but she got called away because our food was ready.
Magpie was opened by Popovic brothers, Boris, and Peter, Nicky, a friend and investor in late summer of 2010. They were inspired by the New York style pizzeria’s joints and wanted to replicate this in their restaurant in the Mile End. The decor is reminiscent of this with the painted wood panels, dark wood bar and artifacts from a bygone era. The décor is almost kitsch, but not exactly, it feels like Magpie has been here as long as Wilensky’s, yet it still feels kind of cool hipster’s hangout. Do not expect ultra chic, it is a just a comfortable place with no frills. It truly is a no nonsense type of neighborhood joint to hang out in with friends for a simple bite and or just a few drinks at the bar. It can be said the place was a little dark, but perfect to for those late incognito nights, romantic late night escapades where you just want to be alone and have a tète a tète.
The pizza arrived, it looked delicious. The taste was a pleasant surprise, the ingredients were fresh and of top quality. In speaking with Rachel we found out they use only the best finest powder and imported San Marzano tomatoes. the menu lists the cheese as bocconcini but they actually use mozzarella di buffala. The crust is light and fluffy, perfectly moist and springy, and crispy on the edges. It had just the right amount of toppings and not overpowering in any way.
The Margherita pizza was simple but still held its own, with extra-large basil leaves, delicate and creamy Mozzarella and that tangy tomato sauce. The Arugula & Prosciutto pizza was rich, set off with spicy oil on top of the roquette salad.
We came, we conquered and ate and left…as the clock was about to strike midnight. It reminded me of the good old days, were you can sneak out late at night , get a real good pizza at no-nonsense prices and feel comfortable even wearing your pyjama bottoms. The heart and effort at Magpie’s is in the right place and so is that pizza oven.
113 McGill St (Between Wellington & William St.)
Tel : 514-876-0116
Type cuisine: Italian
Chef Hats: 4.5
There are way too many Italian restaurants in Montreal, and it can prove difficult to eliminate the weak from the chaff. They can be categorized by three types, the fast food Italian wannabees who put oregano in their tomato sauce and have hairy, greasy chefs manning their kitchens; they serve the typical pizza and pasta to the lunch time masses. There are ones that have been serving the same large mounds of tortellini rosé and Caesar salad on their menu for the last 20 years and have not moved away from what they consider the typical Italian meal. Then there are those that innovate, creating a mix of the old with the new, in an exceptional way that bring forth the dishes of the past in a totally different light. There are pizzeria’s, trattoria’s, ristorantes, casalinga and anything under the Tuscan sun. But nothing compares to Graziella’s in terms of authenticity, flavor and originality.
Restaurant Graziella’s is an exceptional experience; its namesake is thanks to Chef Graziella Battista. One may remember her from Il Sole on St Laurent Boulevard in the 1990’s. Her cuisine dazzled me back then with its simplicity but ever so tasteful plates. I remember having my first risotto there, like I had never tasted in my whole Italian life. The Osso Buco so melt in your mouth and fall off the bone tender, the pasta’s just heavenly soft pockets of fresh dough.
She has replicated it here at Graziella’s and has gone beyond goodness with her original presentations and methods. Opened now since December 2007, Ristorante Graziella has stood its ground and does not seem to be wavering in terms of quality or originality. It is an Italian restaurant for those serious gourmet palates who are looking for diversity in a sophisticated environment were craft of cooking is taken very seriously. Do not expect sexy waitresses here with low cut dresses and people dancing on the bar. It is not that type of place. It is a very serious Italian food lover’s heaven.
The décor at Graziella’s also exudes seriousness and sophistication, two steps up from street level, behind a big wooden door you will find their subdued off white dining room as you enter lined with warm votive candles everywhere. The aura is calming with its subdued shades of beige and quiet background music. The two-part dining room consists of banquettes and tables lining the walls. The bar, set in the center of the room has big oversized square chandeliers light fixtures. Between the two dining rooms is an open kitchen, allowing you to see the chefs as they work preparing your meals.
Greeting you at the door is Pierre Julien, maitre d, co-owner and Graziella’s husband who mans the front of the house, also there behind the bar doubling as sommelier is Alexandre Gagnon (the former manager of Il Sole). You can see the team effort here and watch them all night long making sure all is fine. Even Graziella, herself at some point, found time away from the kitchen to come talk to her fave clientele. The team and its staff here are a true winning formula both past and present, the service at Graziella’s was extremely professional, as it was an off night for us and I tried numerous times trying to be goofy and was met with a smile and air of ease and comfort by our waiter who was young but accommodating and knowledgeable in everything from the wine list to the handling smitten customers.
The menu consists of 6 items each in the category of primi secondi and dolci menu, and 8 items on the antipasti menu. Maybe not much of a selection for some, but the menu covers lots for those with a discernible palate. The wine list is extensive and pricey, but we ordered a Valpolicella by the glass at $ 9.00 each which came recommended by our waiter as a good choice with our meal. To start our meal we took two antipasti, the Manzo Crudo, which consisted of cured beef tenderloin slices Carpaccio style drizzled with olive oil and garnished with arugula, taggiasche olives, which come from the region of Liguria in Italy, they are firm green olives that have a mild sweet fruity flavor to them. Served on the side in a porcelain spoon was Parmigiano cream custard that I was able to spread on a slice of baguette and top with the Carpaccio. The tender beef was a bright color red and perfectly seared. A great combination of flavors.
The second antipasto, the classic prosciutto é melone, composed of a mix of prosciutto di Parma and Speck, served with asparagus spears and fresh ricotta. It was a perfect melange of saltiness from the prosciutto and speck against the sweetness of the melon and bitterness of the asparagus which was offset by the creamy homemade ricotta. So melt in your mouth.
Our main meal consisted of Agnolotti Di Stracchino, simple cheese filled like tortellini in a fresh garden cherry tomato sauce and fresh basil, simple yet very tasty. Stracchino is a young ricotta like cheese from northern Italy. Very creamy in texture, mild and delicate in flavor.
The pièce de résistance for me was the Ricotta Gnocchi in a lemon butter sage sauce topped with a generous portion of pulled Kamouraska lamb meat. The sauce is like no other I have ever tasted before; creamy, lemony with just the right tang of sage. The dish came topped with copious amount of tender shredded Kamouraska lamb that when mixed together went very well with the butter lemon sauce. The Kamouraska lamb are naturally salty in flavor as they live and are bred in an area located by the mouth of the St-Lawrence in Quebec, the feed they graze on is slightly salty due to the sea water and breeze of the river ,adding to them some of its flavor. The meat is fantastically tender and flavorful when cooked. The dish was very filling and satisfying.
I like the idea of Graziella’s use of imported and local products in most of her dishes. Here you will find a list of local products such as Brome duck and Gaspor pork, lamb and cheeses from Quebec and Italy mixed together to create a good marriage of flavors and authentic prize winning dishes.
We continued the lemon theme this evening with the Pannacotta al limone and a limoncello digestive and espresso to cap the delicious meal.
The Pannacotta came in a tower of creamy meringue and a base of crunchy almonds surrounded by a very tart lime sauce and a side of baked semi freddo. The dessert was refreshing and a perfect complement to the end of a superb meal. It rounded out the flavors to make it purely satisfying and an exceptionally pleasurable experience.
Graziella’s is a first class establishment and definitely one that is warranted many kudos in an ocean of swarming Italian restaurants in this city. It stands alone among a few very good ones, yet very humble and yet flying under the radar. Definitely deserving of a million kudos.
438 McGill St. (corner St-Maurice St.)
Chef Hats: 4.5
Cost = $189.67 (excluding tip)
If you are looking for an exceptional Portuguese restaurant to dine at Restaurant Helena in Old Montreal is the Go TO place. Located on McGill Avenue and corner of St Maurice, two steps up from street level, this restaurant which opened in summer of 2012 is a shrine to Portuguese fine cuisine and tapas. I consider it to be one of the best in town by a long shot with its innovative techniques and its beautiful presentations. It is fresh, hip and fun for all age groups. Restaurant Helena is named after Chef Helena Loureiro. To some, her name may be obscure, to others if you remember Le Vintage on St. Denis or Portus Calle on St Laurent; she is the one manning the kitchen.
Helena Loureiro was born in a small village near Fatima, in central Portugal. Her passion for cooking took shape in the 1980’s when she studied at the Catering Institute of Lisbon. In 1988 she moved to Montreal and completed her training at the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec, obtaining her diploma in 1990. She then worked as Executive Chef at Le Vintage Restaurant, and at Alexis le Traiteur for twelve years.
In 2003 she opened her first restaurant Portus Calle, a fine cuisine Portuguese restaurant in the Plateau area. With many years under her belt and lots of experience Helena has now opened this restaurant in her namesake and another gourmet boutique called Cantinho de Lisboa selling Portuguese specialties. She has a huge passion for bringing us the pleasures of her maternal homeland through fine dining.
Upon entering the space that houses Helena Restaurant I was taken aback by the wonderful decor. The front of the house really gives you a feeling that you have entered an urban chic European restaurant in upscale Lisbon with its huge display of folkloric plates mounted in a boxed frame on the wall. The space is bright with its high floor to ceiling windows and exposed brick walls. The orange honey wood floors, dark blue chairs, orange banquettes and bar stools, evoking the colors of Azores islands. The tin embossed ceiling tiles emanating rays of sunshine in the dimly lit room. In the center of the space as the room narrows you will find a busy bar and a more private area in the back for larger groups or parties.
We got a table across from the bar which aside from the kitchen was really the epicenter of the hustle and bustle. We got to watch the waiters and waitresses coming back and forth for drinks and got to witness their symbiotic camaraderie. Through the loud music our sympathetic and friendly waiter greeted us with a smile and explained menu . He suggested as first timers to the restaurant we sample their Tapas degustation menu which consists of 6 items that were going to give us a rounded idea of their best items of the house and an introduction to Portuguese cuisine. We decided to go with Tapas although I thought at the moment it may not be enough food, but I was wrong. I was so stuffed by the end of the meal I hardly had room for dessert.
The dinner for two Tapas degustation menu at $55.00 per person ,consisted of Red tuna pavé “saisi”, with cream of green peas, mint and chouriço, the Salada de Esparagos-Grilled asparagus salad, Serrano, roasted and mashed almonds, & São Jorge cheese, the Lulas Grelhadas com molho verde -Grilled squid, with salsa, U-10 seared scallops, foie gras torchon,bacon marmalade and corn purée, Chouriço assado-Grilled chouriço, garlic and parsley, and an dessert tray of nanta ,chocolate mousse, cookies fresh fruit salad, watermelon, raspberries and strawberries, cheesecake triangles and espresso’s. For wine we went by the glass a Rose Douro-Red Ninfa $13.00 and red Papa Figos at $ 11.00. It perfectly complimented the mix of meat and fish tapas we received.
We got as a complimentary bowl of olives, bread and pâté of cod to start our meal and to nibble on with our glass of wine before the array of tapas began. The first tapas dish to hit the table was the tapas of seared tuna with white and green peas, sautéed with slivered onions and a hint of mint. The tuna was perfectly seared on the outside and red on the inside, tender and tasty with just the right flavors.
The second tapas was their big draw asparagus and Serrano ham salad, a definite must, it is the best and a meal in itself. Constructed around a twirl of shredded raw asparagus, the dish also contained two grilled asparagus steams, grilled almonds, slivers of Sao Jorge cheese and ruffles upon ruffles of that sublime Serrano ham. The bitterness of the raw asparagus offset the rich Serrano and salty cheese.
The third dish was a grilled squid atop a fresh cubed tomato salsa and zucchini grilled rounds. The squid was perfectly grilled and not overly chewy, offset by the freshness of the cubed tomatoes, onions and zucchini, and a few asparagus tips, a total palate cleanser. Frenchie who is not a big seafood fan loved this.
The next tapas dish was big what they call U-10 seared scallops, with foie gras torchon, bacon marmalade and corn purée, U10 scallops are dry packed scallops that are not packed in any kind of preservative that cause them to absorb water and lose flavor. Top chefs will use only dry packed. The U10 designation means that they are 10 or fewer to the pound, which means that just a few of them make a substantial meal, and the creamy, rich flavor is all there. The U10 scallops are great, best baked or broiled. These were just the right consistency, the torchon de foie gras adding to the flavor as scallops can be rather bland, the bacon marmalade I could not taste because of the softness of the foie gras, the corn purée sauce hit the mark and drove the dish over the top.
The last dish was the grilled chorizo, two slices of diagonally sliced grilled chorizo, topped with peppercorns, salt and spicy in consistency, a great ending to the meal.
To finish, for desserts we received one platter for two which consisted, of a combination of the small desserts typical Portuguese favorites, small natas tartlets, cheesecake, mousse and fresh fruit and our usual espresso’s to complete this fine meal.
We loved Helena’s, and will definitely return, the service was exceptional , our waiter is what cemented the deal and next time we will return and hang out at the bar to enjoy more of their delicious tapas and wine.