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.