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Posts Tagged ‘Italian contemporary’

Osteria Venti – or is it Venti Osteria? – is a small bistro, with a small bar area with flat-screen TV and small dining area beyond. It’s located on the quiet side of Old Montreal, but the noise inside is rather loud and I left with a headache after having to shout through my dinner conversation. I’ve been trying to get reservations here for a while, and finally, while heading to another place, we stopped inside “just in case” and got seated at a table right away. But then we sat for an interminable time waiting for service. Service was extremely slow once we were seated, whether it was to bring us something to drink, to take our order, or to bring our food. Fortunately, the food is delicious and has that delightful Italian simplicity that many Italian restos lack.

We shared an enjoyable yet forgettable eggplant mush on toast and a delightful caprese salad, which consisted of various sizes and colours of tomatoes with just the right amount of basil, olive oil, and salt. After another long wait, my husband got delicate ravioli stuffed with radicchio and rabiola cheese tossed in chervil butter sauce and I got wonderfully fluffy little ricotta gnocchi which were like little clouds of ricotta in a simple tomato basil sauce. Both were half portions, and were just the right amount. All told, two appetizers, two half portion main courses, and one latte came to over $50. We drank tap water.

This could be a romantic restaurant if it weren’t so loud inside, and despite the difficulty with getting a table, terrible service, and expense, this would still be worth a repeat visit.

Metro: Place d’Armes and Square Victoria

372, Rue Saint-Paul Ouest and Rue Saint-Pierre

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Charles Dickens supposedly wrote one of his lesser known novels in a back corner of this otherwise nondescript and forgettable resto. I cannot recommend this resto, unless you are a starving tourist in Old Montreal who values quantity over quality.

While my four lamb ribs were delicious, juicy, and well-seasoned, the pesto pasta they accompanied lacked all flavor, color, texture and volume – this is unfortunate coming from a restaurant named after pasta. Pesto is hardly a difficult sauce to pull off. My husband, who wasn’t hungry to begin with, made do with the limited salad bar option which came with my main course. If one considers the bread basket, salad bar, and main course together, than this is a “value” restaurant. The waitress, while friendly enough, was spacey and unresponsive.

Markedly out of place was a blackboard filled with a wine list of expensive boutique wines from all over the world, in odd contrast to the value food menu; neither the decor, the menu offerings, nor service seem to warrant such oenological grandeur.

metro: Champ de Mars

273 rue Saint-Paul Est and rue Saint-Claude

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DNA is a welcome contemporary surprise in Old Montreal, with huge, modern windows overlooking the Hon. Henry Young statue fountain on Rue de la Commune, which distracts you from the the graffiti-covered, rundown grain elevator on the side of the river.

The May 2010 edition of Food & Wine Magazine has declared DNA to have the best wine list in Montreal. We had dinner there in August, and went for cava instead, and when I mentioned that it wasn’t sweet enough for me, the wine steward  said he had something he knew I would like, and came back with a small bottle of amber apple cider that I did.

We decided to split three pastas between the two of us: the daily special tagliatelle with large chunks of lobster mushrooms and Quebec chanterelles, lamb, and the winner of the evening, a delicate mint chili ravioli. All but the mint ravioli seemed a bit too hard for me, but my husband enjoyed its tough chewiness more.

Service was excellent – attentive, sensitive, communicative, and well-organized.

The detractions were thus: the dessert special, a peach cobbler topped with vanilla raspberry ice cream, took a long time to come to the table and was mostly salty grainy breading with little peach; the ice cream part was fortunately pretty good. The server picked up that something wasn’t quite right for us, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I just didn’t like it. The in-house baked bread was fresh and delicious, though the choice of Quebec sunflower oil over conventional olive oil was not pleasing; perhaps the reasoning had more to do with its local sustainability than economics – there should at least have been some salt sprinkled on top to give it more flavor.

The decor of the restaurant portion seemed more like a power lunch place than a dinner place – easily cleaned with Windex from floor to ceiling, though the bar portion is sexier, and a visit to the stylish restroom is mandatory.

metro: Place d’Armes

355, rue Marguerite D’Youville and rue Saint-Pierre

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The culinary offerings are very well done at this small, upscale suburban restaurant in Durham, NC and in the interest of full-disclosure, my in-laws are regulars and quite friendly with the executive chef and staff. However, this past December, I was inexcusably slighted by an inattentive server in the bar/lounge area, which overshadowed what could have been a very nice dinner.

Throughout the evening, I watched servers presciently attend to my in-laws at various intervals without being asked – they just knew what was to come next. It was like being at some old-world millionaire’s mansion with knowing butlers flittering about the hosts in a well-choreographed dance – which didn’t include me. In fact, being accustomed to our hosts’ routine probably worked against me, as there were assumptions made by the staff which wouldn’t have been made at any other table.

First, everyone’s drink order was taken except for mine; the barman walked away as if there were only three people at the table and not four. I laughed awkwardly and shrugged since I probably wouldn’t have ordered anything anyway, but was left wondering whether I was slighted as the only ethnic minority at the table in the South. I don’t normally jump to such racist conclusions, but the mind does tend to wander when unexpectedly embarrassed, whether subconsciously or intentionally, by an otherwise friendly and attentive server.

We ordered food, and after enjoying my delicious appetizer, I decided that I needed something sweet and acidic to cut into the fat and salt. Throughout our meal, our server was clearly more focused on a table by the door than us (which seemed odd to me, since the executive chef himself was taking special care of my in-laws, even sending over an extra dish when one of the plates was taking longer than the others), and it wasn’t until everyone else was finished with their entrees that we managed to drag him back to us again.

I was practically done with my risotto and thus no longer needed the palate cleanser I was craving after appetizers, but since we had finally gotten him, I felt compelled to order something. But what? Mortified at being suddenly the focus of attention and feeling unreasonably singled out because I had to articulate my order without being preempted, I hurriedly fumbled through tasting four glasses of wine before finally ending up with a sweet dessert wine that I didn’t really want. Everyone politely waited for me to finish my dinner so we could move onto dessert and coffee.

While I recall the house specialty risotto as being uncommonly good, with a wonderful savory crunch, the rest of the meal was a blur thanks to the overwhelming feeling of being a third-class hanger-on accompanying VIP guests. It is unfortunate that a single (or double) breach in manners could ruin an otherwise pleasant evening at a restaurant, but that is how it is. Diners expect a certain level of care while in an upscale restaurant and a perpetuation of the dining fantasy. In this case, my high expectations were sadly disappointed.

 2514 University Dr., Durham, NC, USA

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Trendy two-leveled Italian restaurant with a decent, affordable menu. Doesn’t take reservations, so get there early or be prepared for a crowded wait outside with chatty 20- and 30-somethings. BYO, though the SAQ is literally right next door. I’ve dined here several times over the past few weeks and service is consistently slow (last time was intolerably slow, during peak hours around 8pm, where our water glasses were not refilled during our entire meal and it took an hour to bring out my puttanesca, a traditionally quick dish). Fortunately, the food and everything else is consistently good, so we will be back for more, just at an earlier hour. Large portions. Recommend the succulent moules et frites (Americans will have to ask for ketchup) and fresh puttanesca especially. Side window open during warmer nights on the 1st floor. 2nd floor has a nice view of busy Rue St. Denis.

4051 Rue St. Denis at Ave. Duluth E.

metro: Mont-Royal

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Oddly girly décor in this little resto – bright magenta wall, chandelier, modern decor. I’d recommend for a late girls’ night out or a ladies lunching outting outside during the warmer months, though the downtown view is mostly concrete. It’s supposed to be modern Italian, but the emphasis doesn’t seem to be on the food here. Perhaps it’s on the wine? A few outdoor tables during warmer months. Moderately priced.

1177 Ave. McGill College at Maisonneuve

metro: McGill

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