Well, this is a new Italian place in the old port, 372 St. Paul. We paid $270 with tax and tip for 4 people including a $42 bottle of ok wine. They were good about taking a 4 person reservation for 9 p.m. at 8:20 on a Friday night when we'd found out that Satay brothers was closed.
For the price, it was not worth it. It was obviously better than l'Academie or any Canadian Italian type place, but it was nowhere near the quality of somewhere like Il Cortile or Cafe Via Dante for the same money. It mostly felt like a pub version of Italian food, in terms of presentation, refinement, and taste. Service was friendly, good natured, but somewhat awkward and nowhere near what you get from some of the career waiters in this city. The atmosphere is nothing to write home about, virtually unchanged from the other restaurant that was in this spot with weird soft benches, cheap tables, cheap chairs, and loud music. We were impressed by the ingredients on display when we walked in, since we they were high quality and included things like Planeta olive oil, which is very fine. Maybe they don't cook with it.
We had three kinds of crostini: chicken liver, which was just a bunch of liver mousse spread on a piece of toast, sausage and cheese and tomato traditional crostini, and mozarella bread with artichoke dip. I've made crostini at home that were better than the traditional one, the mozarella bread was just tomato cheese bread, not bad but not incredible and a waste of buffalo mozarella if they really used that, the artichoke dip was acidic and unexciting, and the liver mousse was underwhelming. Not inedible by any means, but very much like pub food.
We had the octopus salad and the eggplant parmigiana as appetizers. The octopus was nice, not too chewy, and hot, and it complemented the fennel in the salad well. The chunks of potato in the salad were strange though, because they gave everything a kind of starchy coating, like in most potato salads. The eggplant parmigiana was more popular, it's hard to go wrong with this dish and we liked it. The one at Il Cortile that they offer as a free appetizer is more delicate and probably better, but nevertheless this was enjoyable.
For mains we had three kinds of pasta and the Cornish hen. The agnolotti was stuffed with ricotta and spinach and served in a tomato sauce. Not bad, not incredible. The gnocchi were homemade, supposedly with ricotta instead of potato, and served in a basil walnut sauce. The homemade gnocchi at Bottega are much softer and creamier, the gnocchi at Il Cortile have a very delicate gorgonzola sauce, and the ones at Via Dante are imported but nevertheless filled with black truffles. These were just giant chunks of whatever with a ladle of pesto walnut sauce. Then there was the pappardelle with rabbit stew. This was good, simply because it's hard to mess up a rabbit if you like rabbit, but again a bit too grubby for an expensive Italian meal. It was the kind of thing PDC would be excellent at.
The highlight of the meal was the Cornish hen, surprisingly. They were very good about quickly preparing us some "organic creamy polenta" to go with it, when we realized it didn't come with anything at all. The polenta was also delicious. The meat was tender, juicy, with a nice skin, and the portion was reasonably generous. Everyone was happy about it.
For dessert we tried everything, some lemon cake thing which was okay, a tiramisu in a mason jar which was creamy and better, a nutella semifreddo (ice cream) that was awesome - not on the level of the gelato at Bottega but still delicious, and a chocolate cake that was moist and well pretty good for a chocolate cake.
If I had come here by myself and had the eggplant parmigiana, the Cornish hen, the polenta, and the nutella ice cream, and I would have been happy. But that's a hit rate of 25%, and not high enough for me to want to go back again. It's not that we had a bad time, it's just that for the money we have had a much better time.
In the end, it's still a hell of a lot better than a pile of spaghetti with meat sauce and Kraft parmesan cheese, but not the best value.
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