I always like when a new restaurant opens in the west end of Montreal, no matter what its story. But my interest was raised particularly over this latest development when I learned that the individual who would be heading it up is the former chef of Liverpool House, Emma Cardarelli, breaking out to hang her own shingle. But another Italian restaurant opening in a landscape that has no shortage of Italian restaurants? Perhaps I should temper my anticipation, I told myself. In the end, I concluded that we’d see, I suppose. A person can enjoy some nice surprises, after all, when his expectations are low.
STYLE OF RESTAURANT
Located in Griffintown, Nora Gray is in the heart of an area crowded with condominiums. Sporting an uncomplicated menu from southern Italy, the place seeks to make its name with a simple cuisine that exploits the best of the region. Several errors in the French menu confirm the dominance of Anglophiles among both the restaurant’s customers and owners.
This 45-seat space is decorated in the style of the 1960s. The floor is marble and the walls are lined in dark wood offset by a parade of stylish black-and-white pictures. A varnished wooden bar complements the decor. Behind the bar, find Ryan, one of the restaurant’s three owners, who is always happy to prepare your libation.
It was quiet when we arrived for the first service, but the atmosphere increased in volume as the evening wore on. The soothing sounds of lounge music with a bit of jazz mixed at just the right volume made for a perfect soundscape for the evening.
The clientele is mostly on the youngish end of things, and tends to live in the neighborhood. Hip couples meet at the bar for the traditional 5-7 pm wind-down.
Several countries are represented on this establishment’s wine menu. Take a stroll through it and find appearances from France, Spain, Germany and, naturalmente, Italy. The list is composed mainly of private imports, and it’s better to order wine by the bottle than by the glass, as the price of the latter is very high compared to that of the former.
I rarely spend much time swooning over the bread and olive oil combinations that are delivered to a restaurant table, but the stuff on offer here was truly remarkable. Imported from Italy, the oil had a peppery taste that stimulated the taste buds marvelously, and really got the meal off on the right note. To start, we ordered the autumn vegetables and meatballs. Served cold in a beautiful, old, patterned plate, the mix was composed of cauliflower, carrots, two colours of beets and plantain chips. A very cool and also very original entry. The meatballs, meanwhile, simmered in a tasty tomato sauce and were very well seasoned. For the the main course, we ordered the cavatelli with mushrooms. Simply delicious. Not surprisingly, it is a house specialty. The other main course was a squash ravioli that was stuffed with the delicate aromas of hazelnut butter. Exquisite. The espresso, served with hot milk upon request, was excellent.
The service was performed very professionally by a young waitress who devoted her full attention to her customers. She knew how to make good suggestions, and she carried out the orders with just the right combination of grace and speed.