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The Pitch

Decisions in life entail risks.  Be it for major commitments such as buying a house or accepting a job all the way down to trivial choices such as picking a shoe or ordering a dish at a restaurant, a modicum of risk tolerance is a must.  It seems these days, with the proliferation of information at our fingertips thanks to our phones, people want to control everything and eliminate any possibility of surprise or disappointment.

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Personally, I do not operate this way.  I never research a restaurant before visiting it, nor do I consult its menu beforehand.  Where is the adventure and discovery in that?  I digress; this is a restaurant review after all, but I will return to this point later.  These thoughts were racing through my mind after my dinner on the patio at Elena, Saint-Henri's fabulous pizzeria, on this balmy Friday night.


The Mood

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Already a darling of mine after two prior visits and a stellar takeout experience during the COVID-19 lockdown two years ago (reviewed here), tonight's supper would deepen my appreciation for this critically-acclaimed eatery.  With a buzzing but dark and noisy interior, the charming back-alley patio proved a more pleasant setting to take advantage of summer.

That is, until my wife and I realized we were surrounded by a bunch of anglophone Gen Yers/Zers exhibiting some of the aforementioned behaviour.  Practically everyone around us was looking up every menu ingredient and wine bottle on their phone.  When did this become a thing?  Whatever happened to – you know – asking your waiter?!?

tagged:  ANGLO CROWD

The Food

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The menu at this pizzeria-and-more has remained largely intact since opening in 2018.  A selection of tapas-style antipasti is followed by two handfuls of pizza pies, in addition to a couple salads and pasta dishes.  Alcohol options abound thanks to owner/sommelier Ryan Gray – also behind the well-established Nora Gray and newcomer Gia.

Aperitivo-friendly cocktails, beers and ciders are followed by an ample and carefully-curated wine list which leans mostly old world – Italy, France and Spain.  For tonight, we went for a Podere Pradarolo Vej Bianco Antico, which had a beautiful orange color and delicate note of apricot.  If one could pour summer into a bottle, this would be it.

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Le Punch!

The classiest fruit punch you will ever encounter.  Light on the pineapple and blending rum with sherry; simple and incredibly refreshing.

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Suppli al Telefono

An oblong version of arancini with a funnier name, these mozzarella-stuffed rice fritters married well with the zippy tomato sauce and fresh basil.

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Kale! César! Salad

Possibly my favourite Caesar salad in town – if we can call it that; this one is elevated thanks to kale, radicchio and uber cheesiness.  Oh, and the portion is extremely generous!

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Ops! Pizza

Neapolitan pizza at its finest.  The soft, spongy crust was topped with an irresistibly-creamy/nutty cheese blend of mozzarella di bufala and Fleur des Monts, plus a crisp medley of onions.

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Spaghetti Ubriachi

Tonight's weakest link – although still quite good – came in the form of "drunken" spaghetti.  Nicely-cooked noodles were swimming in a garlicky red wine reduction, topped with parmesan; uncomplicated yet satisfying.

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Olive Oil Cake

A grand finale to a grand dinner.  A beautifully-crumbly slice of olive oil cake next to a lump of mascarpone atop strawberries and their coulis.  You will want to combine all three into each bite to fully appreciate this gem.


The Service

I genuinely felt bad for our waitress tonight.  People who work in the restaurant business are not only in it for the paycheque; had they been, they would do something else.  Part of the draw is the "people" aspect: to chat, suggest, accommodate, etc.  It's not called the "hospitality" sector for nothing.

Alas with these DIYers glued to their phones all night, any semblance of human interaction is out the window.  But not for me; my wife and I asked questions, talked about the weather and behaved like the social animals our species is known to be.  And our waitress gobbled it up, reciprocated and took great care of us.

The Verdict

As much as this is supposed to be a restaurant review, I could not help but throw in a critique of people and how they behave nowadays.  Our addiction to our phones and the hyper-availability of information on them is ruining the restaurant experience by removing the need to consult your waiter and – even worse – chat with your own party!

Dining out involves risk; sometimes you will stumble on something not to your taste.  So what?  It's part of discovering something new.  Next time, ask your waiter; that's what (s)he's there for.  As for Elena, there is no risk here; I guarantee you will have a good time and sample excellent food.  Now hurry up and book a table on their patio before fall settles in!

tagged:  SOLID

Price per person:  $39

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Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink.  We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.

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