There has been a lot of anticipation on the internet lately surrounding Michele Forgione's new Italian restaurant Osteria Venti in Old Montreal. It is every chef's dream come true, the day when they open their first Chef/Owner operated restaurant, a chance to do things their way, no exceptions. This past Friday was opening night and reservations were gobbled up without delay. We were however able to get a reservation on their second night open, despite the fact that their reservation book seems to be filling up quicker than a Paul McCartney concert.
We arrived at 7:00 PM on Saturday night, game 2 of the Montreal vs. Boston playoff series. A smaller than average wooden front door with the handle directly in the center leads you to a clean, modern, very streamline restaurant. This sets the tone for the entire design concept; the juxtaposition of modern elements against the heritage elements of the Old Montreal building that houses them. We request to sit at the bar, it's right next to the completely open concept kitchen and the staff are more than happy to accommodate us with the Canadiens game on the television over the bar. The food concept seems to be authentic, regional Italian done with the care and attention it deserves; everything is made in house, the bread, the pasta, everything. This is not the run-of-the-mill mix and match of all the Italian-American favorites or overly old-world, borderline kitschy tribute to what we like to call New Jersey style Italian food.
At the top of the menu are 5 variations of crostini, grilled bread topped with a few bites of classic mediterranean flavor combinations. As we sample great house made bread (focaccia and what tasted like a yellow cornmeal or pollenta rye) we choose the "Carne Cruda (Vitello)", a veal tartare topped with young arugula, olive oil and grated cheese, and "Baccala Mantecato", a room temperature codfish and potato mixture similar to brandade topped with a drizzle of olive oil. They come served on a square piece of stone. Both are generous portions, an ideal snack to eat while looking over the rest of the menu. The house made bread they were served on was excellent, it had flavor and character, it was not simply a vehicle for what it was topped with. The codfish variation was superb and the veal tartare version was also very tasty if you could get all components in one bite as you were meant to. Unfortunately the generous portion of veal pushed you to eat the arugula and grated cheese off the top first to create a more reasonable sized bite on the crostino itself. Doing this resulted in a less balanced dish, because the veal was under-seasoned to let its natural flavor come through and seasoning was probably meant to be provided by the salty component of the cheese. Also the cut of the meat was a little bit inconsistent.
Crostini - "Carne Cruda" (L) "Baccala Mantecato" (R) - 5$/ch.
For appetizers we get an order of the most perfect veal meatballs we have ever had along with a really excellent octopus salad. 3 meatballs arrive in a small puddle of remarkably good tomato sauce dusted with grated parmigiano reggiano cheese; they cut effortlessly with the side of a fork but maintain their shape. They are tender, light and very well seasoned, a must have. Going to Osteria Venti and not trying these meatballs would be a serious mistake. The octopus salad was great; cubed pieces of chilled, boiled (or maybe steamed) potato, shaved raw fennel, red onion, capers, Italian parsley, and magnificently cooked pieces of octopus are tossed with an extremely simple vinaigrette. Octopus is an ingredient that can really indicate the skill of a kitchen because cooking it is no task for the unfamiliar. To achieve tender octopus some chefs are even known to go as far as superstitiously adding corks to the cooking liquid (some people say an enzyme in the cork helps to tenderize the octopus). We don't know what cooking method was used at Osteria Venti, but this octopus was exquisitely tender, a really great dish.
Veal Meatballs, Parmigiano Reggiano, Tomato Sauce - 9$
Octopus Salad, Fennel, Capers, Potato, Red Onion - 12$
We had been specifically looking forward to eating the pasta at Osteria Venti because we had heard that Chef Forgione's pasta making skills were second to none and all of the pasta in the restaurant was to be house made. Combining that skill with his new top of the line Arco pasta making machine, it seemed to be a combination that was not to be missed. All the pasta dishes on the menu are offered in half and full sized portions all equally priced at 9$ and 15$ respectively. As it turned out we couldn't narrow our choices down to only two pastas. So, we decided to order 3 half orders instead of two full ones for more variety. We ordered ricotta gnocchi with tomato sauce and ricotta salata, spaghetti dressed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and grated bottarga, and agnolotti stuffed with green pea and mascarpone cheese topped with crumbled house made sausage and grated pecorino romano cheese.
First of all, let us say, we understand that there are as many "best pasta" proclamations as there are opinions in Montreal, and Michele Forgione is not the only chef in the city making pasta from scratch. But after this weekend's meal at Osteria Venti it would be hard to convince us that it can be done any better. The pasta itself is magnificent, thats right, we said it - magnificent. The texture, doneness, flavor, it's all there and the garnishes and sauces compliment the pasta not vice versa. The ricotta gnocchi were terrific, we love gnocchi, we have even reviewed gnocchi dishes at other restaurants in past reviews, but these gnocchi are simply in a league of their own. They're dressed with some torn basil and that same remarkable tomato sauce the delicious meatball appetizer was served with topped with some grated ricotta salata. Even restaurants that make their own pasta usually go as far as home made ravioli and cut noodle like tagliatelle but rarely, if ever spaghetti. Not at Osteria Venti though, even the spaghetti is home made here. Our spaghetti tasted of high quality olive oil, lightly of garlic and of the ocean from the grated bottarga, we believe that is the best possible compliment we can pay to the dish, it's seeming simplicity was the key to its success. The agnolotti were filled with a green pea and mascarpone mixture that tasted vividly of green pea and provided a fresh balance to the salty delicious bits of crumbled house made sausage. The pouches of pasta that surrounded the filling were supple and had an ideal thickness.
1/2 Ricotta Gnocchi, Tomato Sauce, Ricotta Salata - 9$
1/2 Spaghetti, Garlic, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Bottarga -9$
1/2 Agnolotti stuffed with Mascarpone & Green Peas, House Sausage, Pecorino Romano - 9$
For dessert we had asked for "Torta Caprese" which was described by our waiter as being half way between a brownie and a cake, a description that turned out to be 100% accurate and "Tiramisu Della Mama" which translates to "mom's tiramisu". Let's just say thank you to "Mama" for a spectacularly flawless version of one of our favorite desserts. Then, just as we are ready to request the bill we were offered a plate of "Bomboloni" which were fresh hot doughnuts coated in sugar and served with a chocolate dipping sauce, and although we were completely full, we were happy we didn't miss out on them.
Congratulations to Chef Michele Forgione on the opening of Osteria Venti and on building a really outstanding and authentic Italian menu. Everything we ate on our visit was fantastic and the pasta was truly first class. Not to mention that on top of the quality of ingredients and remarkable execution the price remains extremely reasonable. We're looking forward to going back to try more of their menu, we were so excited about the pasta we never even made it to the "Secondi" or traditional mains.
Tiramisu Della Mama - 7$
Torta Caprese - 7$
Bomboloni - 7$
372 St-Paul Ouest