Finding a good Italian meal isn’t too difficult in Montreal. Walk into any restaurant in Little Italy, and you’ll get probably get a real “nonna-style” experience consisting of meatballs, ravioli, gnocchi, eggplant parmigiana, and many other delicious foods. What if you’re not in Little Italy and you want that type of no nonsense, straight-up Italian meal? Well look no further. Osteria Venti is here to satisfy, well…everything in every way.
I last wrote about Chef Michele Forgione‘s cuisine this past January when he took over restaurant Koko in Opus Hotel. Even though his time there was short (only 4 months), he left quite am impression. He hosted an amazing dinner with chef Anita Lo during the Montreal Highlights Festival, attempted to bring the supper back in supper-club, and produced the best gnocchi I have ever tasted (I know some of you agree with that statement). Along with his loyal team of Paolo, Taka, and many others, Chef Forgione is now cooking up a storm at Osteria Venti, which is where the now defunct BBQ restaurant used to be. Venti, meaning twenty, showcases simple Italian food from all the twenty regions in Italy.
I walked in with a couple close friends who were just as hungry as I was. We were immediately greeted by Michele and his staff, and were shown our seats. I love the rack of jarred tomatoes, olive oil bottles, and the industrial stand-mixer at the front. It gives it a nice rustic, unpretentious feeling I love in an Italian restaurant.
We started with the warm octopus salad with fennel, capers, and thin slices of red onion. At first bite, our eyes opened up. The briny, salty taste of the capers fit perfectly like 2 pieces of a puzzle with the aromatic fennel, and tender, lightly crispy octopus. This dish was a real winner. Then the ridiculously fresh caprese salad was fantastic. The most amazing colorful tomatoes that can only be described as perfectly ripe and bursting with flavor, had small chunks of fiore di latte cheese (similar to buffalo mozzarella) and basil leaves nestled within each one. With a light drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of cracked pepper, this salad is as good as they come. Then we munched on the crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside polenta. Served in a small oval cast-iron dish, these polenta “fries” were lightly covered in a simple, delicious tomato sauce and showered in one of Chef Forgione’s favorite cheeses, ricotta salata. Then the meatballs. Oh yes, THE meatballs. The meatballs to end all other meatballs. Made with delicious veal, these simple pleasures were the clear favorite. They were similarly presented as the polenta again in the cast iron dish with the same sauce, but this time with parmigiano reggiano. They were tender, succulent, full of flavor, and as comforting as you can imagine. A trip to Italy in my mind.
Our mains were just as good, if not better. One of my friends had the black bass with barley and a medley of mixed veggies including green and yellow zucchini and cherry tomatoes. The fish was expertly cooked, and flat out good. My other friend feasted on the beef ravioli with sage butter, some parmigiano reggiano, and a sprinkle of poppy seeds. There’s really nothing like fresh pasta and this one sure was good. The beef was very well cooked inside the ravioli, it was medium rare, and oozed goodness. I had a classic dish, I knew wouldn’t disappoint: eggplant parmesan. There were about four layers of fork-tender eggplant, with the same wonderful tomato sauce and hefty amounts of cheese in between each layer and on top. It arrived still bubbling form the oven, but I couldn’t wait for it to cool down. I needed to get right in there. All I can say is wow. And of course, as a little gift from heaven (a.k.a. the kitchen), the famous ricotta gnocchi. Little fluffy clouds of light and cheesy gnocchi nuggets sat in a pool of tomato sauce, and were covered with ricotta salata. When I tasted these for the first time at the beginning of the year, I knew this was going to be the dish that put Michele Forgione on the map. So glad to see they’re still here. Sorry, I don’t have a picture since it disappeared before I knew it. Guess you’ll just have to get it yourself.
Even though we were busting, and a notch on the belt buckle had to be moved, there was just no way we could leave without having dessert. Since there’s no ice cream machine, they serve home-made, of course, lemon semifreddo (semi-frozen) with a home-made, of course, biscotti. The only thing wrong with this is there wasn’t enough. The raspberry panacotta was also amazing. The tart coulis-like sauce on top of a gelatin meets custard texture was fantastic. Finally, mama’s tiramisu. If she were there that night, I’d kiss her like she were my mother. The thick and creamy mascarpone cheese with espresso-soaked lady fingers was just outstanding. I actually inhaled it and was sad when it was over.
Needless to say I really like this place. I mean really like it. I’ve been back for lunch, another dinner, and even my birthday dinner. Each time: flawless. The food is simple, not over-thought, and cooked the way it should be. All the pasta is made fresh daily in house, as well as the sauces. Get ready for their new fall menu this year. Some of the dishes I just went through may not be available for a little while, but honestly, just order anything. Chef Forgione always says “if you have the very best ingredients, don’t play around with it too much. Eat it the way it’s meant to be eaten”. That’s exactly what’s going on at Venti. Grazie!
Osteria Venti: 372 St-Paul Ouest, Montreal, QC H2Y 2A6; (514) 284-0445