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12 Dante, Montreal

Tel. :
Finally a grand Italian meal. Imagine the restaurant in the film BIG NIGHT, if that restaurant had made it. A small square room, a couple of partners and only one or two others helping out. Lots of regular customers. No menu. A small selection on a blackboard. A very unusual antipasto presentation which included excellent grilled vegetables and roasted pork, superb fried squid (Italian style bread crumbs finely ground into a very thin batter), good veal and a wonderful mussel pasta. Excellent wines, coffee and dessert. The owner/waiter had forgotten the small plate of vegetables that should have arrived with the veal so he sent over four sambucca gratis. Classy touch.

What we have is a restaurant in the midst of an exploration on two levels. Lucca is creating Italian cuisine that has only barely emerged from strong peasant roots into a more bourgeois setting AND it is feeling its way through the neighbourhood in the style of an old fashioned trattoria that wants to establish strong roots. The emphasis is less on the sublime than on working with the essentials. Sauces are de-emphasized and changed to accommodate the diner (more or less heat in the amatriciana), extra lemon with the squid, sharing of a couple of plates among a family. There is no sense that one is forced to eat the traditional meal, or that there is only one way of cooking a dish, but rather that one has entered a good kitchen and one's tastes are treated with respect.

I have eaten here a couple of times and will return (reserve for dinner). For lunch I had some squid and a salad and mineral water and walked out with plenty of change in my pocket. Dinner, on the other hand, with two bottles of excellent wine, tipped the scales at $50 a person. Other notes: room for a couple of tables al fresco, in the middle of boul St. Laurent's old Italian section (great for a stroll), plenty of room to accomodate wheel-chairs, truly upscale and amazing bathrooms.

This place got a great review from the Gazette last November but was granted a token one star (because it was reviewed on Friday as a "little" restaurant rather than a Saturday biggie)! This is quite bizarre. People look at the star rating and then decide whether to read the review. Having spoken with a couple of editors at the Gazette I understand their star system and I disagree with it completely. Also interesting was that a) the place got a great review from La Presse's critic, who works from another firmament (she has been doing this for decades and her plaudits are worthy) and b) the place was packed on a very wet and windy Wednesday night. This indicates that the Gazette reviews risk being irrelevant. That may be even more disturbing.

Reviewed by Barry Lazar

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