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Saturday, February 9, 2002

Falling behind! A small babylike creature who weighs in at 6 months today could be blamed, but mostly it’s scrambling for work. Applied to WestJet with an impassioned plea to heed my many years with Air Canada Cargo, but fancy illustrations of planes and freight containers aren’t usually prerequisites for automatic priority hiring in these post-horroreleven days.

Note to self: junk mail is approaching 150 emails a day. Time to change email address.

Solution for all current problems: go out to eat.

La Pizzella
2080 Saint-Mathieu (Guy Metro)
Tel: 866-7816

“What’s upstairs?” I asked the young waiter at Pizzella.

“Upstairs, sir,” he responded in a deadpan monotone, “is the second floor.”

Great, thought I, Jackie Mason’s son is my waiter.

He was weird, weird, weird, but I chalked it up as just nervousness—probably only on the job a couple of weeks.

Pizzella was a second choice for the evening, as we had stopped by a place that looked great on the Internet but was in actuality insanely expensive according to its menu outside. I knew I wanted Italian, however, and Pizzella conveniently had presented itself outside the Metro station at Guy street. I’ve walked past hundreds of times and never noticed it—I’m certainly glad I did this time.

In a 165-year-old building spanning two floors, it’s a narrow, intimate space, all mahogany and green, with stylish napery and elegant chairs, dimly lit and smoky. A grand staircase (which indeed led to the second floor, as I found out later on a trip to the Men’s) dominates the atrium like something out of a gothic romance.

An indication that the night was not going to go according to a typical plan was when the waiter sat us and asked if we wanted something to drink. “What do you have?” I said, expecting a drink menu.

“We have everything, sir,” he said confidently. Oh good. Did they have lemonade? “No sir,” he responded briskly, without missing a beat, “but we do have other things.” When my companion asked for a glass of water he thanked her.

The menu isn’t very big, with a mix of fresh pastas (Orechiette, Tonarelli, Gnocchi etc.), grilled meat and fish, risottos and soups, and pizzas, nothing much over $20. The table d’hôte on the day we were there included Salmon Livornese ($14.95) and Moules Marinara ($13.50), which come with soup or salad and a dessert.

After ordering, we were surprised to be presented a complimentary plate of focaccia. Foolish me, I asked the waiter what the focaccia was, as in what kind. “It’s focaccia, sir,” he intoned solemnly, but seeing my look continued “ . . . with tomato sauce and oregano and spices.”

A Carpaccio Toscano (marinated raw beef, $13.95) was unctuous, served on a bed of lettuce with generous shards of Parmigiano Reggiano, but it could have used some vinegar, as not even the saltiness of the cheese could rescue its blandness.

The complimentary focaccia, however, was fantastic—like a scaled-down pizza, light and crispy. In spite of its generous proportions, it disappeared in a trice.

My pizza, the Calabrese, came hot from the wood-fired oven and was a triumph. Hearty slices of Italian sausage were layered with red peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and mozzarella on a perfectly crispy thin crust still smoky from the oven.

A vegetarian risotto was smooth, creamy and voluptuous, studded with carrot and zucchini, portobello mushrooms and parsley. I was impressed. Why have I never heard of this place?

How long had this place been open? I asked Jackie Jr. “11 years, sir,” he said snappily. How many weeks had he been on the job, I asked impulsively. “Ten years sir!” he said proudly.

I downed my Pernod in one gulp, feeling like a bit of a heel. The joke was indeed on me. —
Reviewed by Nicholas Robinson

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January 2002 resto

roundup: L’Entrecôte Saint-Jean,

November 2001 resto

roundup: Kalimera,
Panama, Tokiwa,
Café Mélies

October 2001 resto

roundup: Kam Shing,
Villa Wellington, Zen-ya, Il Piatto Della Nonna

August 2001 resto

roundup: Pizzaiole,
Korea House

July 2001 resto

roundup: Formosa,
Ganges, Rôtisserie
Checkpoint Charlie,
Al Nauras, Chez

June 2001 resto

roundup: Casa
Napoli, L'Express,
Le Singapour, Le
Piment Rouge

May 2001 resto

roundup: Mythos,
Man-na, Asean
Garden, Angus Noir

March 2001 resto roundup: Le Camelia, Pasta Tre Colori
February 2001 resto roundup: Restaurant Toucheh, Au Bistro Gourmet, Gibby's, Momesso Café
January 2001 resto roundup: Cakao, Maestro S.V.P., O-Bento, Tokyo Sukiyaki
Interview with Lesley Chesterman, restaurant critic with the Montreal Gazette, is here
Gourmet Magazine's list of top Montreal restos as according to Robert Sietsema is here
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