The new restaurant Pastaga, which puts the spotlight on Quebec ingredients, has been garnering lots of buzz and media accolades for the creative small-plate cuisine of chef-owners Martin Juneau and Louis-Philippe Breton and the interesting selection of organic wines on offer…
I always think twice before recommending to visitors a restaurant that is very far from the beaten path, which, in Montreal’s case, centers around Downtown, Old Montreal and, more recently, Little Burgundy. But in Pastaga’s case, the pricey cab ride north to Little Italy is worth it. And no, despite the name and the location, it is not an Italian restaurant!
Upon arriving, the first impression is that Pastaga is lively and convivial. The warm and relaxed atmosphere and the hipster clientele reflects the spirit of the young neighbourhoods north of Downtown, such as the Plateau and the Mile End. In true casual Montreal fashion, the sommelier wears a baseball cap and has the air of a college kid, yet demonstrates very in-depth knowledge of each of the several (mostly organic or biodynamic) wines on offer, many of which he imports privately.
What isn’t casual at Pastaga is the cooking: the dishes are small in size (they’re meant to be shared) but big in flavour, freshness and presentation. The tenderly marinated organic salmon with creamed potatoes sits on a piece of wood that seems to come from a wine cask, topped with very fine shavings of salmon jerky.
The large slice of smoked bison served with rye bread – a clear homage to Montreal’s famous smoked meat sandwich – has a suitably vintage air about it. The retro plate and tray on which it’s served could have come from the home of so many immigrant grandmas of Eastern European descent.
The chefs show they like their fresh herbs: several dishes come with a showering of coarsely chopped dill or parsley or ciboulette. Always a welcome addition, but even more so in springtime. Speaking of chefs, for those going with a group of friends, the best thing to do is reserve the large table inside the large kitchen: there’s no extra charge for that and all the chef action provides an extra dose of entertainment.
In short, Pastaga is like a slice of Montreal as it really is to us locals: unfussy, food-loving, unpretentious and fun.
Pastaga, 6389 Saint-Laurent, (438) 381-6389
Photos: Alexandra Forbes