Food & Drinks

Restaurant review: Antonietta’s Italian comforts warm up winter

Antonietta

*** out of ****

Critic’s Choice

6672 Papineau Ave. (corner St-Zotique St.); 514-729-2633; antonietta.ca

Reservations: Yes

Vegetarian-friendly: Yes

Accessibility: A few steps up from street level

Price: entrées $16-$22; mains $20-$26; pizzas $16-$26; desserts $8

Ratings are from one to four stars: One is good, two is very good, three is excellent, four is exceptional.

Critic’s Choice: Signifies a noteworthy restaurant that is highly recommended, regardless of the star rating.

Antonietta, a new neighbourhood restaurant in Petite-Patrie, begs the question: Is homey Italian cuisine a cure-all for this time of year? The answer in this case is definitely yes.

The space was once the Pizza Villa restaurant, owned by the Zuccheroso family. After a fire in 2018 it was taken over by the next generation of restaurateurs: cousins Massimo Zuccheroso and chef de cuisine Anthony Bottazzi (formerly of

Maison Boulud

, Le Serpent and Sofitel), along with Daniel Abbandonato and Luigi Minerva. The four guys gave the place a makeover with simple but fresh, thoughtful details — open shelving, plants, contemporary fixtures and gold detailing on the ceiling — and opened last June.

The result is an absolutely charming little restaurant that serves seasonal, well-executed modern Italian food in a casual setting. Bottazzi’s aim is to be creative without losing the tradition and integrity of Italian food; the name Antonietta honours his and Zuccheroso’s grandmother.

 Antonietta’s simple, thoughtful details make for a welcoming environment.

The highlights of my meal at Antonietta far outweighed any missteps, with a few dishes in particular leaving everyone at the table blown away (including some fellow Montreal Gazette food writers).

The entrée of burrata with vegetables and truffle vinaigrette, for example, was fresh, creamy and divine. The vegetables, blanched then sautéed in olive oil, were tender but toothsome — a mixture of Romanesco, cauliflower and Jerusalem artichokes, contrasted with fried Jerusalem artichoke chips, all piled on top of a snowy white mound of soft burrata cheese. The drizzle of elegant vinaigrette lent the dish just a hint of pleasant, not overpowering, truffle flavour. Truly an excellent vegetable dish.

 Vegetables were tender and toothsome in an entrée with burrata and truffle vinaigrette at Antonietta.

An entrée of thinly sliced porchetta with tuna aioli, arugula, chilies and white anchovy also won us over. A riff on classic vitello tonnato, the cured pork gave the dish a balanced mix of fat and saltiness, freshened up with the peppery greens, chilies, capers and occasional anchovy, and dressed with thin streams of aioli as well as brightening lemon zest.

 Antonietta’s porchetta entrée was a riff on classic vitello tonnato.

Ricotta di bufala-filled gnocchi with gorgonzola cream was absolutely dreamy. The pasta, hand-made

and

hand-mixed (to keep it fluffy and light), had the ideal texture that gave in just enough with each bite. The velvety gorgonzola sauce made its pronounced flavour known without feeling heavy or overwhelming. The dish was topped with chopped hazelnuts, which worked so beautifully to give it texture and marry the nutty flavours. Even if you’re not a fan of gnocchi, trust me: try it here.

 With an ideal pasta texture and velvety gorgonzola sauce, Antonietta’s ricotta di bufala-filled gnocchi was a knockout.

Besides the handful of appetizers, pastas and nightly specials, Antonietta also has a pizza oven in the open kitchen, with a separate pizza menu offering six choices. It was a tough call, but the cacio e pepe option was irresistible. Topped with fior di latte cheese, pecorino, black pepper and olive oil, the pizza iteration of this current “it” dish was cooked perfectly, with the slightly crunchy, light, soft crust the ultimate sponge for the cheesy, oily overflow from this white, Neapolitan-style pie. And it tasted just as good cold the next day, when I couldn’t resist a second round for breakfast.

 The soft crust of Antonietta’s cacio e pepe pizza was a perfect sponge for the cheesy overflow.

The staff (basically the four owners) were exceptionally friendly and more than helpful in walking us through the menu and the concise, natural, Italian-focused wine list. They also had no problem modifying some dishes to accommodate the allergies of one of my dining companions: they left out the gorgonzola cheese from a refreshing and pretty pear salad, made with a mixture of bitter greens including arugula, radicchio and endives, tossed in a pear vinaigrette and with roasted almonds scattered on top. They also left out the dairy from a lovely porcini mushroom risotto, which had the ideal texture but was slightly over-salted. (No judgment here, as they changed the original dishes.) Regardless, both items were made especially for us, which is always appreciated when dealing with food sensitivities.

 Antonietta’s porcini mushroom risotto had a lovely texture.

One pasta that didn’t fare so well, despite having many elements I love, was the paccheri — a large tubular pasta — with octopus ragu, sofrito and ‘nduja (spreadable pork salumi). The homemade pasta was too al dente, the octopus was dry and the sauce — which I was hoping would get some liveliness from the sofrito and a spicy-fatty element from the ‘nduja — lacked personality. Such a shame.

Of the two desserts on offer — cannoli and tiramisu — the table decided on tiramisu, and it was heavenly. Served in a glass with a little almond wafer cookie on top, Antonietta’s version was light, creamy, fluffy and kissed with coffee and amaretto. The softened (homemade!) ladyfingers were interspersed with a mixture of zabaglione (a light Italian custard) and whipped mascarpone. Oh my!

 Antonietta’s fluffy tiramisu boasted homemade ladyfingers.

The entire experience at Antonietta was very impressive. From the cosy atmosphere to their genuine service and simple but skilled cuisine, this restaurant gave off all the good feelings you get from a really enjoyable, satisfying meal. The talented team is just hitting its stride, and I can’t wait to see what’s on the menu when I return — because I certainly will be back soon.

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